To celebrate our 6th Anniversary, we put Adam in the hot seat.
by Amy Zhang, N-Map Intern
N-Map has had a busy six years. To celebrate our sixth anniversary, I sat down with N-Map’s founder, Adam Stofsky, to ask a few questions on how it all began, what we’ve learned along the way, where N-Map sits within the human rights movement, and our goals moving forward.
Adam Stofsky: It was really my experience as a public interest lawyer—I practiced law for about five years. I was frustrated at how hard it was for my clients to speak out, as their story was limited to what they said in direct examination, and cross examination in court – basically a public interrogation.
I thought, over and over again, if my clients could speak directly to the decision makers or even their opponents in the case, it would make a big difference. So I started making movies, and it worked incredibly well across legislative advocacy, policy, and litigation. I realized that public interest lawyers weren’t using their clients’ stories well enough—taking the humanity out of human rights in a lot of ways.
So I founded N-Map to address that problem. N-Map presents the voices of the clients, the survivors and victims of human rights violations, as the center of our advocacy work.
AZ: What are some of the projects you’re proudest of? What results have the projects achieved?
AS: The projects I’m proudest of are not necessarily the ones with the greatest impacts but the ones that we should be proud of just getting done..
Our very first project was for the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Partners in Health (PIH). They hired us to document an innovative program they launched to do a medical and legal collaboration. I found myself in three different prisons in Haiti, documenting pretty horrible conditions: cells packed with 70 guys for years and years. I was so proud that we got a team in Haiti, got them into the prisons, told the stories of the prisoners in a compassionate and authentic way, and then produced a video on a very tiny budget.
The same is true of our video “Waiting for Fahd: One Family’s Hope for Life” that we did with the Center for Constitutional Rights. We travelled to Yemen to document, in great detail, the story of the family of Fahd Ghazy—a man detained in Guantanamo for 10 years.
When thinking about results and impacts, our earthquake work in Haiti comes to mind. One video was used as evidence in the safety hearing on the conditions of IDP camps in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the other was an advocacy video on gender based violence that was presented to the United States Congress. During that time, there was a huge amount of disaster porn coming out of Haiti, so what makes me most proud is that our work directly served human rights organizations, with all the footage owned and essentially controlled by them. We rooted our videos almost entirely in the voices of Haitian people. And, as a result, the videos had significant impact.
AZ: What are the biggest ways that N-Map has changed in the past few years? Are the goals still the same?
AS: Our theory of change has remained the same: the merging of media and powerful storytelling with video advocacy can yield tremendous results.
Now, we’ve focused more on how to organize our work to best support the human rights movement. We think carefully about how to develop tools and techniques that can be used around the field and replicated. Complicated issues call for us to test different modes of storytelling-—for example, we’re currently thinking of ways to talk about child marriage in the very conservative context of northern Nigeria.
We’re also testing ways of using technology and integrating video into tech platforms, from our work in documenting disability rights in the Republic of Georgia to criminal justice in Brooklyn. And we’re testing interesting legal tactics like in the case of the Guarderia ABC tragedy, in which we used the video as a way of getting the case’s story in front of the IACHR commissioners during the admissibility stage of a case.
AZ: So now that we’ve done all these projects, what have we learned in the past six years about best practices and the most effective techniques?
AS: Strong pre-planning and communication with our partners and clients is absolutely crucial. Understanding the strategy early and shooting the video in a focused manner is essential to avoid getting bogged down. Pre-planning entails the understanding of who the audience is and what the distribution strategy should therefore be. It also means focusing on what’s absolutely crucial to achieving our goal during the shoot—so instead of doing 50 interviews, do ten.
We’ve learned that developing a strategy and producing a video for our partners isn’t enough. N-Map needs to invest heavily in thinking about long term implementation and distribution in an advocacy context. Early on, it was difficult to get funding for the production of the video itself, let alone the harder, longer term work in making the video do the work it needs to do. But it’s really crucial, and the more we invest in implementation, the better the results will be.
AZ: Going off that, what are some challenges N-Map has faced and is still facing?
AS: The resources of our partners. We work with a lot of smaller local organizations that are under-resourced in a variety of ways—money, staff, available talent. The entire human rights movement is strapped for resources. It’s incredibly challenging.
In terms of our own resources, we’re asked to perform miracles for a very modest budget, as every human rights organization is asked to do. And sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. It’s also hard to find people to do this challenging work—we need an unusual mix of skillsets: lawyers, filmmakers, designers, folks who understand how human rights advocacy gets done.
Trauma is an under addressed issue for us as media creators and human rights professionals. It’s easy to underestimate the effect of trauma on all of us, especially for the field staff and the film editors, who watch, over and over again, the acts of violence or testimony from people who’ve suffered horrible pain. Hopefully, in the next five years, the human rights community will proactively address this issue. It’s certainly slowed me down in my work and, I believe, my colleagues that have been here for a while.
AZ: With N-Map expanding, what are your goals or new directions for the next few years?
AS: Our goals are actually to narrow and focus as we grow—we’re not interested in becoming a huge organization with many offices. We’re interested in finding ways to overcome the challenges and problems that the human rights movement has difficulty solving. We want to focus in on building a set of programs that develop ways media should be used more broadly.
AZ: How can people and organizations get involved with N-Map?
AS: We work entirely with partners. We will work with organizations doing any kind of human interest or law work, defined broadly. The best way to work with us is to reach out to us—we will respond to every request.
To contact us, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for N-Map updates and regular news on international human rights.
*Interview edited for length.