By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published September 21, 2010
For children in Mathari Primary School and St James Feeding Project and Learning Programme, both situated in the informal settlement of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya, September 11 and 12, 2010 were exceptional weekend days of the beginning of the third and final term of school in 2010. Their first weekend was time well spent with the Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media movement that empowers children and youth with life skills. Lola Kenya Screen, the Kenyan partner in the pan-African Cinetoile project of Africalia, had taken mobile cinema to Mathare Valley. Its local partner in the area is Slum-TV.
Over the two days that Lola Kenya Screen and Slum-TV spent in the slum more than 3000 children aged 3-15-years and adults were exposed to some of the best possible African films. Lola Kenya Screen and Slum-TV showed five feature-length films including Ghana’s HERITAGE AFRICA, Kenya’s FROM A WHISPER, Cameroon’s MAAH SAAH SAH, Burkina Faso’s SAMBA TRAORE, and DRC’s LUMUMBA.
While they were expected to sit through the whole screenings the children were happy that for the first time they were watching films that are pitted in Africa’s early history and culture.
For the audience that got the first exposure to African cinema at the Mathari Primary School on Saturday the day had started on a very low note with the power failure and for close to an hour the children who were eager to see what was on offer for them were kept entertained through songs, poetry and introduction to the whole mobile cinema experience.
When the screening finally started at 12 noon, they were thrilled by the pace setter of the day Heritage Africa a film by Kwaw Ansah that shows the tragedy that befalls Arthur Quincy Bosomfield, the main character who disowns his traditions and culture in favour of those of the English. Though a story that requires a lot of concentration and thinking the children who sat through the 110-minute screening had their emotions clearly displayed; it was certainly something they enjoyed as they either sighed, moaned or sneered at Bosomfield.
However of greater interest for the children of this 1200-pupil primary school was MAAH SAAH SAH by Cameroonian Daniel Kamwa. The 95-minute film is deeply immersed in the lives and traditions of a Cameroonian village. Retracing the story of a teenager Nchare and his troubled engagement to Mapon whom he wins through the traditional seduction dance, the young man has to compete with the wealthy politician, Moluh, who wants to make Mapon his fourth wife. The film thus addresses issues like tradition, abuse of power and the place of the woman in society.
On the other hand children of the 870-pupil strong St James Feeding Project were happy that their Sunday was not just another day. For them watching LUMUMBA, a docu-fiction film based on the life of Patrice Emery Lumumba ‘the first prime minister of Congo-Kinshasa and how fate conspired against him’ was something that they would always remember. A teacher who had accompanied the children for the screening lauded the film for what he said was close and useful to students of history and was important that his pupils had watched such a film to help them with their class work.
For the crew who took these Cinetoile films to the area, it was quite surprising that FROM A WHISPER, a Kenyan film on the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Kenya elicited not a sombre mood but laughter at events such as a shoot out. Perhaps it could be because the children have lived through tumultuous periods like the 2007 post election violence and only seeing it on screen makes it even funnier.
Apart from screening the children attending the screenings were briefed about other activities done by Lola Kenya Screen alongside being introduced to organisations that exposed children to other activities outside the classroom.
Cinetoile is a project of Africalia of Belgium and is supported by the Belgian Development Cooperation and the European Union. Lola Kenya Screen was grateful to Slum-TV resource persons who ensured the smooth running of the two-day events in the area.
Lola Kenya Screen is taking the Cinetoile project right across the breadth and length of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, before the programme winds up at the end of February 2011. By then, Lola Kenya Screen shall have showcased the five films among children and youth through learning, vocational training, cultural and religious centres located in the Nairobi Central Business District, the densely-populated middle class Eastlands, up-market Karen and Lang’ata, and the informal settlements of Mathare and Kibera.