By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published July 20, 2009
Lola Kenya Screen film festival 2009 presents a rich variety of the best possible film production in the world for children, youth and family. Believing in the convention that moving images are and should be powerful and basic tools in educating its audience, this year’s festival presents films that address matters of sexuality, migration, identity, self-determination, HIV/Aids, spirituality, friendship and the hyped up fad of celebrities adopting children from the so-called Developing World.
The emphasis shown by many films in addressing issues that deal with sexuality among the youth raise a lot of concern especially in these times when everyone agrees that today’s youth are sexually active and that parents have failed to educate their children.
In PALABRAS NECIAS, OÍDOS SORDOS (Stupid Words, Deaf Ears), a one-minute fictional film from Argentina, Daniela asks her mother what sex education is, but her mother in an effort to avoid the topic pretends to be very busy preparing food for the family and refers Daniela to her dad for an answer. Dad is also busy but like many parents would say he pays for school fees for her to be taught at school. In the end Daniela becomes pregnant at 13 and her busy mother declares her ‘irresponsible’.
But more relevant to the trend witnessed among college and university students is A CRACK IN THE WALL, a film directed by Phillippe Talavera of Namibia. In this film Susan Njikata, a university student goes to a club with her friends where she ends up getting gang-raped. But could she be making up the story for sympathy and access and anti-retroviral drugs after having indulged herself in unprotected sex with several men?
At this time when cohabitation among students is rampant on campuses and sex has become like a handshake, it is distressing that young people are more worried about being pregnant than contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections, including HIV/Aids.
Though it may be true that some youngsters engage in this risky sexual behaviour due to lack of people to educate them, it is also true that many of them suffer from an identity crisis thus attempt everything to define who they are. This is a theme that is addressed by a film from Argentina called EN BÚSQUEDA DE LA IDENTIDAD/In Search of Identity. A one minute comedy, the film shows a young man who tries on all kinds of attires to define who he is but no type of outfit characterises who he is and ends up in despair. DEFINITION, a youth-produced film from the USA shows the importance of expressing one’s own personal style rather than allowing it to be defined by what others think.
While many films starring teenagers show the irresponsible nature of this generation, films starring younger children show how they are taking charge where parents and adults fail them. In KUR PALUDIS ELVIS/Finding Elvis, five children(ages 11 and 12 years)are concerned that no one is interested in what has happened to their classmate Elvis, who has been absent from school for a month. Chili Bite and Thembi of IZULU LAMI could also fall in this category.
SOTTO IL MIO GIARDINO/Under My Garden, on the other hand, shows Marco, a 10-year-old boy who has a passion for insects and is convinced that his neighbour has killed his wife and has buried her under his garden, the evidence being a large ant-nest he has been carefully examining for a while. He thus decides to carry out some investigations.
Away from issues of sexuality and the lives of the youth, the critical issues of immigration and the problems many people face as they cross borders from one country to the other have also featured in many films. Most have been inspired by incidences that have been witnessed or are based on true life experience by the filmmakers. For instance, HOUNA AND MANNY is a story of two girls whose parents have gone to the immigration office in the USA to apply for permanent residency status. One of the girls-who had been apprehensive that her mother would be denied the much sought after document-is lucky that her mother gets through after a long day’s wait, but the other ‘who had been confident her father would get through’ continues to wait for the father even when the working hours have ended: has her father been arrested or deported? HOUNA AND MANNY is inspired by two tragedies near Boston where the film takes place: 361 immigrant factory workers were arrested and separated from their children.
IN OUR SHOES, too, deals with the discrimination African migrants and refugees face in South Africa.
UNA VIDA MEJOR/A Better Life is another film that addresses the immigration issue and is based on a true story; this film is the faithful account of three Mexican children who get lost in the desert while trying to cross into the USA that is often seen as a land of prosperity whose streets are paved in gold and money can be plucked from trees that abound!
And further on the issue of adoption of children by world celebrities has also been addressed by Powys Dewhurst in WHO ARE YOU WEARIN’?, a timely thought-provoking satire that pokes fun at the controversial fad of Third World adoption by celebrities. Dewhurst, a black filmmaker appears to be touching on issues that are rarely addressed by fellow filmmakers and according to him the issue is not adoption of children by foreigners, but how it is done as one must be very careful not to make the adoption into something distasteful, like the Great White hunter’s journey into ‘darkest Africa’ to snatch a rare tiger or something of that nature.
On a lighter note the issue of friendship has been tackled through animation perhaps targeting the very young ones. This is through Brittanie Marques’s A FRIEND, a colourful animation constructed for young viewers inspired by a poem about cherishing friendship. Throughout the film, she explores different techniques and mediums, providing a fresh visual for the intended audience, while relaying an important message. This is also the message brought out in THE HAPPY DUCKLING, EL REGALA DE LA PACHAMAMA and MUSEN.
ZIMBABWE, MAN HAM HASTAM and IN OUR SHOES deal with migrants and labour issues.
Appearing to be borrowing a leaf from the Nigerian home videos, BATTLE OF THE SOULS from Uganda tackles the issue of the underworld power through an African tale of the supernatural. Ryan, a young reporter loses his job and girlfriend in one day. One evening in a bar while drinking with his long-time buddies, he comes across a briefcase filled with cash belonging to a mysterious underworld lord. Greed and conflict over the possession of the money begins to erode their friendship. Depressed and in a vulnerable position, Ryan agrees to join the underworld, unknown to him the organisation is actually a cult that sacrifices humans in exchange for wealth, power and glory.
While films are important building blocks in transforming society, the 2009 Lola Kenya Screen Film festival for children and youth appears to be a cultural exchange in its best form. It homogenises the tendencies of cultural globalisation and helps children to perceive the values of cultural diversity, a key to the formation of democratic and peaceful societies.