By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published October 15, 2010
Africa, a continent with numerous cultural practices, is faced with a problem in that very few people know about these intriguing ways of life in each of the mother continent’s 54 countries. For such a continent film remains largely an element of cultural heritage as well as a tool for dialogue.
This is what Lola Kenya Screen, an audiovisual movement in Eastern Africa, discovered when, through her weekly school outreach mobile cinema programme, spent an afternoon at the Good Testimony Junior School in Nairobi’s Embakasi District.
After showing Daniel Kamwa’s 92-minute film, MAH SAAH SAH (I don’t Discuss), a production that is deeply immersed in the lives and traditions of a Cameroonian village to the pupils at the school, the film raised many questions in the minds of the young ones.
Produced in 2008, MAH SAAH SAH is a film with universal appeal as it touches on the themes of tradition and modernity while denouncing the corruption that undermines the political environment and conveys a message of hope in an African society that can keep its feet steeped in traditions and its head in modernity.
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The pupils appeared mesmerised by the cultural aspects of the seduction dance through which young people who have come of the age choose their spouses; they loudly wondered if what the film captures still happens in modern Africa.
A pupil could not understand how the political representative (deputy) of the village could drive an expensive luxury car while the rest of the villagers relied on hand-driven carts to get to various destinations, including medical facilities and shopping centres.
For the children who had to watch the 92-minute African tale while seated on a cold concrete floor at the middle class private school located within Nyayo Estate, the greedy, corrupt and manipulative nature of Moluh, the political leader of the constituency in which the film is set was quite overwhelming for them.
To the boys in the hall it was surprising that people still practised unsafe circumcision methods like sharing of one knife on all the boys. They expressed their worry that such practices were likely to lead to transmission of dangerous diseases like the HIV/Aids virus.
The interest generated by this film was evidenced on how the children responded and readily asked questions seeking clarification on the scenes that they did not understand.
While the viewers, aged 9-13 years were generally happy with the film, they pointed out to some issues that they thought were unrealistically portrayed in the film. Despite this, the impact that this production by Coconut Dream productions had on the audience was great and a handful of the students asked where they could buy it for themselves.
Did this unusual activity have any impact on the children who watched the film? Perhaps; the pupils’ desire to watch another Cinetoile film was just one of the pointers that the activity was not a time wasting for them.
“I am inspired by what I have seen in the film. I have always featured in school plays but never given it much thinking about acting; the film has greatly inspired me,” said an 11-year-old pupil of standard five.
Built on the principle of enhancing the prestigious works of African cinema and recognising them as elements of cultural heritage, the Cinetoile mobile cinema initiative is a pan-African project supported by Africalia of Belgium and conducted in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo-Kinshasa, Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa and Zimbabwe.