Zin TV, a tool for reappropriating citizen expression

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We have devoted the first two issues of Kairos to a critical analysis of RTBF and its mercantile drift under advertising and political pressure. The drift continues. Fortunately and of course, « Social life resists the screen » as Serge Halimi says. We met with Zin TV, based in the Brussels region and active in many fields, in many countries. A lively alternative that makes you want to get off the screen and does so. Meet Ronnie Ramirez, one of the founders and coordinators of Zin TV.

Can you introduce us to Zin TV, how it was born?

The goal of Zin TV is to create something other than what we are subjected to as television, it’s our way of taking responsibility as audiovisual professionals and offering an alternative. Zin TV was born with an educational vocation with the aim of stimulating social movements, the citizen world, through the desire and ability of people to reappropriate their own image, and the image of their worlds. Understanding that the image is constructed by a language, and that this construction also builds an identity, is fundamental, and Zin TV bases its action on this.

At the time, we were modestly the « Ecole de cinéma des quartiers populaires » which brought together, by affinity, people who were active in video workshops in the neighborhoods. We were already training quite a few people, but once you had given them a taste for the job, it was difficult to give them prospects: the doors to the job market are hard to open, especially if you don’t take the traditional routes. A kind of return to the starting point generated discouragement afterwards and made our action more or less sterile. The time had come to become more ambitious and to offer a follow-up to the trainings we were giving. We took the time to discuss, most of us became aware of the problem and we started to dream of a project that would bring our youth closer to constructive initiatives and collective solutions. And that’s when things really started to take off.

We had already worked with François Ruffin whom we had met in Venezuela where he was doing media training. He launched the newspaper « Fakir » in France(1) in its national formula by a Brussels event talking about the economic lobbies that influence the European Union: it consisted in putting a symbolic plate with the logos of some social movements in the place of another plate — just as symbolic — put by the economic lobbies at the entrance of the European Parliament, it is still there by the way. At the same time, the whole thing was broadcast on Daniel Mermet’s radio show « Là-bas si j’y suis » on France Inter. François asked us to help him. So we contacted the unions and other organizations, because the idea was to combine culture and social issues, artists and social movements. We also brought in « theater and reconciliation », led by Frédérique Lecomte, who staged undocumented migrants who slit the throat of Mr. Kapit Ali St., and we filmed the whole thing(2).

At that moment, it became clear that we needed a name that would correspond to our new project and that could combine training, production, distribution and mobilization. In fact, the reflection on our tool, its structure and its evolution went hand in hand with the search for a name. We needed a television that resembled us and that went beyond the idea of television itself. That is to say, its role is not to isolate people, but rather to get them out of their homes and into action, to meet other citizens and even to bring networks together.

As a good journalist, François had asked us the right question: don’t you have, at home, a character who represents the excluded? In Brussels, it is the zinneke who best represents the character who is in the shade, who is voiceless, without image, a mixed who claims without complex of this mixture. The zinneke is the bastard dog that was drowned in the Senne, it is the symbol of what we do not want. Hence the name « Zin » which comes from Zenne (Senne in Flemish), but which also means « beauty » in Arabic, « sense » in Flemish, and is pronounced like « sans » [sín] in Spanish, sans-télé… Moreover, with its graphical possibilities, the name was just right: « Zin TV ». So it was François Ruffin who helped us to find the name. That’s how we got known and since then, we are overwhelmed. (laughs).

As a result, we have become aware that in our country, there is a lot going on per square metre, there is an extremely rich associative, trade union and cultural life, interesting initiatives and debates, people looking for solutions, original artistic productions, etc., but which take place far from the public service television cameras(3). Why then devote 6 hours of programming to a royal wedding abroad? By showing, we make exist, therefore we stimulate. So we can understand why we don’t show.

Of course, there are still some exceptions, but when the associative life is shown on TV, it is often on the mode of the folkloric, of the anecdotal, of the insignificant and when it is about social struggles, it is on a tone of annoyance that they are approached, of the hygienic distance, when it is not downright criminalize them…

But this, everyone knows, it is necessary to go beyond the simple criticism of the media which is certainly necessary, but limiting and only of a tactical nature. There is also a collective identity card to be built, which defines us and represents the diversity we defend. To do this, we must create our own aesthetic, which is strategic and therefore essential.

It goes without saying that Zin TV will help and accompany those who want to reappropriate the tool. In the best of cases, it is therefore a work of co-construction with associations and committed citizens. From this point of view, Zin TV is a film school for others, with pros coming in to help out. This is our way of democratizing the film education sector, which was originally elitist.

What kind of training do you offer, how do you organize your work?

For the moment, we are mainly responding to a need. There is no single curriculum that we impose on everyone, our repertoire is rich and flexible. Accompanying filmic processes and helping them to develop. We organize trainings wherever we are called: our school is mobile and goes to the citizens. We do not accept training based on the use of the material, there is enough supply at this level. Technical training is only one segment of a process. We don’t let go of regular participants, we follow them until they can be autonomous and even help us train others. But the day will come when we will be able to provide comprehensive and long-term training, the only one that guarantees a result.

Our trainings are conceived as a laboratory of liberation of forms, of cinematographic language and the common references help us to have a common language. That’s why we try to offer references to experiences of cinematographic emancipation in the history of cinema, in order to be part of a heritage other than that of entertainment. Thus, we revisit fertile periods, watch films and try to understand how new aesthetics were forged.

