This interview with Lola Kenya Screen founder Ogova Ondego was conducted by Rut Gomez Sobrino of Spain who was a mentor at the 4th annual Lola Kenya Screen festival in 2009; it was initially carried out for the UNESCO e-Platform.
How was this Lola Kenya Screen festival initiative born?
Having noted with concern that the mass media ignore people below 15 years for apparently not being commercially-viable in my part of Africa, and desiring to place production tools in the hands of children and youth for the advancement of goals like literacy, gender equity, self expression, and democracy, Lola Kenya Children’s Screen (but usually known simply as Lola Kenya Screen) was started in October 2005 as a movement to empower children with life-development skills. In short, I can say that Lola Kenya Screen started out of protest over the injustice done to children and youth by profit-minded adults in eastern Africa!
I also was uncomfortable with the idea of being invited to give talks, judge films and facilitate workshops abroad while we had nothing back home!
Could you briefly explain the importance of the productions you receive every year?
These films are important in the sense that they inform, educate, entertain, persuade and entrench tolerance and respect of cultural diversity in eastern Africa. Besides presenting an alternative perspective to our audience, these films also teach our audience and adult filmmakers in eastern Africa the importance of creating high quality audiovisual media content specifically for children and youth.
Between August 2006 and August 2008, Lola Kenya Screen has showcased more than 1200 films from 71 nations representing all the six continents—Africa, Asia, South America, North America, Oceania, Europe—in various genres, formats and lengths. Additionally, Lola Kenya Screen has helped add 31 child filmmakers, 14 journalists, 13 film judges, 7 MCs, 15 producers of television drama for children and youth and 6 producers of documentary films for children and youth to eastern Africa’s creative and cultural spectrum. All this has come about as a result of running an international film festival that brings the world to the eastern Africa metropolis, Nairobi.
Could you tell us more about the last nomination that you obtained for your Festival?
Lola Kenya Screen is not just a film festival but is also a film production, critical appreciation, media literacy, and event planning and presentation.
So far our children aged 6-15 years have made 20 short animation films that have been shown—and continue to be showcased—around the world where they are winning accolades and prizes.
The latest nominations for Lola Kenya Screen are by the Nigeria-based Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) that holds on April 4, 2009. Three of our films—Little Knowledgde is Dangerous, Manani Ogres, and Cheprono—have been nominated for Best Animation and Santos the Survivor for Best Documentary prizes. Though we are going for the prizes for which we have been nominated, the nomination alone is a great honour as our 6-15-year-olds have held their own against professional adults. The film screening college, we are told, did not know our films were made by children!
Films by Children for Children, our first nine-short animation compilation, won the Grand Prize at the 5th World Summit on Media for Children/1st Kids for Kids Africa festival, and went on to be shown all over the world.
African Folk Tales Animated, the second production—a three-film and three-song compilation—has been shown on all the continents including Oceania and has picked three awards—Most Creative Project, Special Jury Prize, Africa Grand Prize—in Africa and Europe.
The third production, Africa-i-Motion, was made in 2008 and is currently on the children and youth film festival circuit. The festival gives aspiring children the opportunity to collaborate with international partners and to also educate them in film production, screenplay writing, cinematography, and in the art department and sound production.
What is the importance of audiovisual content creation for children and youth, according to you?
We at Lola Kenya Screen believe that the comprehension of moving images is a basic skill at par with what education experts refer to as the 3 Rs—Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic—that contribute to development of societies and nations. This is even more so as we believe the present and the future are not only audiovisual but also belong to children and youth. Audiovisual media—internet, mobile phones, computer games, television, video, film—are the main socialising agents and this calls for media and information literacy among children in the area of content conception, production and consumption. This is aimed at equipping children and youth with the skills to understand, appreciate, and create quality audiovisual productions in particular and arts in general. Lola Kenya Screen was conceived as a movement that uses appropriate and available technologies to deliver audiovisual media content that complements, enhances, entertains and promotes learning among children and youth.
What are the main obstacles of audiovisual creation with a social approach in your country, in Africa and in the world in general?
Lack of resources is first on the list. Those who set the agenda—government, private sector, etc—appear not interested and so individuals like us struggle on our own. Sometimes our friends abroad (development partners, donors, etc) hear our cries and come to our rescue. But that shouldn’t be the case.
What is your advice for an African audiovisual author to fulfill his or her dream?
Perhaps the best place to begin is for the filmmaker to define one’s role in society.
A filmmaker is an artist who uses images to tell stories. Society is a group of people with shared values, world view, traditions, norms and taboos that, together, form a people’s culture or the creative and intellectual expressions, achievements and aspirations.
As a story-teller, a good filmmaker must be a good observer of one’s society. The filmmaker must be competent in the use of the tools and rules of trade in the art and science of filmmaking. One must then be visionary, courageous, honest, fair, and analytical. To avoid manipulation by powerful—economic, political, social—forces, the filmmaker’s integrity must be beyond reproach.
What am I saying?
That a good filmmaker documents and tells stories that challenge, inspire, educate, inform and entertain. Such a filmmaker is like a child who does not fight shy of telling the truth to the naked emperor. Yes, such a filmmaker exposes the hidden shames and sources of infection of the society as much as the greatness of that society. A good filmmaker also networks with people of like minds for a lone ranger cannot hope to achieve much in resource-challenged societies like those of eastern Africa.
A good filmmaker is not content with the way society is but seeks to transform it using the camera.
A filmmaker is a selfless prophet, advocate, teacher, entertainer, journalist and mentor all rolled into one!
You can get more information about the Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media initiative at lolakenyascreen.org/faqs/.