How we worked on Lunik IX?

20 April 2017

Lunik IX is an interactive reportage which tells the story of Roma people living in a settlement in Kosice, Slovakia. It was published by us couple of days ago. As part of Outriders mission is to share why and how we work on our stories, I took the opportunity to ask Magda Chodownik, author of Lunik IX, a few questions.

Why did you decide to make a story about the Roma culture and what are you trying to tell by showing the inside life of Lunik IX?
Besides Lunik IX, I have been visiting different places linked to Roma people and Roma culture like Soroca in Moldova, Konik in Montenegro, or Guca Trumpet Festival in Serbia. What we call “Roma culture” has always been a strange but fascinating mix of extremes to me – richness with poverty, sadness with great music and joy, a forgotten but also very vibe existence of the minority. They are kind of a living legends but at the same time – marginalised. I guess this is why I have been attracted by those people and this is what I want to show in my reportage – kindness with brutal reality, music with sadness, an intense mix of what cannot be defined by one word only.

It was the first time you worked as mobile journalist, right? What kind of challenges you faced?
Well, indeed! I should admit it was my first mojo story ever as well as my first movie ever. But somehow it came out naturally.

I went there prepared to write a story that would be accompanied by pictures and came back with more than I expected. I have been photographing for quite a time already but shooting videos was new to me. And I really wasn’t filming everything like a tourist – I was only taking my phone out when I felt it was worth it, for the moments I wanted to remember myself. This intuition did a whole job.

Good result for first time
Not bad, people say!

But… the lack of filmed interviews seemed problematic to me at first. In my work, I give the voice to people. It is easy when you write cause you just put their words in quotes. Since I did not think of a movie when I was working there, I did not have them. Only when I got back home, I thought of creating a video. But this was also a moment when I realized visuals were very much telling a story of the place – faces, buildings, etc. I found them adequate so I just added a little subtitles from my side. The original sound from Lunik IX was an important part, too.

Do you have any preference when you look at the two different approaches?
We always need to adjust form to a story and not the other way around. Format is a tool that should underline parts reporter wants to put an accent on. If you ask about Lunik concretely, I feel interactive form was a better fit – with all these little pieces of text, sound, video, and text mixed together. Cause Lunik is like this – complex, build up with different elements in different corners.

How do you transfer a story into its visual looks and think about technology behind it?
First, I walked around and tried to find landscapes or situations that were in a way “representing”Lunik IX. It was sort of a base for the whole story I could build little stories on. Then, I found characters and situations that would turn it into a “human story” – faces behind the buildings, family situations, etc. A builing itself says little. It is a human being that matter the most. And those little stories were mostly hidden in appartements in this case and this concept was implemented in the interactive form.

As music is an important part of the Roma culture, I knew I would need a video or sound recorder. Or the sound of kids laughing. Mobile phone has it all in one. Plus, it is way less visible to people so they did pay way less attention to me.

You told the story twice. First by movie (which became a finalist in mojo competition organized by Thomson Foundation and RTÉ) and then interactive reportage? How are they different?
I imagined how I would write the story at first, how I would lead a reader inside Lunik IX from one place to another. That was the way I sequenced the film, too. The movie gave me a solid base before I started with the interactive form, which was based on similar concept – I wanted readers to enter apartments, meet people and to have a look around. It was about taking them there, not judging or commenting too much.

The interactive story’s possibilities helped me to clearly create the space for these different homes and also – write the text that I wanted to write at the beginning!

How do you begin work on interactive?
I needed to decide which part of a story I want to write, which I want to be represented by a picture and which by a video and sound. I needed to put all those pieces together as well as different stories and situations I faced there. Having a base of the movie and the general concept in my mind, I started to think of a story as a whole as I wanted a reader to have a full experience of the place.

I had to be cautious cause Lunik is not a black-and-white story. I had to carrefully balanced it for people to understand that this is not about destroyed houses but people living there. And this was the most difficult part.

Anything surprised you? In both good and bad way?
Lunik is a sweet-bitter place. Finding kindness and openness among those destroyed buildings was a very nice surprise – people I met are living proves that humans are not limited by the circumstances they live in.

From a technical side, I am really surprised how a mobile phone can help you tell the story. I did not expect the results to be that satisfying – photos are sharp, colors are adequate, the videos’ sounds are good, too. Therefore, after this trip, I work with a mobile phone more and more.

While being inside what was the reaction to your work?
I think I have a very human approach towards people I work with – I have a time to sit down and drink a tea with them. I want them to get to know me a little while I am getting to know them. Especially in places like Lunik IX, it all about time and trust. So we played with kids, we answered all their questions with respect, we showed them that we came because they mattered. They opened up and we’re very kind to us in exchange.

Do people get that all pictures and movies where shot on mobile?
No, quite rarely. As said, I was surprised myself by the results and also – how well it works with people I photographed or took videos of. They really feel way more comfortable in front of a cell phone than in front of a big camera. That is the big asset.

Have your characters seen your interactive story after it was published?
They can hardly make the ends meet so having a computer with Internet access is not common at Lunik IX even in XXI century. But children called me later and ask to come visit again. I will certainly come back one day soon

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