African Press Association

Refugee film makers dare to dream big

Behind the scene image ‘It Has Killed My Mother’ courtesy of EKF

From MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – LIFE is never comfortable growing up in a refugee camp. It is a life of poverty, limited access to education, lack of access to sporting or recreational facilities and few opportunities.
Hopelessness and misery abound. This is a reality thousands of people have known for decades in Kenya’s sprawling refugee camps, including the northwestern Kakuma, whose population has leaped 183 500.
However, challenges have not deterred a group of refugees from channel their creativity into something meaningful by telling stories that affect them.
While Kakuma means nowhere in Swahili, to these refugees, it signifies the beginning of something great.
Abdul Patient (25), originally from Burundi, arrived in Kakuma refugee camp in 2010 alongside his younger brother.
The language barrier took its toll on the asylum seekers.
“It’s not easy at the refugee camp my brother,” he said.
“The year I got here, I tried to go to school but it was hard to enter into the English system while I was used to French system,” said Patient whose first language is French.
He dropped out and took a six-month English course at a local centre dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged youth.
Upon completion, he attended a one-year film training program at Film Aid International in 2011 before graduating as the best student and winning the best film award.
Such excellence earned him promotion as a film training facilitator.
That marked the beginning of his filmmaking journey.
In 2014, Patient created a group to focus on raising awareness issues affecting the refugee community through the power of film.
Initially, his youth did not embrace his efforts, dismissing his project as a waste of time.
Again, his spirits were not dampened.
He offered his skill for free to produce more than 20 projects ranging from music and audio productions, weddings, events and dramas.
Realising a gap and need for his services, the idea of a production company crossed his mind.
“I never look myself as refugee but I do always look myself as blessed human being and I can use this filmmaking skill to solve my problem because I believe we can fix some of our problems than paying someone else to fix them for us,” he said in an interview.
That has led to the founding of Exile Key Films (EKF), a production company run by Refugee Filmmakers that works on refugees stories that empower, educate and impact greatly on the viewers.
The instant success of the film, It Has Killed My Mother is testament to the success of the production house. Other notable productions include A Journey Through My City, Early Marriage, Homeland and Living Positively.
m>It Has Killed My Mother has been nominated for awards in five categories in the 2017 Slum Film Festival Kenya set for October.
Real life experiences of the script writer, Aminah Rhwimo (24), inspired the production.
Touched by the experiences of many women bound by retrogressive traditions in a refugee camp, Rhwimo began to conduct research on female gender mutilation ( FGM) and the communities that are disposed to the practice.
“It was challenging at first since no one wanted to talk about FGM but after showing persistence, women and girls started opening up to me,” noted Rhwimo, who is from Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a continent where addressing various challenges faced by communities could be seen as direct attack on culture and traditional beliefs, the use of film was the most viable means of addressing such vices.
When different women and girls who participated in the research opened up about their experiences, and their vow they would not take their daughters through FGM, she knew her film had struck a chord.
“I did not know what impact the film would have until after premier of the film in Nairobi,” she said.
“Right there I knew this film would make a difference.”
Rhwimo is thus grateful for the opportunity made available by Refugee Filmmakers in view of the talent that goes to waste as most refugees cannot afford to make a career out of the industry.
“We have dreams but as refugees we have limited resources. Most refugees earn between KSh5 000 (US$48) – KSh6 500 per month. Imagine how long it would take to buy a US$ 600 camera,” she said.
Patient concurred many talented refugee filmmakers failed to produce material because of exorbitant costs and movement restrictions outside camps such as Kakuma, which would otherwise have provide much-needed exposure to local film companies.
“You can be having a good story that could change the community and the world but access to expensive film equipment remains a challenge for most filmmakers in the camp,” Patient said.
Derwin Djamaris, UNHCR community-based protection officer, said refugees brought their knowledge, skills and talents to the country of asylum.
“Nurturing these individuals not only improves the well-being and image of refugees but also provides them with a livelihood opportunity and prevent protection risks,” Djamaris said.
Patient has high hopes for the company.
“In the next five years I see myself having immensely progress. I foresee EKF becoming a big company giving other youths in my community free training because I got my skills for free through FilmAid International Kenya,” Patient concluded.
– CAJ News