Faculty Spotlight: Kari Barber

Picture of Kari-Barber, professor, filmmaker, journalist and multimedia producer

Meet iDMAa member Kari Barber — an assistant professor in the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, a journalist and a multimedia producer. Kari’s current project and passion is her first interactive documentary, Struggle and Hope, which deals with historic black towns in her home state of Oklahoma.

Last November, Kari presented a paper on Struggle and Hope at the iDMAa Fast Forward/2013 conference in Laguna Beach. In a recent interview, we asked why she decided to take an interactive approach to document the story.

iDMAa: Tell us about your latest endeavor.
Kari: The project is called Struggle and Hope and it’s about an effort in my home state of Oklahoma to create an all-black state after the Civil War. It didn’t happen. Most of the nearly 50 towns that were set up in the effort have disappeared, but a dozen remain. The remaining towns are struggling for survival and for their history to be included in mainstream history. I grew up in Oklahoma, and never even heard of this story.

iDMAa: What are some of the challenges you are facing with this project?
Kari: I initially thought of doing a traditional documentary, but I knew that would mean having to leave so many towns and stories on the cutting room floor.  Because part of the problem is that history has been so top-down and now we are seeing a real interest in robust people’s history, I wanted the project to be interactive. Many people with ties to these towns now live in places like California or New York, but they still care about the towns and the history. I wondered how I could make this project a way to connect people through this history across geographical divides. I decided it should be a participatory people’s history documentary. This is something totally new for me, but I’m excited about the chance to experiment.

iDMAa: In what stage of production are you?
Kari: I spent last summer filming and collecting stories from about half of the remaining towns and this year I will finish visiting the rest of the towns. I am working with a team of historical advisers who are really the top in their fields, as well as another filmmaker. Now we are looking for partners to help us build the interactive site. We are also in the midst of fundraising for the project.

iDMAa: When are you hoping to complete Struggle and Hope?
Kari: I hope to debut the project in 2015.

iDMAa: How long have you been a member of iDMAa?
Kari: I just joined last year (2013).

iDMAa: How did you find out about us?
Kari: In graduate school I worked as a graduate assistant for Brigid Maher who has been active in iDMAa for some time. I was familiar with her work with iDMAa and then when I became a professor she encouraged me to join.

iDMAa:  You attended the iDMAa conference for the first time this year, what did you enjoy about the conference?
Kari: The best thing about the conference was stretching my limits and getting beyond my comfort zone. I’m very comfortable talking about video production, documentaries and journalism, but talking and thinking about forms of digital media arts outside of my area of expertise was challenging and exciting.

iDMAa: Will the experience help inform your research or curriculum development and, if so, in what way?
Kari: Since I’m in the planning stages of my first interactive documentary, the new ideas I learned from the conference will be instrumental in how I approach the project and the new narrative challenges that come with interactive documentary. Also, I want to help encourage my students to be excited about the marriage of art and technology.

In addition to her teaching and creative projects at the Reynolds School, Kari has worked as a researcher and reporter for two documentaries for the PBS public affairs show Frontline and has been a part of numerous independent documentary productions. She worked internationally as a freelance multimedia producer in Southeast Asia and West and Central Africa where she reported for international news organizations including the Voice of America, Associated Press Television News, Marie Claire magazine, Reuters news agency, France 24, the United Nations humanitarian news analysis site IRIN, and The Christian Science Monitor. She also worked in Sierra Leone as a media trainer for the organization Journalists for Human Rights.

Kari has a Master of Fine Arts in Filmmaking and Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C. and a BA in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma.

Welcome to iDMAa, Kari!  We look forward to working with you in the future.  

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