The goal of Simon Schorno, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Spokesman in North America, was to better inform North American law and policy audiences about the work of the organization in a key operational context of growing interest to the military and foreign policy deciders the ICRC in Washington D.C. interacts with daily. It was particularly important to illustrate the ICRC’s neutral, independent and impartial approach to humanitarianism, a modus operandi that defines the organization but is sometimes misunderstood at a time when humanitarian action is often politicized or militarized.
Once the decision was taken to document the independent and neutral nature of the ICRC’s action through the story of Hussein Saleh, a uniquely positioned Yemeni colleague, the ICRC in Yemen decided it would use the movie as an operational communication tool to be incorporated in its own in-country outreach programs.
Mr. Saleh was hit by shrapnel from an airstrike while working shortly after the coverage was completed. His tragic death added an unwelcome dimension to the project, which also became a tribute and a record of his dedication to humanitarianism for his colleagues in Aden, for the organization as a whole and for his family in particular.
Despite these difficult circumstances, I Know Where I’m Going remains part of a strategy to inform North American policymakers about humanitarian issues by publishing innovative, original and relevant multimedia products on Intercross, the blog of the ICRC in Washington D.C, which Schorno launched in October 2011.
I Know Where I’m Going is an innovative way to tell the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) story. That story has rarely, if ever, been told through the words of an ICRC staff member, let alone a non-expatriate one. As such, it raised legitimate concerns in the organization.
The approach and the rationale for the project required the support of key internal stakeholders. Most understood that a high-quality multimedia story filmed in one of the world’s hot spots could be a useful promotional tool for the organization in the United States, in Yemen and globally.
Security was a major concern and obstacle. Yemen and south Yemen in particular are complex, challenging contexts even for an organization as experienced and field-tested as the ICRC. Coming in with two non-ICRC crew members to film in a busy, volatile and extremely sensitive environment was a real risk for the organization and for ICRC staff on the ground. This meant there were limitations to the kind of coverage we could get. Ultimately, this forced us to be quick on our feet and come up with creative solutions that we think strengthened the piece.
Another challenge was to find the right character to tell the story we wanted to tell. We were incredibly lucky and privileged to meet Hussein Saleh, a shy, modest and brilliant man who was initially reluctant to be put on the spotlight but who opened up in surprising ways to tell the story in his own words, and incredibly well.
Explaining the concept for this project and convincing key internal stakeholders of the added value it could have was the first step. Their buy-in and support were essential for the film to be funded and produced.
Ensuring that the crew adapted its way of working to the specific cultural and security environment of south Yemen was another important factor in the success of the project. Flexibility and understanding that the film came second to the humanitarian work carried out in the field were key.
In the end, it was the exceptional work of the ICRC in Yemen and our promise to deliver a product Hussein Saleh and his colleagues could be of proud that inspired us. Needless to say, Mr. Saleh’s tragic death has added a great sense of responsibility for all involved in the project.
We believe that I Know Where I’m Going, is an exceptional document, a portrait of a thoughtful, courageous and complex man filmed at a critical time in one of the world’s most complex and dangerous terrains. We are hopeful that I Know Where I’m Going will transcend the institutional film genre by touching viewers beyond the North American law and policy circles it aimed to reach when first conceived.
The content and structure of the movie did not change much after Mr. Saleh’s untimely death, but the project has certainly taken a different dimension since. As anticipated, I Know Where I’m Going will be a tool to explain the ICRC, but it will also, and perhaps more importantly, be a lasting tribute to the memory of a committed humanitarian.
The film will be shown to North American law and policy audiences and accompanied by operational briefings. It will, as initially planned, be published on Intercross, the blog of the ICRC in North America, and other ICRC platforms. I Know Where I’m Going has been shown to Mr. Saleh’s family, friends and colleagues in Yemen and will be used as an operational communication tool by the ICRC in that country and elsewhere.
About The Client
Intercross, the blog of the ICRC in Washington D.C., is a place for news, multimedia and commentary on armed conflict, humanitarian action and international humanitarian law. It is edited by Simon Schorno, the ICRC Spokesman in North America. A documentary filmmaker by training, he directed I Know Where I’m Going.
The ICRC, established in 1863, works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. An independent and neutral organization, its mandate stems essentially from the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, it employs some 12,000 people in 80 countries; it is financed mainly by voluntary donations from governments and from national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.
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