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Empowering Voices and Expanding Horizons in Natural History Filmmaking in Africa
In a high-spirited celebration of natural history filmmaking in Africa, the recently concluded Wildscreen Festival Nairobi brought together a diverse array of storytellers, conservationists, and filmmakers. For two awe-inspiring days, the festival became a hub of creativity, energy and a collective desire to shed light on the urgent issues that shape our natural world. The atmosphere was filled with enthusiasm, as industry experts and passionate minds explored the realities of natural history filmmaking, the crucial need to sustain this vital art form and the importance of inclusion, authenticity and collaboration.
The festival’s welcome address echoed a call to recognize the interdependent relationship between people and nature. Dr Erustus Kanga, Director-General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, articulated this symbiotic connection, affirming, “Now more than ever, we must recognise the symbiotic relationship between nature and our well-being.” His words echoed the urgent need to prioritise conservation efforts and protect our natural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations.
Among the myriad of engaging sessions and discussions, these particular topics stood out: the importance of telling our own stories authentically, pushing barriers, being bold and including everyone in the conversation. Nancy Githaiga, the Country Director at African Wildlife Foundation boldly stated “Let people tell their own stories”, adding that no matter how small the story may seem, it is that individual’s story. Natural history films in Africa have long been told by individuals not born and bred on the continent. With the potential to create biases within the narrative and its content, often romanticising the landscape, without credit to those working on the ground, conserving the natural habitat.
As an attendee, Wildscreen Festival Nairobi offered up unique perspectives on how we can change the current narrative, highlighting the amazing stories that lay within the African continent. One of the highlights of the event was the Wild Pitch session which saw six stories being pitched in front of top industry commissioners and the audience. These films were incredible as they highlighted the power of storytelling in the African continent especially when we tell our own stories. The inspiring pitches illustrated that we have the stories within us that speak to our people, influencing many to go out and develop their story idea. As the Judges Loise Mwikali, from Royal Media Services, stated, ‘Matata and Friends on Safari’ won because “its originality, its fun way and its likeability speaks to our children.”
Another key highlight was the importance of giving people access to making natural history films. Whether it’s through giving access to equipment or opportunities. The legacy of this festival will hopefully open doors to the many opportunities available in the natural history filmmaking space in Africa – for local people. With numerous passionate individuals in Africa, it was also key to recognise that “we cannot have people with a passion but not eating,” as stated by Barbara Lawrence-Strydom during her panel discussion. Her words succinctly summarised the financial hardships that often go hand in hand with wildlife storytelling.
Inclusion emerged as a recurring theme throughout the festival. Damaris Agweyu, a passionate advocate for inclusivity, highlighted the power of making others feel safe and valued within the creative process, asserting, “Inclusion is when you make other people feel safe because they will give you their all.” This sentiment underscored the necessity of fostering an environment where every voice is heard and celebrated, ensuring a more comprehensive and authentic representation of our world.
It’s worth noting that panel discussions proved very inspiring. From Oscar-Award-winning director Kartiki Gonsalves for her film,‘The Elephant Whisperers’ gracing the event and sharing her journey with the attendees; to the incredible and insightful conversations led by local and youthful African filmmakers and cinematographers who also shared their inspiring stories. Important conversations were held in the two days and unpacking every single session cannot fit in one writing. It was incredible to also consider the power that was in the networking sessions where people shared their stories, made new contacts, learned from each other, sparked conversations, and nurtured connections that will ripple beyond its two-day duration.
The urgent and intertwined challenges our planet faces require collective action. Wildscreen Festival Nairobi offered a platform where this action began to take hold, and it left a permanent mark on all who were privileged to be part of it. Throughout the event, participants were captivated by the shared commitment to address pressing challenges facing our natural world and create compelling narratives that inspire action.
Wildscreen Festival Nairobi captured the essence of our collective responsibility to protect and cherish our natural world. Through thought-provoking discussions, whole-hearted panel discussions, and the power of storytelling, this one-of-a-kind event served as a cornerstone in the conversation of our natural world. As we move forward, let us embrace the symbiotic relationship between our well-being and that of the world around us, taking inspiration from Wildscreen Festival Nairobi’s dedication to sharing stories that ignite action and change the narrative.
My closing remarks on Wildscreen Festival Nairobi is that storytelling can drive positive change. Storytelling can drive action. Natural History filmmaking in Africa by its people is a force for transformation. This event is a reminder of the importance of supporting African filmmakers financially, including communities, allowing their passion to thrive and creating a sustainable industry for all. It emphasised the necessity of storytelling that authentically reflects diverse experiences and fosters inclusion. Above all, it underscored the powerful relationship between nature and our well-being reminding us that we are a part of nature, urging us to be bold to tell stories that will provoke the protection of nature, wild spaces and its people.
By Victoria Wanjohi, a wildlife storyteller and conservation professional who uses words, photos, and films to share experiences that bring you closer to nature at https://www.nyikasilika.org/