Moving People Film Festival: A Report

21 – 24 January 2007, World Social Forum, Nairobi

Background

wsf07_2The Moving People Film Festival was a part of the arts project: Moving People: Africa-Asia Interface on Migration / Refugee / Exile / Diaspora. The project was created and executed by @Culture, India (a network of Majlis, Magic Lantern Foundation, Point of View and independent artists), Focus on Global South; Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban; GoDown Arts Centre & Kwani Trust, Kenya.

The Programme

The Moving People project at the World Social Forum, Nairobi created and presented myriad experiences and issues through various art forms. Memories in Transit, Collaborative Sculpture Tableaux participated in the opening and closing rallies of the WSF, seminars explored Movement, Text and Identity: Writing in the era of Globalisation, Regulated Movement, Forced Movement and Traffic of People and Right of Movement and Citizenship: Campaign and Strategies, the pavilion on WSF site presented Follow the Arrows: Investigating Movement, Multi-disciplinary art show on Caravan, an international film festival and evening performances on the themes, as well as performances at the GoDown Centre at the Nairobi city centre.

The Film Festival: The Moving People Film Festival was curated by the Durban International Film Festival, South Africa, and the Zanzibar International Film Festival – Festival of the Dhow Countries, Al- Kasaba International Film Festival, Palestine and the Magic Lantern Foundation, India and was coordinated by @Culture.

The Moving People pavilion was located a good 5-minute walk from the main WSF site – the Moi Sports Stadium – inside which all conferences were organised, and around which most stalls were set up. Although the Forum itself was spread out over the sprawling grounds, the area around the main building was the hive of activity, and so we had our work cut out for us in trying to get people to visit the pavilion. (Wheeling around the giant blue plastic peacock that was part of the collaborative sculpture tableau was one brilliant idea. Nobody cared where it was headed, they just followed.)

The Moving People Film Festival (MPFF) ran from the 21st to 24th of January 2007. Co-ordinated with the seminars and performances organised by @Culture, the MPFF began every day at 11 a.m. (when the seminars were through) and closed at 5 p.m. (in time for various performances to begin.) The site of the WSF was the Kasarani grounds – a 20-minute or 2-hour drive from the city centre, depending on traffic. (‘Thou Shalt Not Be Forecast’, said God to Nairobi Traffic when it got its turn at Mount Sinai.)

To be sure, we had more than a few hiccups vis-à-vis the organisation of the film festival. But we’ve come out feeling rather like champions, those of us who organised, participated in, and watched films at the festival. At its close, the festival had featured possibly the widest array of films that could be squeezed in under the umbrella of ‘Moving People’. The entire festival was schemed around the motif of ‘moving people’ in its myriad manifestations such as migration, refugee, exile, Diaspora, slavery and so on. With the increased onslaught of globalization in the economic and cultural spaces coupled with stricter immigration laws and border violence, the issue of people’s right of movement is more complex than ever. It was out of this reality that the theme of the festival was born, structured around this very theme of movement.

Preparations

wsf07_4The ‘Day Before’ was, I suppose, exactly how Days Before are supposed to be. Mad. Maddening. Maddeningly exciting. Somewhere, someone must have been furiously rubbing the lamp, for a tent appeared out of thin air, a screen strung up inside, banners went up, chairs were arranged, speakers, DVD player… all at breathless speed. We’d spent days printing posters and schedules back in India (that constituted a major part of our 60 kilos of excess baggage) and the process of putting them up all over the Forum venue began. We tested the projector we’d lugged all the way from home, played DVDs on the player, supervised the setting up of a curtain just inside the entrance to the tent, examined, measured, grumbled, and praised. When we finally returned to our hotel at night, it was with everything in place. Including the large exhaust fan that had somehow managed to situate itself not 6 inches above the screen, and that was letting light into our painstakingly darkened tent with gay abandon.

We were good to go.

