Cambria Matlow is a freelance film director who has worked on several short films probing controversial world issues, and served as manager of non-theatrical programming at Film Movement, an independent and foreign film distribution company. Matlow makes her documentary directorial debut in Burning in the Sun, the story of a budding entrepreneur inspired to make a positive impact on his homeland community in Mali. To fund this ViewChange Online Film Contest-winning project, Matlow tapped into her own entrepreneur potential and co-founded Birdgirl Productions in 2005. She writes in the Huffington Post about why she chose her film’s aspiring protagonist:
"Twenty-six-year-old charmer Daniel Dembélé is equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world. Seizing the moment at a crossroads in his life, Daniel decides to return to his homeland in Mali and start a local business building solar panels — the first of its kind in the sun-drenched nation. Daniel's goal is to electrify the households of rural communities, 99 percent of which live without power.
"For us, Daniel's work shatters notions of the need for African dependence on outside aid and embraces the view that ultimately it is Africans who will develop Africa in their own way.
"It is important to us for the film to showcase him as an African leader, not only of his country, but as a global trendsetter. So not only do viewers come away with a greater understanding of the kind of development that makes the most sense for Africa, but a sense of profound inspiration that they can take the action they have seen and apply it in their own communities."
For an inside view on Daniel's daring, charisma and intelligence, watch Burning in the Sun:
Robin Blotnick has worked as a freelance editor, and as a developer at Walden Media. His current project, "Gods and Kings," is a feature documentary about media, magic and popular culture in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala. If it is anything like his award-winning entry for our ViewChange Online Film Contest — Chocolate Country — then we want to see it! Chocolate Country is a catchy story about a group of guitar-plucking cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic. In the Huffington Post, Blotnick describes the idea behind his work:
“The story I set out to tell was the story of chocolate itself. I wanted to show city people what a mazorca of cacao looks like when it's cut open to reveal its syrupy white seeds. And I wanted to reveal the faces of the men and women who grow and harvest the ingredients for our chocolate bars.”
The short film features the lush, beautiful rainforest region of Loma Guaconejo. The campesinos (farmers) of the area had decided to stop competing with each other against the harsh competition set out by the big cacao companies, and were now working together in a cooperative. They work to directly market an improved, organic product. Blotnick expresses his admiration for their enthusiasm to engage in their community:
“People always remark at how, despite their poverty, the cacao growers in Chocolate Country seem genuinely happy. I believe they're happy because they're empowered. Working together, they're taking some control over the fate of their community. My wish for the people of Loma Guaconejo is that they develop in a way that doesn't alleviate the bad by sacrificing what's good: the freedom of working without a plantation or factory boss, the music and stories they have time to create and share, their ties to the land and, most of all, their ties to one another.
"While being a "conscious consumer" no doubt does some good (or, more accurately, un-does some bad), I'm under no illusion that it's enough. If we really want to transform the conditions that maintain human suffering, we'll have to transform ourselves first, to break out of the passive role of consumer and unite with our neighbors to actively engage the forces of history. In other words, we'll have to be more like the members of the Loma Guaconejo cooperative.”
To hear the music and stories of the empowered campesinos, watch Chocolate Country below:
The winning entries for our ViewChange Online Film Contest represented a wide range of styles and themes as they told stories of progress in meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals around the world. Ana Cetina’s Rising to the Top, the winner of the Local/Global Partnerships category, is a short film done in classic documentary style about the Sarakasi Trust’s innovative approach to youth empowerment in Nairobi. Last week, she wrote for the Huffington Post about the film, the Trust, and her deep-seated love for Kenya.
Ana Cetina moved to Nairobi, Kenya from Bogota, Colombia when she was seven, and returned to Kenya years later to film Endeleza, the extended version of her winning entry, Rising to the Top. She was motivated to document the inspirational story after leaving Kenya because she saw that many people outside of Africa only saw the continent’s dark side. In the Huffington Post, Cetina writes:
"I have always felt very fortunate that I had the opportunity to live in Kenya and see for myself how beautiful it is and how warm the people are. But after leaving the country, I noticed how little people in the west know about what Africa is really like. The media mostly shows the violence, the starving children, and the animals, and yes, this is a part of reality that everyone needs to be aware of. But very rarely do we get to see the beautiful people, the different cultures and the positive side of the continent that also deserves attention."
