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When the first edition of Film Africa Documentary Film Festival opened last week (4th - 9th Nov) at CBD Nairobi, the expectation was to get the seasoned documentary film makers to present their films as well as attend the workshop which was also honorably graced by an international trainee from India, Neelima Mathur.  

You would expect not to miss in attendance, the likes of Pete Murimi, the indispensable Wafa and Amira Tajdin, Toni Kamau, Jane Munene, Judy Kibinge or Simiyu Barasa but there was a different air to it. What surprised the organizers of the festival, the Director Charles Asiba and managers – East African Documentary network (EADN), is that illustrious actors found themselves enrolled in the documentary workshop as well as enter documentaries and short films in the one week program that ended November 9th.

In a round table seminar room at Goethe institute during the introductions to kick start the workshop, Virginia Mando famously known as Mama Jobu in NTV’s Beba Beba said that there was a time she was given a role in a big production but it took her a while to realize at the end of the script that she was encouraging her son to remain gay. Virginia says she quickly aborted the project because she could not support ideals she does not believe in. That was one reason she said she wanted to do documentaries; to have control of the subject matter.

Sitting adjacent to her was Mumbi Kaigwa who was ostensibly comfortable with the new role she was adapting as a documentary filmmaker. Her last stage act was the play For Colored Girls adaptation. A serious documentary filmmaker needs a whole lot of research and build on conflict of their ideas, she decided to start by documenting herself and the identity that comes with her name which she has started structuring.  While the facilitator analyzed that most African stories tend to rely on identity, she made Mumbi have a universal perspective of her story. If you saw her after the workshop, she had a spring in her step! This goes without forgetting a famous young actor by the name Sarah Rimbui who not only has a thing for documentaries but is now one of the main admins of EADN, the new documentary consultancy group in the region.

The festival also allowed for short films to be included as a way to pull the non documentary creators to have a glimpse of documentaries. Surprisingly, one of the famous KBC/Citizen actors Godwin Otwoma famously known as Kapkoros Bwambok Arap Songok emerged with a 30 minute beautiful short piece  titled Haunted souls  which he directed while attending the Maisha film lab workshops in Uganda. The film is set in post-conflict Northern Uganda in which a former child soldier and captive wife abducted at an early age by LRA rebels tries to rebuild her life. There were other short films especially from Aga Khan school which had a very interactive session at the screenings.

The documentary that impressed in the festival was Give me back my home by Zippy Kamundu who took us on her journey back to Burnt Forest where her family home was burnt in 1992 during the tribal clashes that broke out in Kenya after the onset of multipartysm. She was inspired to go back after making her short fiction film Burnt Forest after 19 years of contemplation.

The Chairman of the Film Africa Documentary Film Festival Mr Hans Bosscher who is also the chairman of the Dutch Society of Film and Television Professionals said that other than passion from filmmakers the government has to support documentaries otherwise the identity of a nation will perish. The same was actuated by Neelima Mathur who said that nowhere in the world do docu filmmakers sojourn alone. The director of the festival, Mr. Charles Asiba, for a successful first, augmented accreditation for the 12 participants who made it for the workshop.

Whether a documentary assists actors to be revered seriously or satisfies the purpose to which an actor receives ownership of a production or wants to control how to serve society remains to be seen. But what is happening in the documentary sector only proves that there’s more to explore outside the fictitious fiction life that sometimes loses touch in ‘just entertainment’. Over and above, what Virginia Mando is trying to tell all of us is that as filmmakers we need be careful that the exercise of our freedom is not a stumbling block to the weak especially to the young whose attitudes haven’t been well developed.

Article by Mukhula Were

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