Congo indigenous make their case with digital film production
WASHINGTON ñ Digital film production has come to the Congo for years, but now it is coming there ñ this is the new thing under the sun ñ from remote local Congolese communities in an initiative of the International Conservation and Education Fund to protect the regionís endangered wildlife. INCEF founder Cynthia Moses, an award-winning filmmaker on wildlife, feels that conservation films made in the developed world simply donít carry much weight with local central African people whose practices will make or break forest wildlife and its habitats ñ not to mention their own communities. ìWildlife documentaries entertain, educate and inspire,î Moses explained. ìBut as a filmmaker, I wasnít reaching the people whose daily activities have the most impact on already endangered and threatened species.î Wildlife and conservation films are not made for African audiences, according to Moses. ìThey are made in the developed world for audiences who can do little to save wildlife on a grass-roots level. Public service announcements are usually designed for people who have a great deal of television literacy. For the most part they are not seen in the remote areas that border [wildlife] reserves and parks; and if they are, their messages are lost on these audiences. INCEF is committed to reach people in remote areas who can make a day-to-day difference.î Moses and David Weiner, another veteran documentary filmmaker who works with INCEF in media production, do little filming themselves in the Congo. Theyíre putting the power of modern digital film production technology in the hands of local production teams and the communities theyíre part of. Altogether, they are learning to produce and appreciate films in the local tongue, for the local audience, on the essential local subject of preserving wildlife and habitat in the forest economy. Health, economy and culture all depend on it. The films are then translated into other languages (English, French, Swahili) for transmission by DVD and over the Internet (examples can be accessed at www.incef.org). But the immediate impact is local. Among the most difference-making of INCEF partners are the people indigenous to parts of the Congo. As such, the pygmy are stewards of the central African forests, possessing the knowledge of medicinal plants and the instincts for sustainable harvest that can both midwife advances in medical science and help the plants and animals of the forest survive. Pygmy tribes are featured as stewards of the forest in the INCEF-facilitated brief film ìLes Semi-Nomades.î Other INCEF-facilitated films have provided ground-eye views of elephant hunting and the ivory trade, gorilla poaching and the meat trade, so-called bush meat and the spread of Ebola virus, and alternatives to hunting. The message of them all is that wildlife can be protected, and communities served, through public awareness of the alternative perspectives the films promote. The quality and power of the 14 brief films in the INCEF public awareness project is of a high standard ñ high enough that Weiner has to swear off the idea that his skills made a difference in the finished product. In fact, while he was able to impart certain fine points of video production skill to professional local filmmakers, he also came away with knowledge gained from them. ìWeíre not making it up. These films were done entirely by them.î They are being exhibited now in villages, towns and schools of the Congo by outreach teams of educators, health care professionals and conservationists. Eventually theyíll become part of the educational curriculum. Their effectiveness can be gauged, to a degree, from the film on the pygmy peoples. The West has never fully transcended its stereotypes of the pygmy as a shrunken and disfigured race, and even in ìLes Semi-Nomadesî a local speaker feels compelled to note that pygmies are fully human. Other speakers insist the pygmy presence predates that of the Bantu tribe, adding with emphasis that the Bantu do not ìownî pygmies or their forests. But a few frames of actual pygmies, reasoning aloud and gesturing, are more convincing. Pygmies are of somewhat slighter frame and stature than the West is used to; but in their presence, as captured on film, itís preposterous to consider them anything but human. The message hasnít gotten across in the West because the people it most concerns havenít sent it. The same goes for many of the messages found in the INCEF-facilitated short films from Central Africa. The central African countries of the Congo are enormous, on a par with Alaska as grounds for confusion without some initial coaching. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, once infamous as Zaire, has begun to get into the media stream in the West because of sympathetic attention to the aftermath of a civil war fought between 1996 and 2002. The civil war itself was an aftermath of imposed colonialism and homegrown dictatorship. Almost 4 million Congolese died and the economy suffered untold continuing losses. Women and children have been the focus of recent reporting in the West ñ women raped by roving militias and so cast aside by their communities; children driven from impoverished households to live on the streets. Moses and Weiner recently hosted a fund-raising dinner for Congolese women ñ that is, for the purchase of musical instruments used at local community concerts by the Congolese ensemble Influence Baboul. Through nuanced lyrics and healing music, the concerts try to reintegrate ìthe raped onesî into their communities. By filming one of these sessions, Moses and Weiner managed to raise about $3,000 for Influence Baboul, as well as help the women and their allies get a story out that has since gained traction in the mainstream Western media. Now the attention of INCEF has taken a turn northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... to the Republic of Congo, a separate country often known as Brazzaville Congo after its capitol city. The Republic of Congo was colonized at the hands of the French; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at the hands of the Belgians. In mid-September, Moses and Weiner participated in a Brazzaville Congo government presentation at the United Nations on the subject of preserving wildlife in forest economies.
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