Shohreh Jandaghian: Please tell about yourself and how you became the director of “Lola Kenya Screen”?
Ogova Ondego (Director of “Lola Kenya Screen”): Perhaps the best way to describe myself is that I am a practitioner in the field of arts, culture, and development. I publish ArtMatters.Info, the premier critical website covering arts, culture and lifestyle in eastern and southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. I am the founder and director of the ArtMatters.Info Critics Guild that works with arts and culture journalists in eastern and southern Africa, and founder and creative director of Lola Kenya Screen, the annual international audiovisual festival exclusively designed for children and youth in eastern Africa. I also work as a creative writer, journalist, critic, and talent & events manager.
Shohreh : What’s the background to the children’s festival “Lola Kenya Screen”?
Ogova: I have undergone some training in mass communications, served on juries on film, arts, and culture internationally and worked as an arts and culture journalist. I stumbled into the audiovisual media sector as a journalist, and then organizing committee volunteer before being elected coordinator of the now defunct African Cine Week in 2003. Through my work, I saw too many yawning gaps that needed to be filled in but no one was willing to put their necks on the line.
I had also just undergone some training in film and television markets and festivals in Europe but I had nowhere to utilise my skills as Kenya had no film festival, let alone a film industry.
This was the background of Lola Kenya Screen, the first international film festival in Kenya. But my objective was not to host just any general film festival—as we have too many of those—that only showcases films. I wanted to help replenish films through production workshops, promote and market films through an audiovisual market, train people in the appreciation and creation of quality arts and cultural products through festival press and juries, and programme presentation. The only people through whom this can be done are children and youth. So, naturally, this became my focus. The present and the future belong to children and youth and only they can shape it.
Lola Kenya Screen came into existence in Nairobi in October 2005, launched in Cape Town in November 2005, held its first monthly Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi in December 2005, and held its first annual Lola Kenya Screen in August 2006 at Goethe-Institut and Alliance Francaise in the Nairobi central business district.
Shohreh: How would you describe Lola Kenya Screen?
Ogova: Lola Kenya Screen is an audiovisual media movement that seeks to place production tools in the hands of children and youth for the advancement of literacy, gender equity, self expression, and democracy in their world. Lola Kenya Screen comprises a production workshop, film exhibition, and audiovisual media platform for marketing, promoting and distributing films all rolled into one.
Lola Kenya Screen equips children and youth with the skills to understand, appreciate, and create quality audiovisual productions in particular and art in general.
Shohreh: Is this festival the only children’s festival on the African continent?
Ogova: As far as I know, Lola Kenya Screen is the only festival in Africa that is exclusively designed for children and youth, i.e. children and youth are the focus and not a side bar at a large general or adults’ film festival. It is the only festival that is organised, presented and celebrated by children and youth who make films through the film production workshop, report on the festival through the children’s press, present the programme through children’s event presentation, and award prizes through the children’s jury.
We at Lola Kenya Screen recognise that childhood is a significant and decisive period in one’s life that should be treated respectfully and seriously. As such, our film line up not only treats the lives and feelings of children and youth seriously but the films we have selected portray children and youth as real, leading characters.
Shohreh: Can you explain some of the directions of this year’s edition of the festival? Was there a theme?
Ogova: This year has seen the expansion of Lola Kenya Screen in terms of interest and programme; we were able to do the official launch and prize presentation of the festival on July 3, 2007 at which children, youth, parents, schools, ambassadors, local and international media, children and youth workers and numerous other people were present.
The theme of this year’s event is “Championing democracy, self expression, gender equity and literacy through film.”
Shohreh: What’s new in this year’s festival?
Ogova: Unlike the inaugural Lola Kenya Screen that in 2006 which received 216 films from 37 nations, this year we received 265 films from 46 nations tackling current issues such as suicide bombing, corruption, child sexual abuse, commercializing education, following one’s dream no matter what, dealing with grief, fairy tales with moral teaching, child labour, search for friendship, love, and identity.
Lola Kenya Screen may be just two years old, but no festival in eastern Africa has exhibited as many films from as many nations as we have. Our age notwithstanding, Lola Kenya Screen has not only made films and marketed them across the world but has also beaten some leading film nations in Africa to the Grand Prize at Kids for Kids Africa/ 5th World Summit on Media for Children.
This year our programme has expanded. We shall screen films between 9.00am and 8.30 pm; last year’s programme ran 10.00am-6.00pm.
We shall screen films under four categories: Competition, Panorama, Special Focus—Films by Children, Films by Students, Danish Films for Children and Youth, Prix Jeunesse International’s ‘Window on the World’—and Special Screening on the Lola Kenya Screen film focus in 2006, Poland.
Besides our main festival venue at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi CBD, Lola Kenya Screen 2007 shall reach out to Nairobi’s informal settlement of Mathare and the working district of its industrial area.
But above all else, two production workshops, one on animation with children (10-18 years), and another on producing television drama for children and youth with youth (19-25 years), shall be conducted. We are grateful to the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen for making it possible for Annemette Karpen and Maikki Kantola of Project ANIMA to be the facilitators of our children’s animation workshop. We also thank Prix Jeunesse and Goethe-Institut for sponsoring Susanne Rieschel of ZDF to conduct the TV drama workshop at Lola Kenya Screen in 2007.
Shohreh: Who funds the festival and how much does it cost to put it on?
Ogova: The festival is funded by the Creator of Creativity, ComMattersKenya, ArtMatters.Info, ArtMatters.Info Critics Guild, Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Goethe-Institut, Danish Film Institute, and Prix Jeunesse. If everything needed funding, it would cost an estimated $90,000 USD or 70,000 Euro along with kind and human resource to put Lola Kenya Screen together. But are we getting anywhere near meeting this budget?—Hardly. All the festival staff, from the director to the programme presenter, volunteer their service. The festival director, with the much needed support of the festival manager, works on the festival for an estimated 18 hours a day throughout the year. This is a labour of love!
Shohreh: How many audiences are attracted by the festival?
Ogova: Some 4,000 people—2,500 children, 807 youth, and 510 adults—turned up for the 2006 edition of Lola Kenya Screen. We are anticipating a larger audience this year if the number of people who turned up for the official launch of the festival on July 3, 2007 is any barometer to go by.
Shohreh: What were major problems facing the coming edition?
Ogova: Our greatest challenge is lack of funding. Without funding, we cannot hire staff, bring in film directors, present worthy awards to people whose audiovisual work excel at the festival, etc. We can’t select films on time, draw up the programme, etc. Believe it or not, Lola Kenya Screen is organised by two people who engage in a labour of love because we do not wish to engage in the blame game, pointing fingers and forever remaining buried under creative poverty.
Though we do not receive even one eighth of our budget, we still achieve more than any one would expect. We badly need financial support from home, Africa, and the world, in that order. When you look at the list of our partners, how many of them are Kenyan, East African, African? I leave that to your own conclusion.
Shohreh: Is there a special point you would like to stress regarding this year’s edition of Lola Kenya Screen?
Ogova: I can only appeal to those wonderful people out there who send us their films to know that we in Nairobi greatly value them; the fact that we cannot fly them all in and accommodate them in our beautiful city at the centre of Africa should not dampen their spirits. It is only a matter of time until we will be in a position to bring them to Kenya to celebrate creativity with us. We appeal to players in the field of children and youth to partner with us on this important project that is shaping tomorrow. We already have a platform from which they can launch their programmes and projects. And above all, we are creative, cultural, African and optimistic in helping bring about change in Nairobi, Kenya, eastern Africa, Africa and the entire world. Watch this space.