Day 1

C/o Durban International Film Festival

wsf07_1The opening day of the festival was in the charge of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF). We were incredibly lucky to have, from DIFF, perhaps the bravest lady to walk the film festival circuit, the lovely Monica Rorvik.

Far from fainting dead away when she was told what she was supposed to do (apart from introducing the films she had selected and answering questions on them) including check DVDs, press play/pause buttons, dim the lights and so on — her reaction was to be even more spirited and enthusiastic than before. The films shown by DIFF, notably ‘Angola – Saudades from the One Who Loves You’, were unbelievably well received. We had people coming up asking if ‘Angola – Saudades…’ and ‘Workingman’s Death’ would (or could) be shown again. As luck would have it, they were repeated. But more on that later. For now, suffice it to say that Day 1 went off beautifully. The audience wasn’t as large as we had hoped, but being the first day of the Forum, we figured (prayed) things would pick up.

Day 2

C/o Zanzibar International Film Festival

wsf07_3Five minutes from starting time and there was still no sign of Martin Mhando, curator of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) who had the package of films on him. Just as we were about to screen a different film, Martin came tearing in with his package of films. He had been held up in traffic (you’ll forgive us for being less than shocked) and it looked like he’d run the entire distance from the entrance to the festival venue. So we started on time, and apart from a few changes in the line-up of films (we hit a few technical snags that meant we couldn’t show the highly anticipated ‘Streetcar from Zanzibar’, and ‘Real Saharawi’) everything went smoothly thanks to a supremely calm and in-control Martin. Of the films screened, ‘Hyena Square’ was a hit as was ‘Kidnapped Children’. In addition, people were beginning to venture out from the main area of the Forum and towards the MPFF venue, so the numbers were a fair bit higher than the day before.

Day 3

C/o Magic Lantern Foundation

wsf07_5The films on Day 3 were of Magic Lantern’s own selection. In keeping with the trend of the previous 2 days, our audience had grown substantially. People who’d come on Days 1 and 2 were coming back, and with even more people in tow. Also, given that we were squirelled away in a corner of the grounds, it had taken some people 2 whole days of searching to find the festival. The day went off without a hitch. Many people were present to lead discussions on the issues raised by the films including Madhusree Dutta, director of ‘7 Islands and a Metro’, a film on Bombay which proved to be the film of the day in terms of the size of the audience and the interest they showed in the discussion after. Vincent Manoharan and a colleague from the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) were present after the screening of ‘Seruppu’, a film on a Dalit community from the south of India. The film ‘My Migrant Soul’ elicited a hugely positive response, as did ‘Words on Water’.

On our part, we’d gotten into our groove and were more equipped to deal with setbacks like the power cut that was thrown our way in the middle of the day’s proceedings. There seemed to be nothing we couldn’t handle. Collars were turned up, pats on the back dished out wholesale. Hurrah! The festival was going to be a success! We were on the home stretch, and ahead by a mile! Nothing could possibly go wrong now!

Day 4

C/o Al-Kasaba International Film Festival, Palestine

wsfnairobiDay 4 dawned, and with it the realisation that the Al-Kasaba films package was not going to arrive in time for the festival. We were in a huge soup, not least because the Palestinian package was perhaps the most anticipated set of films. Dozens of people had come to us saying they couldn’t wait to see the films from Al-Kasaba.

And so, in a desperate fire-fighting measure, Day 4’s six hours saw a repeat order of 2 films from the Durban International Film Festival — including ‘Angola &endash; Saudades…’ and films on Palestine cajoled from Palestinian participants at the forum! It turned out to be the day the MPFF saw its highest number of viewers. You really can never tell.

The audience, we were delighted to note, mirrored the WSF itself i.e. people of every shape, size, colour, nationality turned up to watch the films despite being slow-cooked in an oven masquerading as a tent. And most stayed on to ask questions, discuss and see more films. It was, to be honest, their determination to watch films that is the primary reason we can call MPFF a success.

All told, the Moving People Film Festival served up beautiful films. With a side order of good, old-fashioned fun.

– report by Santana Issar

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