Change-Makers Find Their Voices With Audio Documentary


How do change-makers think outside of the box during a pandemic? Freedom Film Network looked into audio documentary production over four sessions with French radio director Marie Chartron.

Juosie Loo shares her experience:

Huddled over Zoom, the ten participants in our workshop were “boxed in” in the most conventional pandemic style. Yet, the ten of us in the workshop were not let off the hook in thinking outside the box. I am a radio producer, but the rest of the group were filmmakers, journalists and activists.

Our challenge was to use audio as a vehicle in our advocacy or storytelling.

Marie, a veteran producer from The France Culture radio, walked us through her routine struggles in the production process. She shared the importance of keeping open and flexible, given that stories often demand a unique approach that may be different from what was planned at the start. You need to follow where the story goes, and that’s part of what makes creating a documentary podcast a unique process.

Under her guidance, and through four sessions, the journey forward seemed less daunting and more exciting.

Passing On the Mic, and the Recorder

Marie showed us different audio documentaries styles to spark ideas for our story pitches.

I was drawn to the Radio Diaries approach, where the subject is considered a collaborator in production. They would record themselves at home or in whatever setting they’re in, much like journaling but in audio format.

I was awed by the idea that the collaborators would document their thoughts, emotions, or events that take place in real time, and have control over the narrative.  

It seemed to be such an empowering thing to do and documented so much more detail in their story. 

Furthermore, it’s a practical method during the pandemic with movement restrictions in place.

I wanted to use this approach to document the movement for gender equality in citizenship rights, particularly women who find it difficult to pass on their citizenship to their children. 

This was based on my conversations with Family Frontiers, where I learnt the impact of Malaysia’s gender biased laws on women and their families. 

I got in touch with some of these women to begin this collaborative process, discussing how to approach the subject and walk through the recording technicalities. 

Then they headed off for several days to do this project, using recording apps on their mobile phones.

When Women’s Voices Take Centre Stage

While I was nervous about this new process, listening to the raw recordings replaced my nerves with humility, gratitude and shared frustrations.

On the one hand, I was touched that these women were sharing deeply personal stories about their families’ lives; on the other hand, the unnecessary hardship they have to face felt simply unjustifiable.

There was Rachel, who recorded touchingly intimate moments with her sons; yet her story highlighted the anxiety of a single mother around an uncertain future as her first son was still unable to get Malaysian citizenship.

Myra and her husband, Kangwa, whose daughter is also struggling with being excluded from school activities, expressed these worries about familial separation.

There was also Josil, who shared a reflective moment with her husband Harry about the bittersweet months of her pregnancy, when they realized that they were unable to return to Malaysia together during the pandemic for their daughter’s birth, to ensure her citizenship.

Finally, Evelyn, the daughter of a Malaysian woman, worries about the day when she has to part from her mother and sister to return to Indonesia.

While Evelyn’s story was recorded as an interview, she shared such an impactful account that I felt editing it into a monologue was the best approach. (Marie’s advice to keep an open mind was helpful!)

Watch Animated Videos Produced from the Audio Stories

  1. “Covid Kid” by Peh Hui Kee
  2. “Waiting to Stay With Her Family” by Loo Juosie
  3. “Two Boys, Two Nationalities” by Loo Juosie

Throughout the workshop, I developed a better sense of crafting the women’s recordings into short narratives. The subject’s frankness also made it easier for listeners to understand and relate with their experiences.

Why did the women share these stories, which are so deeply personal? The answer was the same from each of them – if it means that the situation will be better in the future for other women, we will do it.

There had to be no other way but for the women and their families’ voices to take centre stage, and I’m glad that we found a way to facilitate that through this workshop.

On 9 September 2021, the Kuala Lumpur High Court made the landmark ruling that Malaysian mothers have equal rights as fathers to confer citizenship on their overseas-born children. The government appealed against this decision, and the court case continues; with the Court of Appeal set to announce its decision on 22 June 2022.

This audio documentary project by Freedom Film Network and Family Frontiers also evolved into a collaboration with The Fourth, for an online campaign platforming the mothers’ collective push for the government to retract its appeal. You may read more about the issue on the site, or watch the documentary here.

Listen to Audio Stories
by Albert Bansa & Kevin Bathman

Empangan Sungai Nenggiri – Suara Bantahan Penduduk Orang Asli by Albert Bansa

Ahud dan Aishah dari Kampung Orang Asli Pos Tohoi, Gua Musang Kelantan menceritakan kekesalan mereka apabila mendapat tahu bahawa kampung mereka akan ditenggelamkan dan mereka terpaksa berpindah keluar dari kampung apabila empangan Sungai Nenggiri siap dibina.

Complexities of Mixed Race Malaysians by Kevin Bathman

This segment features Judith Lee, a mixed-race Malaysian who speaks about the racial discrimination and colourism she had faced throughout her childhood and adult life.

This next segment examines the impact of arbitrary, inconsistent and illogical rules set by the National Registration Department on mixed-race Malaysians.

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