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Fighting the Ebola Outbreak, Street by Street.

The New York Times' shortdoc on Ebola's outbreak in Liberia, redefines the boundaries between news and narrative.

2014 | 5 - 10 | Commentaire | Disease | Documentary | USA | 2014

An ambulance with blaring sirens runs through the crowded streets of Monrovia, capital of Liberia, one of regions mostly affected by the ebola’s epidemic. Since the outbreak of the virus in March 2014, were recorded in the African state more than 4000 cases, 2300 deaths. There is a new suspected case. Gordon and his team are reaching the place. A corpse is lying on the ground, covered with cloth and sprinkled with disinfectant, the crowd is hysterical and angry because the aid unit came in late. The man was thrown into the street by the community that is afraid of being contaminated. Situations like these are on the evryday’s agenda, the city is everywhere covered with corpses and lives in fear.

This is the documental and narrative of the “shortdoc” made ​​by Ben C. Salomon, a New York Times’ video-journalist, for two months in the Liberian capital to closely tell the spread of the epidemic and how people live with this disaster. Gordon Kamara is the protagonist of this narration-document. Former combat med, ambulance nurse today, Gordon is the anonymous hero of a city of over 1,500,000 inhabited that has only 15 units of rescue. A folly, which already says a lot about the local responsibility, political and economic, but also the inefficiency of the international organizations responsible for the monitoring and control of risky areas.

Gordon is the head of one of these aid units, and his day knows no pause. He is operational since the 5am when the phone starts ringing incessantly: friends, friends of friends, relatives, reports, urgent cases. Gordon spends all day in giving aid and is often forced to make difficult choices over the patients’ lives because there are no sufficient facilities, beds, and the few medical centres are always full, in medicines and equipment shortage. Gordon does not work for the government. He does not even have a dispatcher to tell him where to go, or which patients to pick up, what hierarchy of the cases. He decides everything at the moment. His team is funded by an opposition member of Parliament, Saah Joseph H., who imported a couple of old American ambulances who still have the Californian license plates. Some say for electoral reasons, to emphasize the inefficiency of the current government, but so be it.

A high-risk work, hard and lonely, a service that Gordon offers to its community, for which he sacrifices the relationship with his family. With its constant exposure to the virus, he sleeps in a separate house from his six children to prevent them from getting sick. Over the past five months he has seen them only a few times. But he keeps on, trying to give courage to the patients, though it is difficult to remain optimistic.

The interesting thing about this shortdoc – which is part of the rich video-journalism section of the New Yor Times – is that it redefines the boundaries between journalistic report and storytelling. It is also curious to see the “Staff Pick” label the Vimeo’s team typically attributes to feature films, short films, animations and music videos which are particularly significant.

It is a “report” that goes beyond the dichotomy of “factual reality ” / “represented reality” in which the chronicle of the events is mixed with the individual narration, with the subjective point of view. But it does so admittedly, without ambiguity, and the piece enters the circle of information and opinions, catching the attention and triggering responses even to those accustomed to get the news passively. In the narration of this shortdoc, the video-journalist has also used few cinematic “tricks”: some editing cuts, the focus on the protagonist, some sound effects, in a mixing of codes that indicates a new way of digital journalism capable to offer a real-time synopsis of events from all over the planet. The images of the suspected patients who are accompanied by the decontamination sprays of healthcare workers, are reminiscent of certain scenes of movies like “Distric 9”, and break the codes of filmic narration and those of the traditional journalistic report. With the risk of distorting both? Perhaps, but it opens a different way to get into the news, which combines the emphasis of a declared subjective narration with a certain degree of objectivity, and that is precisely why the piece becomes pervasive, truthful, reliable, gripping. And especially not static, because it is interactable, commentable, shareable, and inserted in a structure capable to offer more in-depth services and informations to the user.

The New York Times’ YouTube and Vimeo video channels are much followed and make thousands of views every day. The sole YouTube channel has over 400 thousand subscribers for a total of over 180 million views since its launch: like the population of a continent. It means that it addresses to a broad and diverse transnational audience, part of a virtual community that get its citizenship online: one of the most pervasive effects of the globalization of knowledge and new communication technologies.

Italy is still lagging behind on this, because the infrastructure constraints do not allow online media to provide an efficient service. But the future is heading in that direction.

Follow Ben C. Salomon su Twitter https://twitter.com/bcsolomon

Tommaso Fagioli

Tommaso Fagioli

Tommaso Fagioli

Founder @ Good Short Films. Fond of great stories, great thinkers, great food. My motto is: your motto.

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