Rising to the Top is an inspiring short about the Sarakasi Trust, which provides performance arts training to the youth of Nairobi’s slums. The dance and acrobatic instruction they receive can subsequently be utilized as a sustainable source of income. Cetina’s Huffington Post article expresses her admiration for the program’s method of cultivating talent as well as life skills:
"What impressed me the most about the Sarakasi Trust [...] is the fact that instead of imposing western values as a means for success, Kenyans are able to use their existing culture for their own advancement. In addition to refining their dancing and acrobatic expertise, artists also get the opportunity to learn different life skills by means of workshops and performances around the world. And as they improve, they're also encouraged to use their creativity to provide input in coordinating and choreographing actual performances. In turn, through outreach programs, the more advanced performers serve as role models and relay their acrobatic and dancing skills to the youth living in the slums of Nairobi. The Sarakasi Trust provides Kenyans with the means to empower the younger generation with the hope of a better life."
Watch Rising to the Top:
When we launched the ViewChange Online Film Contest we encouraged entries of all genres – and we got them! One of the most creative – and certainly the catchiest – entry was Peter Jansen’s “Trash is Cash,” which won the contest’s “Sustainability” award.
Peter Jansen has worked as art director and production designer in film and TV for 25 years. He now lives and works in Kenya, finding creative ways to combat poverty in the slums of Nairobi. There, Jansen discovered a group of motivated youth who use hip-hop music to call attention to an important issue in the city—recycling. Jansen writes in the Huffington Post about the youth group Walfame (the Kings) and the goal they are trying to achieve through hip-hop:
“They communicate through music: the message in this way is very powerful because music has long been a favorite pastime of teens and has influenced the minds of youths all over the world, and they use their music to raise awareness, inspire action, and accelerate the worldwide movement to reduce extreme poverty. Music meets life, seeing beauty, giving hope and alternatives. All eight of them are living in an African slum. Living on less than one dollar a day. Not turning to a life of idleness, drug abuse and crime but acting positively and being a positive example for all the youths who live in poverty.
Jansen created the music video “Trash is Cash” to highlight the positive, transformative powers of the music and activism. Watch the talents of these hip-hop stars below:
This past November, we announced the winners of our ViewChange Online Film contest - a competition to find stories of progress in tackling the UN Millennium Development Goals around the world. Our winners represented the best diversity of themes and styles we could have asked for: an animation about female empowerment, a music video about recycling, a comedy about HIV awareness, and much more. And now that the contest is complete, we've seen our winners receive some much-deserved viewership and press. Most recently, each of the six winners was invited by the Huffington Post to write about their filmmaking experience. What inspired them to pick up a camera? What issues were they trying to tackle?
Robby Bresson is a filmmaker in Kenya and the head of the production company X Media. He became very interested in the role that witch doctors play in many African cultures, and in the interplay between witchcraft and modern medicine. In East Africa, says Bresson, witch doctors can employ some bizarre and violent practices to treat illnesses like HIV. In his January 4th Huffington Post article, Bresson writes,
"One of the stories [that an earlier show we produced] highlighted was on the plight of albinos in East Africa who are being killed for the alleged medicinal properties their body parts posses. Our belief as Africans in witchcraft and those that practice it was clearly the sole motivation for these hideous crimes. We began a heated debate on the merits and demerits of witchcraft. Does witchcraft exist? Who were these witchdoctors? Why do we give them so much power that people are willing to kill for them? Do they play any positive role in our society? Can our society evolve past them? We concluded that African traditional spirituality now dubbed 'witchcraft' is no different than any other spiritual belief existing in the world today.
Bresson took these questions and created The Witch Doctor, a comedic short about a man diagnosed with HIV who turns to witchcraft for help. The witch doctor's advice, however, is not what he expects. Watch The Witch doctor below: