Rebekah L Fraser tries to connect with people she feels are trying to help the world move onto a more-progressive path. She calls them her tribe. Last year she found Firdaus Kharas on Unite For Sight’s website after he had spoken at the organization’s annual conference at Yale University. “I started looking into his work and it was very impressive,” Fraser says. “It was really inspiring to see how he influenced people in a really positive manner.” Last week Fraser added Kharas to her tribe by using Twitter to interview him about his past and current projects. What started as a 20-minute exchange spread over an hour on social media. Following is a transcript of that interview:
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Using humor to bring the audience to a serious point you address some brutal and unspeakable issues. How do you choose your topics?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser 1/2 By staying focused on the goal, saving a life. Do extensive research, we debate 4 months before write outlines & script.
@RebekahLFraser 2/2 requiring #behavior change; mass communications can make a difference; saving or bettering individual lives.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Who is “We”? Tell me about your team.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Usually a co-writer like Brent Quinn (South Africa) other co-producers, friends in the field we are getting to advise.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Topics like HIV/Aids, Ebola, child abuse, neglect can be overwhelming. @Culture_Shift How do you find a way into the story?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser I use comedy to bring people to serious point. Humor is memorable non-threatening & non-coercive. Change cannot be imposed.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift I wouldn’t say your pieces on domestic violence or HIV are LaughOutLoud funny, but they do elicit a smile.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Audiences have laughed out aloud especially viewing the #HIV/AIDS prevention campaign. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3eIBBjEQPI …
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Yes, The Three Amigos videos are LOL. My fave is the Beautiful Game.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Thank U. Yes, you just cant score without a #condom. I hope people check out and use The Three Amigos HIV/AIDS prevention
Fraser: @Culture_Shift How do you manage to find the comedy in such serious issues?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser You’re right, it is VERY difficult to find humor while trying to stop #VAW, rape and sexual abuse! But, we did it.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Where are the Three Amigos PSAs currently broadcast? What do you see as the ideal venue for The Three Amigos PSAs?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Anything – broadcast on TV, used in hospitals, schools, played on Jumbotrons in stadia, on smart phones, etc.
@RebekahLFraser We are in a new era of two-way global comm. Opens up huge possibilities for #development, #health, #humanrights.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift You’ve said there are more similarities than differences among human beings & overcoming the barriers that separate us is the way to peace. Is mass media helping to overcome the barriers?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Both helping & hindering, depending. Can be a very powerful force 4 good: from educating to documenting to creating change.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser As some terror groups show, #masscomm can be used as a tool for evil. Social media & videos have proven a boon to extremism.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Aside from overcoming cultural barriers, how can mass communications make a positive difference in the world?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser 1/3 Creating media over many differences we have as human beings –nationalities, languages, religions, histories, cultures.
@RebekahLFraser 2/3 We need to reach beyond differences we have, to communicate as human beings. We have forgotten we are one human family.
@RebekahLFraser 3/3 We need to stop focusing on citizenship ethnicity, religion etc & remember we are communicative beings with commonalities.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift agreed!
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser 1/4 Education is the answer to so many current problems. #Masscomm propels #education. Much of my work rests on that belief.
@RebekahLFraser 2/4 My series 4 Arabic-speaking youth Hind & Hamza on values like accepting cultures, racism, gender equality, is example.
@RebekahLFraser 3/4We will not defeat extremism with bombs but with education & empowerment. We need to embrace this in conflict zones.
@RebekahLFraser 4/4 Education both formal and informal is arduous, slow and long term but necessary & invaluable to make the world better.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift I agree. But do you feel it’s realistic to replace conflict with #education & #empowerment ?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser In the long run, absolutely. How do we stop people from going into conflict? By teaching them values and grounding them.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Through film, you strive to enlighten viewers, rather than coerce them into making behavioral change. How do you know your work is making the desired impact?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser 1/4 Many ways: some easy, some hard. Can easily track, for example, rates of #malaria infections, #condom or #solarlights.
@RebekahLFraser 2/4 All the broadcasters and NGOs, hospitals, schools etc. that use my work get instant feedback. They know the impact.
