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99.media They tell stories to humans about other humans

Nowadays, everyone wants to be a storyteller. But sometimes it feels like this urge to tell stories overshadows the question – what stories are important to tell? And what stories are important to listen to?

99.media is a documentary platform which has thought long and hard about this. Launched in France in 2015, the team’s carefully curated selection of short films from around the world swoop down into extraordinary individual lives, from a blind paralympic champion to a society of British men who glorify the mundane, and from a Polish female bodybuilder to two Japanese people who live in an internet cafe.

A four-square-metre box with a screen and computer. This is what Japanese cyber-cafes offer, around the clock.

“Call me naive but I believe people are interested in other people,” founder Jérôme Plan explains. “That is how I see the world. That is why documentary films exist, because they tell stories to humans about other humans.”

“I feel human when I discover the story of Masata and Hitomi living in a four-meter-square box in a Tokyo cybercafé; when I discover the story of Mark, an extraordinary guitar player who was born without arms; when I discover the story of two Iranian migrants going through hell to reach Australia. These stories touch the human within.”

As well as being human tales that touch on bigger, universal themes Jérôme and his team seek out “unseen” stories, “since we believe the power of documentary film is to reveal and enlighten.”

An animated short film, narrated by two asylum-seeking men detained in Australia's Manus Island Offshore Processing Centre.

A major thing that differentiates 99.media from other film sites is that it translates its films into different languages. As well as English, films can be watched in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and German. There are plans to add Russian, Chinese, Turkish and Arabic in due course.

For Jérôme, this is a way of building much bigger audiences for these films which might otherwise fail to get proper traction. “It has never been so ‘easy’ to make a documentary – professional gear is more affordable now than ever before and there is so much you can learn on your own.

“But once your film is made, what can you do to make it visible? How can you make sure your doc will find its audience, have an impact, make a difference?

“We humbly thought multilingualism could be an efficient way to help these storytellers find the audience they are looking for and a great way to get great stories out there.”

This drive to make a genuinely international platform fits the ethos behind the storytelling too. Jérôme has a globetrotting past – he grew up in France, Ivory Coast, French Guyana and Gabon, and worked as a journalist in China, Israel and South Africa.

Clearly this has shaped the kinds of films he is drawn to. “I was deeply touched by Goodbye Mandima, one of our shorts telling the story of a young European boy recounting his childhood in Zaire. Through old photographs and home movies, he recalls the day he and his family had to leave their village forever.

“I was moved by the story because I grew up in Africa. But this intimacy, this simplicity, this creativity, without any music or technical trick, told in the first person by the filmmaker himself – it’s brilliant!”

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