Telling the World

Telling the World

Activists use social networks and digital video in pleas for rivers and groundwater

By Lauren Pongan '09

kids with cameras
Students participate in a digital photography project related to water-quality issues in the Guadalajara area. The students’ photos were collected for an exhibition that was shown throughout the region. Photo by Arthur Richards

Like Kelly, Tarini Manchanda ’09 participated in the Colby-sanctioned International Honors Program (IHP) study-abroad project, Rethinking Globalization, in which students spend a year traveling to five countries to study individual and community reactions to globalization. After graduating Manchanda returned home, to Delhi, India, and cofounded Get on the Bus Productions with two fellow IHP alumnae, Katie Gillett (Boston University) and Moriah Mason (Sarah Lawrence College). Together they studied Delhi’s water problems and produced a documentary film called The Groundwater Up Project.

So far more than 500 people in India and more than 150 in the United States have seen the film, which boasts more than 1,260 hits on YouTube, and it has a Facebook group with more than 400 fans.

For young environmentalists like Kelly and Manchanda, technology and activism go hand in hand. Off the top of their heads, they pointed to other environmental activists using video and the Web:, which uses an interactive map featuring videos of citizens describing the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining, in their local areas of Appalachia. Jump the Fence Productions’ Matt Myers is educating the public about Picher, a former lead and zinc mining town in Oklahoma whose citizens have been forced to relocate due to contamination and fear of cave-ins. None of these efforts required deep pockets.

Manchanda’s Delhi project started with a $4,000 grant from a fund set up by a fellow United World College alumnus. Her first film, funded by a yoga studio in India and made with Fern Jeremiah ’09 and Lara Wilson, documented the 2004 tsunami that devastated many areas in southern India. Manchanda and Ned Warner ’09J produced a short documentary, Narmada Rising, funded by a Goldfarb Center grant, about people displaced by the damming of the Narada River in India. Manchanda also completed  a film project in Government Professor Ariel Armony’s Globalization and Social Innovation course.

sarah Kelly
Sarah Kelly ’06 in Mexico filming for the Adapting to Scarcity website. Photo by Arthur Richards

Like Kelly, Manchanda knew early that film would be her chosen medium for activism. She says her film skills grew considerably during her senior year at Colby, when she made videos about student life for and took English Professor Phyllis Mannocchi’s documentary filmmaking course, American Dreams.

“American Dreams helped me realize the power of film and its effect on people,” Manchanda said. “Films can make people angry or motivate them.” The course, she said, taught her storytelling techniques, while working on InsideColby, the student-produced website and magazine about life at Colby, taught her technical editing skills. “InsideColby gave me real-life experience,” she said. “It helped me work with an audience in mind and weekly deadlines.”
Manchanda and Kelly each took Mannocchi’s American Dreams course, which includes both technical instruction and storytelling techniques. Students research a local issue relevant to a general audience and create a story line, Mannocchi said. By assigning groups of students to produce their own documentaries, American Dreams provides hands-on experience in the filmmaking process.

In fact, Colby has ramped up administrative support for video projects in recent years, opening the Instructional Media Center in Lovejoy in 2009, to support courses like American Dreams and a variety of language courses and various other courses that use video.

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  • On August 13, 2010, Lokesh Todi wrote:
    A very well written piece by Lauren. Very proud of the work that Tarini and her colleagues are doing in India and elsewhere.