Zin TV is the result of a cinematic legacy. We didn’t start from nothing, we situate ourselves by filiation, that helps us to register in a line of historical continuity of cinematographic emancipation and to envisage a future. Perhaps this is our public service television laboratory of the future?

How do you think things are evolving from this point of view?

Some of us, including myself, have been fortunate enough to travel to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and to be able to participate in and closely study the experience of the burgeoning TV associations. It is interesting to see that the Bolivarian Revolution has opened a front in the audiovisual landscape. It is now joined by thousands of new associative TVs all over Latin America, which is experiencing its second independence and civil society awakening. Venezuela has already put two telecommunication satellites in orbit and Evo Morales’ Bolivia will soon have its own, for the benefit, among others, of the community television movement. Legislation that equitably delimits the terrestrial broadcasting spectrum between the private, public and community sectors is already a reality in Argentina and will be implemented in other countries in the region. In short, it is one of the most interesting phenomena of our contemporary history.

At home, it’s a bit more gloomy for the moment, there is a slope on which film schools are sliding, it’s a general tendency that leans towards commercial fiction at the expense of reality cinema. On the Dutch side it’s the same, with a more accentuated television version. It is of course more lucrative, it attracts more student-clients… Yet in Belgium we can be proud of many experiences from a reality line widely awarded and admired worldwide: the Dardenne brothers, Henry Stork, Paul Meyer, etc. In this sense, we collaborate a lot with Thierry Odeyn, professor and founder with Michel Khleiffi of the reality line at INSAS (film school in Brussels) who influences and feeds positively our work. We must pay tribute to him because he is literally our living library, with a boundless and sincere generosity, a great teacher with a sharp vision of the cinematographic landscape, he enlightens our practices and our compass.

Zin TV is in an evolutionary process, we are institutionalizing little by little and consolidating the project, in a prudent way, because what we have created remains fragile, it even escapes us. This is why we have joined forces with partners who allow us to make our action possible. But, we are doing everything to make this project irreversible.

You state in your brochure that « A writing, directing or investigating requires a slower ‘production speed’  »(4). Do you have a point of view on productivism?

In practice, at Zin TV, we don’t try to rush things, there is no reason to. The pedagogical framework allows us to work by trial and error, where we try and correct, as long as we achieve quality. If you start producing content just to fill up space, it’s a bad sign, it means you’re no longer meeting a need. The day we are on automatic pilot, we will have to be woken up. On the other hand, if it is necessary to intensify a production and respect deadlines, we are ready to do it because it is justified.

If your question is more ideological, in general we do not have a single or univocal political orientation. Our project is to create a space of real citizen participation, and such a space cannot be put under the guardianship of the State, nor of a Marxist-Leninist vanguard, nor of a church, nor of a private company, otherwise this space of citizen power will simply be aborted. It is a fragile space where it is necessary that the ideas of citizens are debated, all with respect and without complexes. It is a question of creating a new political culture, one marked by the field, one of participatory democracy, one of collective action, one that will be at best socio-productive, but which goes beyond the old schemes that condemned any idea of the left in the last century.

It is also to nurture and contribute to the emergence of this new political culture that Zin TV has opened up to the world and is networking with partners in different countries, especially in Latin America. In 2011, we accompanied a delegation of Chilean student leaders to the European Parliament. In their country they are in the spotlight and the video we made had a huge impact there. So we can also give a little help to comrades in struggle at the other end of the planet. We also work with Poadane, Kanak video makers in New Caledonia, ALBA TV and VIVE TV in Venezuela. We are currently shooting a film in Burkina Faso where we are working with communities displaced by a transnational gold mining company. We also work in Belgium, among others, with the Millenium International Documentary Film Festival, the Action Europe Committees against austerity that we have been following since their beginning, etc. The rest is on our website and behind the scenes… All this is really exciting and brings together extraordinary people, while we were drawn a life without horizon.

Interview by JBG, proofread by Ronnie Ramirez.


Zin TV is calling for volunteers to join current or proposed projects. Just send your contact information (name, surname, email, mobile or phone) to 

You will be regularly informed of the requests.

Some proposed projects:

- Writing of the seminar  » Reality Point of View  » of Thierry Odeyn, we are looking for volunteers to transcribe two weeks of seminars. This work will be the subject of a future publication.

- Translation of the work by Jorge Sanjinés.  » Theory and Practice of a Cinema among the People  » is a classic that does not yet exist in French and is only 120 pages long. The Bolivian embassy in Brussels is ready to support us in the publication. We are looking for Spanish translators > French. (Dutch, that’s not a bad thing).

- A list of video permanence for social struggles is also open, to join it you just have to register. If you are not familiar with audio-visual equipment, you are invited to enroll in our social reporting course.

- Zin TV also welcomes students in communication or cinema looking for internships.


Notes et références
  1. http://www.fakirpresse.info
  2. http://www.zintv.org/Journee-de-lancement-du-journal
  3. NDLR: la RTBF vient de déprogrammer « Ca bouge », son « émission présentant l’agenda des manifestations d’éducation permanente en Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles ».
  4. http://www.zintv.org/documents/ZinTV.pdf

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