From the Oscars to TikTok – storytelling remains at the core

This article is a blog entry that Declan wrote on the EU EPALE website on behalf of EurAV European Audio Visual CLG, the non-profit company of which he is a director.

It’s over a decade since my short film qualified for the Oscars. The five-minute story, of a homeless man’s search for a sense of belonging, was set in Dublin, the Irish capital, but its reception at film festivals around the world soon made it clear that the story was a universal one. A basic human necessity, it seems, is the feeling of social connection. My work with the Irish non-profit organisation EurAV centres around such connections. 

The world seems increasingly polarised and divided. Climate-related disasters, war and economic turmoil are displacing vast numbers of people, leading to the arrival of immigrants and refugees into communities that are often ill-accustomed to diversity. Even within families, the acceleration of technology has created digital divides between generations. There are still senior citizens grappling with the very idea of an online world that is replacing the friendly face at the bank counter or post office, while even the early digital immigrants to social media are finding that their Facebook posts go unseen by their children, whose virtual piazza is Instagram and who, in turn, are disconnected from the younger Generation Z, immersed in their micro-video-clip world of TikTok.

It was against his emerging backdrop that EurAV grew. The organisation started, in 2010, with a group of media professionals who recognised the growing pitfalls and dangers of media illiteracy, as the largely regulated field of journalism and information provision became something of a ‘free-for-all’ across the landscape of emerging social media platforms. What the group members had in common was a history in community media and a strong belief in the European Union as a unifying body that brought nations together in cooperation, while celebrating cultural diversity. On a voluntary basis, they delivered media training, talks and workshops to groups and individuals in an effort to educate and build capacity. However, when 2016 saw the misinformation and disinformation campaigns that, they believed, were instrumental in a Brexit vote that heralded Britain’s departure from the EU family and the inauguration of a US President who brought an Orwellian twist to truth in what had been the bastion of western democracy, a decision was made to establish EurAV as a non-profit organisation with a small but highly talented and dedicate team to support media literacy training to all areas of society. EurAV European Audio Visual CLG was incorporated just as the global pandemic swept in from the East and plunged Europe into lockdowns that drove even the technical luddites into the online arena. The EurAV team had identified three areas where they felt clear, honest communication would play a vital role in social stability – climate action, social integration and equity and media literacy. These three pillars were embedded at the core of EurAV’s constitution. In this, EurAV found itself in perfect harmony with the ethos of the EU and, when the KA210 Small Scale Partnerships were introduced, a window of opportunity opened for newcomers to Erasmus + to reach out across Europe for like-minded organisations to collaborate in innovative, relevant and timely training and education. We are looking for partners across Europe to join their skills with ours in developing and delivering training around our three pillar missions.

EurAV’s modest size gives it agility and flexibility. Its deep skillset in both traditional and digital media production and training is ever more relevant as audio and video become the mainstream communication currency. The organisation is on the Working Panel of Media Literacy Ireland – a body whose members include both traditional and social media giants such as Virgin Media, Facebook and TikTok. My role, though, remains that of a creative thinker and educator who must stay on the cutting edge of communication – telling social stories, just as I did over a decade ago when my little film made its way to Hollywood. And it seems that such little stories continue to reach through the social media noise and generational divides to touch people. 

Perhaps the hardest demographic to reach are the digital natives of Generation Z. I few weeks ago I ventured into their lair – setting up a profile on TikTok. There, I posted the same little film. Over half-a-million people have watched it and it has attracted a staggering number of likes, shares and comments. The comments that TikTokkers have left echo the sentiments of the film’s original viewers over a decade ago. It seems that the language may change, but a story remains a story.