In many ways, conferences are like great cities. They attract diverse groups of people looking for opportunities and excitement. As well, conferences are hot-houses of ideas and perspectives, where people take risks, and kick start debates and discussions. That’s exactly the kind of atmosphere that I found myself immersed in, when I attended INPUT 2013 in El Salvador.
INPUT is part conference, part film festival for public television professionals. Every year, the event travels to a different part of the world to promote public media there, and give delegates – many of whom attend religiously – the chance to reconnect, recap their year’s work, and share new techniques on how to produce quality public TV.
As a long-time public radio producer – albeit one who’s increasingly collaborating more and more with TV colleagues – normally an event like INPUT wouldn’t be on my radar. But through a stroke of good luck, namely winning the CMG draw, I jumped at the chance to go to San Salvador.
While INPUT has been around for 36 years, this was the first time the conference was being held in Central America, and just the second time ever in Latin America. During the week, organizers created numerous opportunities for the hundreds of international delegates to learn more about some of the historical and ongoing challenges of re-establishing public media in El Salvador.
Less than 20 years removed from a bloody civil war that lasted a decade – and according to UN estimates resulted in more than 75 thousand people losing their lives – the country is in the midst of incredible social and economic changes.
Part of that is an explosion of new media outlets. Most of them are private, for profit television and radio stations. According to Salvadorians who attended INPUT, the majority of the stations are mainly vehicles for large multi-nationals to sell their products. During the conference, delegates had a chance to watch programs broadcast recently on Salvadorian public TV, as well as view content from other Central American nations. There were open discussions following the screenings, and in most cases the producers and directors were present to answer questions and stimulate further debate.
Overall, the structure of the four days of INPUT were organized around morning and afternoon screening sessions in four different pavilions at the conference site. Simply put, a dynamic, multi-lingual group of international directors, producers and editors watches a film, then the lights go on and the discussion begins. Obviously an idealized scenario, but surprisingly, most programs kick-started energetic and insightful discussions.
Other highlights from my INPUT 2013 in El Salvador
** The risky, audacious high-wire act that is Danish television is cutting edge at the moment among public television producers. If you have a chance to watch any current affairs shows by the Great Danes, then do it. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly provocative and experimental.
** Had a blast hanging out with a group of South Korean tv producers who are surprisingly sanguine about technology. In fact, a couple of public TV producers from the land of Samsung are actually behind a new reality show that’s challenging Koreans to pull back from their personal devices from time to time, and focus on face to face meetings with friends. Pretty refreshing to hear this kind of sentiment among 30-year olds in a country where technology holds such sway.
** Lastly, hats off to San Salvador, an interesting, vibrant city populated by mostly friendly, welcoming folks. Whether I was in the tourist zone or walking/riding the bus in working class residential areas, I was continually treated with respect and courtesy. Somewhat overlooked, and generally given a bad rap, largely due to a high crime rate, San Salvador is a pleasure to explore. There’s history in the form of cathedrals and monuments, and culture represented by exceptional museums. Throw in the fact that the Central America’s second largest city – next to Guatemala City – is surrounded by a number of easily climbable volcanos, and only 30 minutes from a lovely coastline, and you have the recipe for an exciting, invigorating trip!
If you think you have the time, don’t hesitate to throw your hat in the ring next year for INPUT, which takes place in Helsinki, Finland. Judging by the closing party in San Salvador, thrown by the high energy, social Finns – complete with lots of vodka and an appearance by ‘the Angry Birds’ – it should be an incredible experience!
CMG member Andrew Parker works at CBC News – World Report