Agency grooms female film-makers
Youth Media recently premiered a film dubbed Calling The Shots that depicts the struggle of women in film in Kenya. It was inspired by the resilience of female filmmakers whose desire is to make waves in the film industry no matter the challenges that they have to go through.
For Flora Kore Abong’, the film’s writer and director, the movie was a chance to finally practice on her story telling skills. “Women filmmakers face a lot of challenges. To begin with, the industry is male dominated, making it hard for women to break the glass ceiling. Secondly, the roles given to women are not technical, which leaves a huge gap between male filmmakers and their female counterparts,” observes Kore.
Kore adds that sexual harassment is rife in the industry and women form the majority of the victims. She says that women mostly encounter sexual harassment when looking for technical roles, a raise or any other opportunity in the process of filmmaking.
“To begin with, it is hard to land gigs when you are new, and sometimes as a woman you have to deal with predators. It’s also not easy for African (Kenyan) filmmakers to get proper funding for filming/research. Also, this is an industry that can kill you with burnout; you need to be mentally aware of your schedules and equipment,” she tells Spice.
Apart from Calling The Shots, KYouth Media has also produced another short film titled Zawadi that was made by women filmmakers class of 2019 that launched and premiered in Sweden. The girls had a chance to tour the country, screening the film. Sharon Liboi, the project coordinator at KYouth Media, recalls other film projects on women implemented that year via the group.
“My experience working at KYouth has been a learning curve, but most importantly, I have enjoyed it because I get to do what I love. I get to impact other young people’s lives and see them transform to become good storytellers and watchdogs of our communities,” she says.
Since 2015, the group is happy that around 144 women have been trained on filmmaking, and others on media skills mostly from Nairobi’s informal settlements (Kariobangi and its outskirts). They have also been able to have exchange programmes with a media school in Sweden called Media Gymnassiet or The Nacka Nairobi Initiative from 2011 to 2016. Through the exchange, the organisation has taken about 60 people (students from Our Lady of Fatima Secondary School) to Sweden for media and cultural exchange as well as students from Media Gymnassiet to Nairobi.
“We have published a book and documented the achievement. We also had “Me Too” campaign in 2017, a photography training and exhibition on women sexual harassment,” says Sharon.
However, in the last three years, they have attracted participants from other regions and not just in Nairobi. But even with their quest to empower women, they have other challenges.
“The fact that our trainings are free makes it hard to get committed individuals who’d take the trainings seriously and even get to practice it. They don’t pay for anything, so they are not accountable. Also, the industry is currently crowded, highly male-dominated, constantly looking for individuals with experience; it makes it hard for these young people with little background and experience in film to find a spot. This makes them fall back to other things in their communities that are not film related,” she explains.
The organisation also doesn’t have enough equipment and editing suites to use in train the young women, and this means that they have to hire or partner with other people, which can be expensive.
“To these creatives who only have an interest and are just starting out on this journey, the film industry isn’t financially sustainable to them. So, sometimes it gets really hard to be consistent in attending the classes. Yes, we may come in and help, but for how long are we going to keep sending transport money? There should be better policies that would help better the creative economy, especially the film sector,” she adds.
Sharon adds that the licensing regime doesn’t favour any up-and-coming filmmaker. She says, “We’ve seen students who wish to shoot a film project of their own after finishing their studies, but they keep coming back to us for help because it is becoming nearly impossible to shoot in Kenya with all the licenses put in place. It’s becoming hard to practice film nowadays in the country.”
Kore hopes that through the films and the organisation, more doors will open for women and that there will be positive changes in perception towards the women in technical fields, so that both genders can work together and produce even more amazing stories.
“The government too should create a female filmmakers fund. I believe it is possible. It would keep many women focused on their journey to being the best rather than focusing on survival,” she says.
KYouth has also developed a five-year plan where it intends to diversify its activities. They are looking at having more trainings that are two year-long with intense master classes once after every three months.