Juba is the newest capital city in the world and the first edition of the Juba film festivaltaking place on the eve of the 5th year of independence for South Sudan is changing perspectives and documenting the period of transformation in the country.
There is no commercial cinema or film industry in South Sudan, however Simon ‘Bingo’ Lokwang of the Bye Bye film union hasfounded an innovative and ground-breaking film festivalas a vehicle to create and share the real stories of South Sudan.
Bingo wasone of 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005).He lived for more than 10 years in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp where he attended primary school, high school and college.
He said, “Being in someone else’s country, you are lost. The only way I could share my story with my colleagues in the camp was through theatre.” In 2006 Chandler Griffin, founding director of Barefoot Workshops, experts in documentary film making, conducted workshops in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Bingo’s passion for story-telling realised through a short-film on the HIV stigma earned him a scholarship to the East African School of Media Studies in Nairobi.
I am tired of going to Uganda and Kenya and they say you are from South Sudan, how is it living there? People only think about war. We are a diverse country. Bingo
Bingo said,“We have a lot of stories and these stories are not being told. It is important for all South Sudanese to know the issues that affect them, how to solve those issues and also for the world to know what is happening in South Sudan. People see us as warriors but this is our opportunity to redefine ourselves. We are laughing people, we are determined people. We need to create stories about ourselves and by ourselves. This country is not only about politicians, it is about life, it is about living. We are already producing films in South Sudan. We need to celebrate that, and screen them in a way that can make people proud. There’s no infrastructure to learn about film. The festival is more than about showing movies.The goal is to build capacity to make them.”
The return of peace to the country, following the South Sudan civil war that started in 2013, has allowed many to focus on what they can do best. In April 2016the journey started for many young people who wanted to produce films in preparation for Juba film festival.Workshops, training and a pop-up film school for young filmmakers facilitated by experienced international filmmakers from ‘Barefoot Workshops’ and ‘What took you so long’ (WTYSL)began. 20 students from public and high school attended the workshop to learn new techniques and industry insights. From these 20 students, 4 scripts were picked for development, filming, editing and screening on the festival.
Chandler Griffin said,” The films being produced in this workshop really matter, have a message and have a use. They are addressing issues in the community.”
The films made in the workshops include, ‘STI’s,’ directed by Gilli Moses about HIV/AIDS testing before marriage; ‘Marriage is choice,’ directed by Tek Stephen about the stigma of inter-tribal marriage, and ‘Listen to me’ directed by Peter Mapour about bride inheritance. Sebastian Lindstrom, founding director of (WTYSL), a foundation thatcreates an impact through positive and solution-based media,said, “This is one attempt to showcase different stories from the grassroots through fiction, through documentary. There is this growing pride and feeling that ‘we are enough to tell our own stories’ within the South Sudanese filmmaking community. Having the chance to play a small part in this growth that is unfolding—that’s magic!”
South Sudan has a lot of young and talented hard working actors and film-makers, however there is a lack of marketing and exposure. The Juba film festival has the vision of filling this gap and aimsto enable many people to watch South Sudan films. The festival received 38 films, with 16 documentaries and 22 dramas from existing South Sudanese film makers.
Bingo says, “This is not just for us, but for our children and our grandchildren. One day they will look back and want to know what the first years of this country were like. When South Sudan and Sudan was one country, there was a lot of conflict. We got independence. We have our own country now. We need to share our own stories. You see the turnaround in someone’s life and you look at your own lifestyle and in some kind of way you can change your life.The films are South Sudanese stories. It is for locals, by locals.”