By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published June 12, 2010
It was a daunting task as the Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media initiative for children and youth in eastern Africa arrived in the informal settlement of Kibera in Nairobi in order to share films with the residents. This was the first of 10 Cinetoile African Film Network’s shows initiated by Africalia of Belgium and supported by the Belgian Development Cooperation and the European Commission with eight African partners in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo-Kinshasa, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Though Lola Kenya Screen was able to screen FROM A WHISPER by Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu to more than 430 viewers at Spurgeon Academy, the beginning of the 2010 FIFA world cup posrd a challenge in that the second session which comprised moderated discussion and the introduction of the programme that would take place in four subsequent screenings was crippled.
But the ‘ouch’, ‘uh’ and ‘ah’ sighs expressed by the audience as they watched the gripping tale of the August 7, 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya where 250 lives were lost and 5,000 others injured summarised it all for any keen observer that the story not only involved the students but was informing them of something many of them had either not witnessed or only heard of in passing.
While the school walked out of the screening hall without asking questions in order to catch the opening of the World Cup ceremony in South Africa on television, a girl of about nine years walked to the programme to verify whether it was all fictional or the film was really based on a real event. This implied that the film not only showed high levels of audiovisual media story-telling but also enlightened the students about something they were unaware of despite having happened in their country.
Established in 2003, Spurgeon’s Primary Academy is a non-informal community school that targets children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and also those who come from economically disadvantaged families. With a population of 415 pupils ranging from early child-hood education to standard 8, the school that relies on well-wishers, has a teaching staff of 13.
As far as the screening was concerned, Lola Kenya Screen that is representing Kenya in the pan African Cinetoile film project had made a great move towards realising the goal of enhancing the prestigious works of African cinema and recognising them as elements of cultural heritage as per the objectives of the project. But unlike in the developed areas of Kenya where the audience have the joy of watching a movie in a well ventilated, air-conditioned auditoria, the audience at Spurgeon had to contend with sitting or squatting on a rough cement floor, stand or sit on classroom desks that had been carted to the make-shift hall whose walls like the roof, are made of iron sheets without any ceiling board over the 96-minute screening.
And in a school where the facilities are limited, the whole screening equipment could not be used and Lola Kenya Screen despite having a better screen for showcasing the film had to improvise a screen as its screen is too big and can’t fit in the hall.
The challenges were immeasurable; the Kibera-based partner pulled out at the eleventh hour demanding their own full feature film be shown as a pore-condition for their involvement; vehicle transporting equipment and staff broke down several times over the 10 kilometre stretch between Kibera and the Lola Kenya Screen headquarters and had to be repaired leading to a delay in the whole programme. Then mobility became a nightmare in the entire slum. With two screenings scheduled for the same day, Lola Kenya Screen could only do only one while the second one at Kibera Glory Secondary School, based in the Laini Saba section of Kibera, was inaccessible. The footpath that passes for the road had been dug up and the vehicle, just few minutes away from the school, had to turn back as it could not proceed on without getting stuck in the trench ahead. Had the vehicle gone ahead, the crew would have had to pay for assistance to get across two rails acting as bridges but still fail to get to the school. And if it struggled to turn back, the crew still had to pay for safe passage. The crew comprising two technicians, two managers, two documentalists and a moderator chose the latter.
With nine more screenings still pending in the area, Lola Kenya Screen is doing everything possible to ensure the children of one of Kenya’s largest slums benefit from this worthwhile project. Despite the odds stacked high against the project.