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'Slum Film Festival' Showcases Urban Stories

  • Jill Craig

NAIROBI—The Nairobi-based Slum Film Festival showcases the work of East African filmmakers living in the slums. This year, the judges selected 33 films to be shown in Kibera and Mathare, two huge Nairobi slums.

The festival is a community-based event, featuring films by and about people living in urban slums, screened in the open air. The event allows filmmakers to show their work to residents of the areas where the stories take place.

Robert Kodingo works with a foundation that trains budding filmmakers in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum. He helped organize the festival.

"[The] Slum Film Festival was just a platform for some of these local productions that are done by people from a disadvantaged population, to give them a voice and enable them to express what they do best," Kodingo explained.

Kibera filmmaker Max P.V. says, in her films, she shows there is more to slum life than violence and poverty.

"Most people make the mistake of, they hear slum, and all they think is negative," she explained. "They think guns and ammunition, people dying, children being beaten up, girls being raped, I mean, that's not really what the slum is all about."

Film production anywhere is complex. But filmmakers from the slums face special challenges. Budgets are small or non-existent. The lack of resources means filming is done on-location instead of sets.

Max says cooperation is key to making these films.

"You find most young filmmakers come together and work together, so you'll find somebody has a camera somewhere, somebody has sound equipment somewhere, so you just come together and work on projects together," she added.

Emma Phillips works in Nairobi. She came to Kibera for the first time to attend the festival. "You are actually getting an insight into something that you're standing in the middle of," Phillips noted. "So it's kind of like this non-obstrusive way of going into peoples' houses. It's not like a touristic thing."

American screenwriter Dwayne Johnson-Cochran teaches a film workshop in Kibera. He says his students have the potential to write scripts that are just as interesting as some of those produced by Hollywood.

"They come from an area that doesn't have a lot of money, and so the trials and tribulations of day-to-day are in the stories they're writing," Johnson-Cochran added.

Organizers say the festival hosted more than 1,000 moviegoers over the week-long event. Robert Kodingo is pleased with this year's festival. "There is some great talent within the slums, and I think that if we just keep pushing the right buttons, five years from now, we're going to have some of the best films produced from Kenya, but with a concept that originated from Kibera slums, or Mathare slums, or any other slums within Kenya," Kodingo explained.