Young People in South Sudan Learn to Tell Stories through Film

Juba’s first ever Film Festival was a smashing success in July, but the festival organizers aren’t resting on their laurels.

Juba Film Festival (JFF) Founding Director Simon Bingo says training young people to tell stories with cameras is the next step in helping the young country to popularize movies and grow the industry.

“I started Juba Film Festival because I wanted as a South Sudanese to share my story with other South Sudanese. I wanted South Sudanese to share their own stories – and the best way you do that is through film,” he said. “It is very important to be able to share our own stories, share things we want to change, things that we hope for, and what we think we want for the future.”

So on the heels of the film festival, JFF held a Youth Video Mobile workshop in Juba November 26-30, selecting 22 students – 3 youth from each of the secondary schools in Juba. As professional cameras are very hard to find, the students spent a week learning the basics of script writing, storytelling, sound, editing and directing using smart phones as cameras. Four short videos were produced during the workshop, and the students were featured on CCTV.

Bingo feels passionately about introducing film to young people. “We held this workshop to inspire them that there is something called film, and the importance of film in society and why people need to tell their stories,” he said. 

The students’ workshop is also laying the groundwork for growing the film industry – in the 2017 festival there will be a students’ category, and these students now have a leg up on submitting their films.

“I have gained a lot of things,” said student Helen Alfred. “Before I don’t know how to use a camera but now I am able and I can do this! When I go back to my school, I can teach others of my colleagues how to make films.”

To keep the momentum going, JFF also held another public screening on December 3 at Nyakuron Culture Center, showing all of the winning 2016 films.

As the films were shown on numerous different screens throughout Juba over a few days in July, Bingo wanted to host an event that showcased all of the winners in one place. JFF had planned for the event in late July, but due to the conflict were unable to do so.

More than 1,000 people attended the five-hour screening, and the audience, Bingo said, was so appreciative. “The audience were feeling so bad the conflict broke out when the festival just ended (In July), wondering what happened to the film festival. Some people did not attend the award ceremony as they already heard rumors. When we held the screening this month, they were so so happy the Juba Film Festival was not dead. They were so happy the dream has not faded out. That we are still on! And that next year there will be more, and bigger!”

The first Juba Film Festival was held from July 4-7, 2016 in Juba. It started by building the capacity of South Sudanese filmmakers through practical workshops, film production and mentorship. JFF organized a three-week practical and intensive workshop filmmakers in April. The event was a filmmaking boot camp with the 20 participants who worked with mentors and wrote, produced and edited four short films over the course of the workshop. Participants received guidance in different aspects of filmmaking craft – such as script-writing, camera, sound, editing, directing – from four trainer/mentors Clari Wetzel, Sebastian Lindstrom, Alison Fast and Chandler Griffin brought in internationally.

The training caught the attention of international media BBC, CCTV and local media. Then, 30 films were screened to the public from July 4-7 at different venues, including Nyakuron Cultural Center, French Institute/Juba University, Youth Sport Center/ Hai Neem and Juba Tukul.

“I am so impressed to watch my own story on the big screen!” said film maker Winnie Keyi. Winnie also loved seeing the films of her colleagues. “I have learned on intermarriage with other communities,” she said. “Our parents should watch this film.”

On July 7, a grand award ceremony to a packed house at Nyakuron Cultural Center was held, awarding the winning films with prizes and certificates.

“From the bottom of my heart I would say that I am very excited,” said the guest of Honor National Minister of Roads, Hon. Rebecca Joshua Okwachi, during the grand award ceremony in July. “I am ‘thrilled’ if I can use that word in English, I am very happy and this is one of my best moments this evening attending the Juba Film Festival. I will personally encourage the people of South Sudan to stand with these mirrors of our nation – ‘filmmakers.’”

Plans are already underway for the 2nd Annual Film Festival, tentatively scheduled for September 2017.

Juba Film Ltd is a partner to the Internews i-STREAM project. The first ever Juba Film Festival, training camp and associated activities were funded by Internews through the USAID i-STREAM project.