Explaining Lyfta: What is a Lyfta film?

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Explaining Lyfta
Film can bring complex topics to life and can be a powerful tool for sparking conversation and inspiring actions. In this blog, Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer, Paulina Tervo, discusses what makes a Lyfta film and how we work with our filmmaker community.
Cansu in storyworld The Hip Hop Star
Cansu in storyworld The Hip Hop Star

Powerful human stories

At Lyfta, we share powerful human stories from around the world to help students better understand themselves, each other and our future. Stories come in all shapes and forms, but one of the most powerful mediums is film and audiovisual storytelling. Films can help us understand the context or specifics of a situation very quickly, and they are able to bring complex topics to life in a captivating way.

Our team brings together excellent backgrounds in documentary filmmaking, multimedia production, pedagogy, and anthropology. These skills nurture innovation and help us to produce ground-breaking content for our audience of media-connoisseurs: children and young people.

What is a Lyfta film?

A Lyfta film is a thought-provoking human story. Often the film features just one person's story, but in some cases our films feature several main characters (such as Strudel Sisters, The Last Trawler in the Fish Tales series, and Gender Equality in the Awra Amba series). Our films have a strong story arc, and the main character is always interesting and engaging to watch. The stories vary a lot in theme and style, but the common denominator is that it makes the viewer understand that person's perspective, choices and context. In most cases, the film depicts a personal story that opens up a wider, societal issue. Some of the films follow a day-in-the-life format, others may touch upon a challenge the person has faced and show a solution. A Lyfta film aims to form a connection between the character and the viewer. Our stories are designed to provoke a feeling in the viewer, and to challenge perceptions. The filming style is intimate, which helps the viewer empathise with and gain a deeper understanding of the main character's motivations.
Lyfta films, as is the case with all documentaries, are subjectively told, creative pieces of work that show just one small slice of a person's life, and are not created to try to represent a whole ethnic group, society, culture, or country.
A Lyfta film is always situated within a storyworld - a 360° space featuring the main character of the film in their home or place of work. Storyworlds help to contextualise the film, and make the learning experience deeper and more vivid for the audience. The storyworld also includes what we call rich media articles - where we go deeper into the cultural, social, environmental or geographical topics that arise from the story or the location. The combination of the storyworld, film and the accompanying rich media articles make up the full Lyfta learning experience.

Recently, we asked our team what made a Lyfta film for them. Their answers highlighted the fact that a key aspect of a Lyfta story is the connection with the human being, sometimes in unexpected ways. That connection comes from an emotional response, and often this is because we empathise with a challenge that person has faced, or other times it is because of a surprise - like the scale of the plastic pollution in the Beachcomber storyworld or seeing the streets of Nairobi in Fashion Photographer.

One team member said: 'These humans are situated around the world so when experienced collectively they provide a multi-layered, multi-perspective understanding of different ways of 'being' around the world. They are stories of humans who aren't sharing them because of any sort of egocentric agenda...they are simply sharing who they are and why in a particular moment of time.'
Another said: 'Lyfta stories have an emotional tug but are not overly sentimental - they show life as it is. They're not didactic but often highlight global issues (sometimes potentially provocative ones) which encourage critical thinking.'

We also asked the team what their favourite films were:

Emmaculate's  in storyworld Fashion Photographer
Emmaculate's in storyworld Fashion Photographer
"Emmaculate's story (from the Fashion Photographer) is powerful for smashing stereotypes in such a simple and clear way. A character who viewers can connect with immediately and on different levels. Children in particular will likely connect with the fact that she is cool and edgy, and an instagram influencer who has her own studio etc."
Rob in storyworld Beachcomber
Rob in storyworld Beachcomber
"Rob (Beachcomber) is so easy to connect with, the way he shares his story is fascinating to watch, and it is very empowering as it shows one person making a real difference. The story has many little 'nuggets' that make it memorable."
Muhammed and Amina in storyworld Muhammed's home
Muhammed and Amina in storyworld Muhammed's home
"Muhammed (Muhammed's home) is a character you immediately connect with, it's an emotional and powerful story and I think the links to food, sharing food and how food can connect people are really accessible and a useful tool for teachers."

Working with filmmakers

We work with filmmakers from all over the world, and we prioritise, where possible, working with local filmmakers who tell stories from their own neighbourhoods or countries. This is because we want to harness local knowledge and perspective. It also ensures that we depict a diversity of voices as well as different visual styles of storytelling to help broaden the horizons of children and young people.

Want to join our filmmaker community?

Filming storyworld High Water
Filming storyworld High Water
If you're reading this and thinking: 'I could make a Lyfta story' - Here are some top tips for creating a strong short film:
  • Try to focus on one topic or situation. Be clear about what you want to say with the film right from the beginning, as this will help you structure a clear film plot and save time on extensive editing in due course.
  • Invest in high production quality. In a world where everyone has access to mobile phones and video cameras, and we are bombarded by content throughout the day, stand out with your story by focusing on the aesthetics of how you will tell it. Choose the highest spec camera you can afford - it will make your film stand out. Pay attention to sound as well, many powerful short films have been let down by poor audio quality.
  • Lyfta may be an educational platform but that does not mean that we want to make films that are didactic or follow a certain format. We care about promoting different voices and creative storytelling styles from around the world. Showing rather than telling is the best way to put your perspective across. Use visual storytelling to get your point across. Make the audience really care about your character and form a deep connection with them. Make a film that moves people.
We commission work from filmmakers and content producers around the world. Find out more about working with us.
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