Challenging the perception of slums – The Slum Film Festival

Can anything good come out of the slum?

So there are quite a number of film festivals out there – over 3000 of them – with some of the most prestigious being the Cannes Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. With some of them dated as far back as the 1930s, these annual events garner global media attention. They are like the ‘Olympics of film’, introducing genius film talents, yearly.

Typical film festivals are usually star studded, red carpet events-backed by international media hypes -are surrounded by glitz and glam. But the film festival currently taking place in Mathare, Nairobi, is a far cry from typical film festivals. On Monday the 24th of August, the 5th Slum Film Festival opened to hundreds of movie lovers in Mathare, where they assembled in front of a giant outdoor screen.

Credit - The Slum Film Festival

Credit – The Slum Film Festival

Founded in Nairobi four years ago, the Slum Film Festival (SFF) aims to challenge the perceptions of shanty towns. It is a community-based annual film event featuring stories from, by and about people living in slums all around the world. It showcases local talents of filmmakers who live in slums and promotes a diverse range of films within communities with limited or no access to cinema.

This year’s theme – Reels of Hope – resonates with everyday challenges faced by slum dwellers. Hence, the movies are showcased to restore hope and to positively inspire slum dwellers. According to the festival’s director, Solomon Mwendwa, “There’s a two-sided story. There is the ugly side [of the slums] but there is also so much talent in these slums that needs to be exposed.”

In relation with the theme, Slum filmmakers were tasked with creating films with a positively impact on slum dwellers, and a positive reflection of the slum. One top film shown at the six-day event is ‘Silent Depression‘by Ugandan film maker George Nsamba, who grew up in the slums Kampala.

Films by the Kenyan slum film makers dominate the week long festival, with a few from other countries which includes Nigeria, Argentina, Malaysia, Ireland, and the United States.

“The fact that you have been born in a slum does not necessarily mean that is the end of your story. You can change your story,” said the festivals film director.

The Slum Film Festival, however, does not aim to legitimize the existence of these informal human settlements. Its mission is to “discover, inspire and equip young independent film and theatre artists from Slums all around Nairobi with practical skills to develop and sell their concepts, as well as, use film as a key tool for promoting social change within their communities.”

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