WITNESS Talks to Patrick Otim of the Refugee Law Project about Video Archiving

WITNESS Talks to Patrick Otim of the Refugee Law Project about Video Archiving

By Patrick Otim

This article was originally posted on the WITNESS blog

Archiving a large video collection can be a daunting task. However, organizing and preserving footage can help simplify both day-to-day and long-term media advocacy projects. We talked with Patrick Otim of the Refugee Law Project in Kampala, Uganda about his decision to embark on an archiving project.
WITNESS: Tell us about your video collection. What is its approximate scope and size?

Patrick Otim: The Refugee Law Project (RLP) is a human rights organization in Uganda that works on a number of issues including gender and sexuality, mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, access to justice, and conflict, transitional justice and governance.

These are the core themes that have defined the nature of the footage gathered over the course of 7 years using video as a tool for social change.

Our work focuses primarily on forced migrants (refugees and Internally Displaced Persons-IDPs), who are victims of abuse in both their country of flight and new host countries. The RLP has been engaging various stakeholders in an effort to minimize these human rights violations in Uganda. Some examples of stakeholders who migrants can benefit from working with are politicians/lawmakers, police, immigration officers and donors who support the cause.

The video collection ranges in content, but the most important videos are testimonies of human rights violations that have taken place both within and outside of Uganda. There isn’t a lot of footage of the actual atrocities committed, so we work to gather first hand accounts from the victims/survivors.
Because of the frequent engagements RLP takes part in and/or initiates, we also have footage of various discussions with internationally acclaimed dignitaries and experts available in our collection.
The size of our collection is overwhelmingly large, ranging somewhere between 1000 – 2000 1-hour MiniDV tapes and growing daily. The issues covered in our collection include LGBTI rights, constitutionalism, gender, governance, restitution, human rights violations, The ICC, and many more.


Why is archiving important to your work? What made you decide to start your archiving initiative?
There is not much literature or formatting instruction on how to go about video archiving, which is why the Activist’s Guide to Archiving Video is so important. Every organization working with video has its own reason for building a video archive. For RLP, each day that the video unit went out to shoot or carry out research, the team returned with hours of footage in tapes. However, before there was time for thorough analysis of footage, the team was back in the field or busy editing part of the collection into a short advocacy film. This trend has continued for 7 years, and as the years have passed, the amount of tapes has grown. The problem is that there is so much footage that we rarely use what we shoot to its fullest potential after producing the needed advocacy film, leaving a lot of untapped material.

With so many different types of footage contained in over 1000 miniDVs, it’s hard to remember and locate footage within what we have already. This has led to wasted money and time, since we often return to sites to gather new footage when all along we had what we were looking for hidden among the monstrous pile of tapes. The current process is meant to organize and help us readily access footage. The archive also presents an opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves with what content is in our possession.

At this stage, what are the first steps in your archiving process? What are you planning to do in the near future?

First we organized our tapes by categories and themes according to when the material was recorded. Because some of our footage is recorded on tapes, the next step will be to digitize all of the footage and put it on external hard drives so we can sort it. We will then individually export each interview in prepar
ation for transcription and translation from other languages to English.

In the near future we will transcribe the interviews, then use the transcripts to subtitle our videos so more people can view our material. After this whole process is finished, we will assign numbers to the tapes in correspondence with the interviews and the footage on each tape. This will make it easier to identify the digitized interviews and other raw footage in the tapes. It’s at this stage that the tapes will be organized and stored for future use.

How do you envision being able to use your collection in the future?

RLP has designed an offline system stored in a simple server that will be used as a platform to access the edited interviews and other audiovisual materials. Once the archive system has been successfully set up, it will be made publicly available online to promote discussions among a global audience. Select interviews will also be used on YouTube and other social media platforms to boost awareness and provide access to RLP to engage and respond to questions and comments.

Locally, RLP plans to make the archive a resource for stakeholders, partners, and students carrying out research. We will also provide our footage as advocacy material to help bring more awareness to the experiences of victims of various conflicts in Uganda.

Do you have any tips or advice to share with other organizations that might be thinking about starting their own archiving initiatives?

If you are an organization like RLP and have spent years gathering sensitive human rights footage (including from confidential sources), you must first consider the security of your workspace when you begin an archiving project. If victim’s identities are revealed in your raw footage, you must take extra care until you have created copies of the material with their identity hidden and destroyed the originals.

A massive room with aeration is also required for those that have to deal with footage stored in MiniDV tapes. This will minimize the chance of loosing vital footage to poor storage conditions resulting from dust, heat/sunlight and water/moisture.

Once the above is guaranteed, all you need is the motivation to carry out an archiving project. The desire needs to be supported by a dedicated team ready to brave the extra hours of monotonous work. You also need to acquire a large disk space for storage. Once this has been done, the rest remains a wonderful experience to be shared.


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