It’s encouraging to hear about vibrant filmic activity in war ravaged South Sudan. Martin Chemhere reports on a grass roots arts organisation that is building the local industry.
Woyee Film and Theatre Industry has produced over 25 short films and radio dramas, as well as public service announcements (PSAs) during the Voter Education Exercise in the 2010 Elections and the 2011 Referendum. These were distributed to all 10 states of South Sudan and to its radio stations. They also played on state television every day.
“We were the first to produce a 30-minute film dealing with the census in Southern Sudan in 2008 and then produced our first feature film, Jamila, two years later,’ explains Woyee’s Daniel Danis.
Woyee has an estimated 150 members who operate from two branches – Torit and the current capital city of Juba.
The organisation was established in South Sudan by people who initially lived in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp between the 1990s and 2007 and received training from Film Aid International. After repatriating to South Sudan, these individuals formed Woyee to train other youths in South Sudan.
The organisation owes its humble beginnings to the sole efforts of Chandler Griffin, founding director of Barefoot Workshops in Mississippi, US, who provided advice and support as a former trainer at Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Griffin initially sponsored two of the refugees – Daniel Danis and Simon Lokwang – to attend a film school in Nairobi to learn more about filmmaking. After completing the course, Lokwang and Danis along with colleagues, formed Woyee with the dream of establishing a film industry in South Sudan.
At Woyee’s disposal there is in-house equipment such as a Sony PD camera, a Canon XL1 camera and a Mac iPad computer (editing suite).
The 140-minute feature film Jamila was entirely shot in Juba between May 2010 and January 2011. It screened at the Nyakuron Cultural Centre in February 2011 with about 500 people in attendance.
Jamila’s lead actors are Joyce Maker in the title role and Lazarus Lual (as Juma) with 15 other supporting roles.
A two-part movie, it tells the story of an orphaned South Sudanese girl. While still at university she does all she can to complete her studies and get a job to support her younger brother who is still at school. She is introduced to the wealthy Juma, who showers her with gifts and pays her school fees till she graduates. Juma starts to ask for sexual favors as a pay-back and Jamila is impregnated and jilted.
Produced for about $2 000, Jamila was written, produced and directed by Woyee Film and Theatre Industry members.
Danis stresses that the film is 100% South Sudanese. “There was no consultation with outside film experts. We wanted to make the film on our own to see what we could come up with.
“Funding was achieved through the money received for the work done for the United National Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Southern Sudan Elections Commission and Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, during the elections and referendum.’
Instead of paying the actors, who are all Woyee members, it was decided to rent a small office and buy an editing suite and camera.
Transport and limited finances were the biggest challenges faced during the shoot.
No cinema culture
South Sudan has an underdeveloped film culture with non-existent cinemas, which makes screening home grown films difficult.
“We aim to pioneer the concept of cinemas in a number of areas and we want to convince many people that we can actually have cinemas in South Sudan. It is not impossible to do what Nigerians have done in Nollywood and what has been done in Bollywood.’
Most people rely on the only television station in the country – government-owned South Sudan Television.
Danis explains that access to television in private homes remains largely a pipe dream as many are too poor to afford TV sets. “This makes it difficult for locals to buy home grown films on video or DVD and for small film companies like Woyee to support itself.’
Elfatih Majok Atem, manager of Cinematography and Film Industry Section (Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports) counts Jamila as the eighth film to be made by locals since the referendum.
Others include Salt of the Nation – about the struggle of the people of South Sudan and their dreams and hopes; Lazy Woman – a short film about a woman who ignores house chores and attracts the ire of her husband; Step Out of Violence – about children who abscond from school due to criminal activities; Shamarat (Gossips) and Bad Boys.
“All of these films have been well received by the South Sudanese because they are not used to seeing themselves in films and it was something they have wanted for a long time. Most of the films are aired on South Sudan TV (SSTV) and people are asking for more,’ says Atem.
Regarding challenges facing South Sudanese filmmakers, Atem says: “Many local filmmakers have never had any training so they teach themselves on the job. Those who are experts face the challenge of accessing good equipment and tools.’
To counter these difficulties, the ministry is providing equipment and training for those interested in filmmaking and video production. Other institutions, like the privately run film school Movie and TV Academy in Juba, provide much needed training.
Lack of training means fewer filmmakers with appropriate skills and the influx of films from countries like Nigeria and Ghana. These two countries feed South Sudan with Nollywood style movies that have captivated many people.
The Ministry of Culture is also in touch with other South Sudanese in the diaspora who want to return back to Sudan to impart their knowledge. Atem is in contact with Chol Mangar, a young filmmaker based in Australia, who plans to visit and support the filmmakers of South Sudan.
According to Atem although there is no annual festival yet, locals have mooted the formation of a youth film festival in the future. He also hopes his country will have a Film Commission by 2015.
By August this year Sudan will host the shooting of what Atem terms “a huge film co-production between a local production house in collaboration with Kenya, Uganda and South Africa’. Watch this space.
By Martin Chemhere
Screen Africa Magazine March 2012