Reflecting on our Telly Award-winning Videos with Erick Gibson

June 4th, 2021 | Viewpoint


In May 2021, JSI won three Telly Awards for two videos about our HIV response work in Tanzania through the Community Health and Social Welfare Systems Strengthening Program (CHSSP), funded by the United States Agency for International Development. We produced the videos in partnership with Erick Gibson Productions. Here, Erick reflects on his experience of producing these videos with us.

Please give our readers an overview of the Telly Awards.

The Telly Awards encompass broadcast (TV) and non-broadcast (internet and any other screens, venues) entries from an international pool of creators, advertising agencies, television studios, etc. Essentially any and all levels of production, genre, and category are eligible for the competition. It is a broad-spectrum community of individuals and organizations involved in motion-image storytelling who come together to exhibit what they’ve been working on. It’s nice to get some recognition for your efforts and have others in the industry see what you’ve been producing.

What was a key highlight of your experience while shooting/producing these videos for JSI’s CHSSP project?

The highlight for me on these types of projects is definitely witnessing the courage, strength, and resilience of the individuals whose stories we are telling. Being in front of them and seeing and hearing the reality of their experiences is something I never forget. The details really stick. Having an understanding of the generosity it takes for someone to allow you to portray the details and reality of their life in documentary form is not something I take lightly. The importance of the work is palpable also in those moments. It is particularly impressive for someone to give so much when you consider certain stigmas that exist in the locations and surrounding the topics we work with. This is the kind of work that takes you outside yourself. It feels like purpose. That’s what I get out of this type of work—a purposeful existence, perhaps more than any other projects I am involved with.

Given the sensitive nature of these video stories, what do you think worked well in terms of ensuring we were telling people’s stories in a respectful way?

I suppose I would say communication is one of the keys to trust and respect. What works in my eyes is having exceptional project staff, good communicators, and strong organizers who are attentive to the concerns and needs of the people whose lives we are documenting. Obviously strong translators are necessary. Pre-production preparation is crucial. The preparation and organization prior to arriving on projects with JSI, in my experience, has been exemplary, in every detail large and small, including selection of individuals to feature. For my part, I hope that my empathy and respect show through in my approach. I do my best to be aware of signals of discomfort during the filming process. I move slowly and get approval of any action to the best of my ability. This is, of course, facilitated by JSI staff working alongside me at every stage.

We’d love to hear you reflect on why you think these videos were selected for awards. What do you think might have resonated with the judges?

I hope what resonates in our work is our honest approach and ability to illustrate a real, human story in a concise, meaningful, and emotional manner. I would also be pleased if the cinematography and editing contributed to illustrating an individual’s story while highlighting the project’s impact.

Photo of Eric GibsonErick Gibson is an award-winning photojournalist, a stills photographer, and a cinematographer. After graduating magna cum laude with a BA in photography, Erick began a professional photography career. Equally comfortable shooting in studio or on location, Erick’s portfolio includes documentary photojournalism, portrait, product, lifestyle, travel, and fashion photography. He is inspired by the power of cinema and art and the ability of these mediums to tell stories and to communicate beyond the boundaries of spoken and written language. When not developing his photography and filmmaking projects, Erick likes to skateboard, rock climb, and surf.

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