@RebekahLFraser 3/4 On #humanrights, domestic violence, rape, children’s education etc. it is much more difficult to measure impact quickly.
@RebekahLFraser 4/4 At the end of the day what I do is art, not science. We might not always be able to quantify impact and that is fine.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Understood. Everything isn’t quantifiable. I’ve always believed a #positiveimpact on just ONE person is worth the effort.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Agree totally. Just ONE life saved makes it worth it.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift That said, what do NGOs, hospitals, broadcasters, schools using your work say about its impact?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser One magazine said I saved “millions” of lives. I never said that and challenged it but they stood by the story.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Saving “Millions” of lives is impressive! Even if the # is off by a few thousand.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Probably quite a few thousand!
@RebekahLFraser Yes, quite a few thousand!
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Funding films has never been easy. In 2013, you tried crowdfunding your solar light films @kickstarter & did not reach your goal.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser @kickstarter You’re right, funding is by far my biggest problem. Someone said, “they should be throwing money at you” NOPE!
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Will you be able to finish these films?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Already done all 15 solar lights spots, awaiting launch & language versioning; no funds. Important tool against poverty.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift So how will you get funding to reversion #solar light films into multiple #languages for broadcast? @Culture_Shift @kickstarter What other resources do you tap for #funding ?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser My own funds. I use my for-profit income for my non-profit activities. Plus a lot of in-kind donations from talented people.
@RebekahLFraser What I do is difficult but highly cost effective: a single prevention like #Ebola can pay for my work several times over.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift What do you mean the prevention can pay for your work?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser I never charge for using my work. I try to save lives by getting my work out, free of restrictions, available to anyone.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Which of your films is your favorite? Why?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser 3: 1.Three Amigos #HIV/AIDS prevention very widely used helped prevent infections during the height of crises in countries. @RebekahLFraser Hind & Hamza as it achieved the impossible reaching into millions of #MiddleEast households on values like gender equality. @RebekahLFraser Ebola: A Poem For The Living as it was created urgently to prevent the further spread of #Ebola in West Africa and it did.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift What forms of media do you think are most impactful?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser 1/2 No easy answer – depends on the topics. Generally, I favor short, repetitive messaging. I use #animation a lot.
@RebekahLFraser 2/2 #Animation has advantages: languages, characters etc. You know you are seeing media not real, so you are more accepting.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Interesting note about #animation! Some films like http://bit.ly/FKut1 are documentary. How do u choose your approach?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Depends on subject, target viewers, funding, distribution, format, number of languages, etc. Each format has advantages.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Prior to becoming a filmmaker, you had a highly successful career with @UN. Why did you switch gears?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser .@UN I always worked in human rights, disease prevention etc: bettering the human condition. Just the means changed.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift How old were you when you launched your production company?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Was 27 years old Exec Dir of the United Nations Assoc,; 34 as Asst Dep Chair of Refugee Board; 39 my media company.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift also, in which career have you made the broadest or deepest positive impact on society? Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Over the last 20 years, creating media to better the human condition -saving ONE life is having the deepest possible impact.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift at 39, we can call it a mid-life career change. What advice do you have for other mid-life career changers?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Change if it brings you to your passion. Be passionate enough about your work to think you can change the world & you will.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift What advice do you have for emerging filmmakers and other media pros?
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser If you mean doing what I do, which is very rare in the overall media business, prepare to be poor but hugely satisfied.
@RebekahLFraser Churchill: “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes & to make this muddled world a better place?
Kharas: Working to make a difference is really the best work, whether through #media or in other ways @RebekahLFraser.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift I completely agree!
Fraser: @Culture_Shift Firdaus, I want to thank you so much for your time and candor today! I enjoyed the conversation & inspiration.
Kharas: @RebekahLFraser Thank U for your time and interest in my work.
Fraser: @Culture_Shift It’s been a pleasure! ￼
Alhoussein Fadiga @kipe76 @Culture_Shift @RebekahLFraser hugely appreciated in guinea and by the community abroad.
@RebekahLFraser @Culture_Shift yes I was and I’m still sharing them around. Great work, very grateful ￼
mc legault @legault_mc Fun and inspiring live chat – It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together . Well done @Culture_Shift, @RebekahLFraser