“If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will”

Image courtesy Maisha Labs

An unpretentious, matter-of-fact press release arrived in my email overnight from Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, Uganda. It started as follows:

“MAISHA, the annual training program for East African Filmmakers founded by director Mira Nair (Namesake, Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding) is now in its third year of operation. Housed in Munyonyo, Kampala, the three-week lab (which takes place from July 21st to August 11th, 2007) is currently training 9 filmmakers, 3 sound mixers, 3 cinematographers, and 3 editors with world-renowned filmmaking professionals.”

The press release then listed Maisha’s 2007 mentors. Among them:
– Jason Filardi (Writer, Bringing Down The House)
– Joshua Marston (Writer/Director, Maria Full of Grace)
– Alison Maclean (Writer/Director, Jesus’ Son)
– David Keating (Writer/Director, Last of the High Kings)
– Drew Kunin (Production Sound Mixer, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Zodiac)
– Kerwin DeVonish (2nd Unit DP, Inside Man)
– Barry Alexander Brown (Editor, Inside Man, Malcolm X), and
– Fellipe Barbosa (Director, Salt Kiss)

Wow – Mira has succeeded in rounding up some of the best film industry talent in North America. All these professionals are donating their time, so that African film-makers can sharpen their skills in making better moving images.

But it’s the mission of Maisha that interests me most — because it so resonates with what we at TVE Asia Pacific have been advocating in Asia in our own small way: equipping and empowering local film-makers to tell their own stories to their people and the world.

Maisha’s tagline says it all: “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will”

As their website explains: “Film is easily one of the most far-reaching mediums in the modern world, one that essentially validates a culture. In the entire African continent, there are few, if any, training programs for aspiring filmmakers.

“The few films that take place in East Africa are often made by foreigners without local crews, and generally focus on the political turmoil that plagues the region. While there is a flourishing and vital writing and theatre culture in the region, the bridge to convert this talent into screenplays and films has yet to be built.

MAISHA (meaning “life” in Kiswahili) provides new screenwriters and film directors from East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda) and South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) with access to the professional training and production resources necessary to articulate their visions.

Mira Nair image from Harvard University Gazette

Maisha aims to preserve, cultivate and unleash local voices from these regions, and to become one of the first targeted programs to offer structured and accessible resources to these emerging filmmakers. MAISHA is motivated by the belief that a film which explores the truths and idiosyncrasies of the specifically local often has the power to cross over and become significantly universal.

Read more about Maisha Filmmaker Lab

Maisha has selected three short films from this year’s participants’ submitted screenplays. These films are currently in production, crewed entirely by Maisha trainees. The cast is culled from the Kampala theater community. They are:

Must be a God-Fearing Christian Girl
Directed by Wanjiru Kairu, Kenya
John Webuye is a smart, successful man- living at home with his mother. After some failed attempts at internet dating, he finds love in the most unexpected of places.
Assistant director: Consodyne Buzabo, Production Manager: Victor Dimo Okello, Cinemtaographer: Ronald Kasirye, Sound Mixer: Richard Ndung’u, Editor: Risper Mbuthia.

The Trip
Directed by James Gayo, Tanzania
Pembe and Kaniki are two brothers on their way to interview for new jobs. Their bus breaks down along the way- and Kaniki’s wandering eye leads them in a different direction than they had anticipated.
Assistant Director: Jennifer Gatero, Production Manager: Kwezi Kaganda Runihda, Cinematographer: George Karugu, Sound Mixer: Theirry Dushimirimana, Editor: Zipporah Kimundu.

What Happened in Room 13
Directed by Dilman Dila, Uganda
Peter’s wife, Oliva, is pregnant and in the hospital, which gives her wayward husband an excuse to run off to a cheap motel with his best friend’s wife, Prossy. After their encounter leaves Prossy fatally injured, Peter tries desperately to cover his tracks.
Assistant Director: Ayuub Kasasa Mago, Production Manager: Anthony Njeru Thandi, Cinematographer: Nicholas Mtenga, Sound Mixer: Moses Hussain, Editor: Patrick Sekyaya.

Read: June 2004: Mira Nair Launches MAISHA, Film Laboratory for East Africans, South Asians

Read Mira Nair’s profile on Maisha website

Note: One of my claims to fame is that Mira Nair and I are both on the Board of Governors of Ujala TV, the South Asian educational broadcasting venture that I wrote about a few weeks ago. And last month, Mira’s latest film Namesake reduced me to tears in public.

2 Responses to ““If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will””

  1. Sandra Says:

    For too long, we have allowed others to tell our most personal and intimate stories. And those stories were told by complete aliens, unfamiliar with our cultures and uncaring about the intricacies and nuances. While Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood manufacture our stories into commercial entertainment, we have languished without the skills and capital to compete in the globalised media market. Thanks to Mira Nair and her team — both in North America as well as in Eastern Africa and South Asia — this has now begun to change. Let’s hope our stories will last long enough for our own story-tellers to come along and capture them with sensitivity, passion and skill.

  2. Anthony njeru Says:

    I am one of the people mentioned in the list of those being mentored. Working as a production manager was interesting. I love that motto and i believe it especially in my new calling in evangelism. god bless you


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