Taking cinema to Malawi

Purple Field Productions logo

In Malawi, where only one third of the land is suitable for cultivation, the rest comprising forests, mountains and rough pastures, 84% of the population live in rural areas where 11 million people are engaged in small holder subsistence farming. Despite this, agriculture accounts for more than one third of the country’s GDP and 90% of its exports.

During August 2015 Fraser McFadyen, on behalf of PFP Productions, traveled to Malawi with their new solar powered backpack cinema kit taking their Malawian films to new audiences in the Kasungu district of central Malawi. He carried out a two-week distribution programme involving local NGOs and contacts made previously by Ingrid Hesling, their UK facilitator. The films were either made in the local language of Chichewa or,  in the case of ‘Change With the Climate’ which was originally made for release in Uganda, were dubbed in Chichewa.

PRP 1Two Malawians, Alfred and Gentry were trained to manage the whole process of maintaining and using the solar powered cinema equipment and to lead the post film discussions. Distribution Manager, Alfred and his assistant, Gentry, often worked in difficult situations, often disassembling the equipment in dusty conditions and in darkness. With the support of local NGOs they led discussions following the screenings which enabled audiences to discuss issues arising from the films and to express their thoughts and ideas about how they might use the information to improve their farming practices and also, for example, how the stoves might improve the situation for the women on a daily basis.

Subsequently, the local team continued to carry out further pre- arranged screenings for 2-3 months, reporting directly to PFP while Fraser, the UK representative, spent a further 10 days initiating further distribution, meeting with officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education and other NGOs, including ‘PLAN’ and ‘Total Land Care’.

Mbeu Yosintha (Seeds of Change)

Fraser reported that farmers were genuinely inspired by the films. “What was happening in the film reflected what is happening in our community” one farmer commented and many appeared motivated to get started with improved methods of farming.“Each person should be planting trees each year!” one man asserted and many expressed interest and enthusiasm for the more sustainable methods of farming shown. One woman explained how she benefited already from conservation agriculture that enabled her to get “25 pails of maize from a small garden.”

Women too, were very interested in the role of women as depicted in the film, inspired by the lead farmer Ms Masamba, they realised that they also could be lead farmers: “Women can do what men can do so women should be very confident that they can do what men can do.”

Both men and women expressed their shock and distaste for the scenes of rape and domestic violence shown and this certainly stimulated earnest discussion. The importance of reporting rape cases to the police and to NGOs was discussed frequently by both men and women post screening and many of the chiefs who contributed to post film discussions, indicated that they might take more responsibility both for developing improved methods of agriculture and also for making it plain that domestic abuse was not acceptable. One woman told us “We as women we travel long distances to fetch firewood but our husbands don’t know the challenges that we face when fetching firewood.” And another remarked when discussing ‘Tress and Stoves’ “People travel long distances here at Gogode to fetch firewood”.

Ulimi Mchuma Chathu (Farming Our Wealth)

When the films were screened near Kusungu National Park, the audience showed particular interest in ideas for modern bee-keeping which would help them maximize their profits and they expressed their intention of mobilizing the community to have a village forest because they realised the importance of the forest to their community.

Responses to ‘Tress and Stoves’ was always very positive with many expressing their desire to get started straight away building stoves which use less firewood and which cook more quickly. Many wanted to learn more about the stoves and their construction.

Solar Powered Kit

Fraser reported fully to trustees on the strengths and weaknesses of the solar powered kit. The kit worked well with audiences of up to 200 people. However, greater amplification is needed and additional charged batteries would be useful – the batteries take a good while to recharge. The development team is working on a Mark II version of the kit, which should be ready by the end of October 2015.

Further Distribution

Fraser McFadyen spent the remainder of his time in Malawi working with their Malawian Representative, Jonathan Mbuna on further screening and distribution plans.

Purple Field Productions took part in an advocacy event organised by the Ministry of Education aimed at improving teaching and learning across Malawi. They screened one of their films as part of this Integrated Service Delivery event that brought together partners in education addressing issues including nutrition, health, agriculture, gender, HIV & AIDS, child protection, and the environment.

PRP have also left the Ministry of Education with copies of all of their Malawian films for their own use and a strategy is being developed by the Ministry to distribute and screen these films throughout Malawi.

Copies of the DVDs have also been left with the Ministry of Agriculture and they have been using a video van to carry out road side screenings of our films. To date, 10,000 farmers have watched Mbeu Yosintha (Seeds of Change) as a result of these screenings organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and it is expected that this figure will increase with further screenings planned for later this year.

Integrating Nutrition in Value Chains (INVC), a US initiative, have also got copies of their films for screening within their own projects.

Nationally, two screenings have taken place on Times TV of Mbeu Yoseintha (Seeds of Change) and locally a screening has taken place on a local TV station, Timveni – an organisation supported by Plan International.

PRP 2With the planned community screenings now complete, Timveni TV, based in Lilongwe have taken responsibility for the use and care of the solar powered kit and will continue to undertake further screenings and facilitated discussions using the mobile cinema .

Next Steps

Purple Field Productions are continuing to work on plans and develop strategies for further distribution with both the Ministry of Information and the Lilongwe University of Agricuature and Natural Resource (LUANAR).

They are awaiting feedback from the Ministries of Education and Agriculture on responses to screenings they have held and plans they have for further screenings in the months ahead.

At this stage, overall PRP feel that this distribution programme has been successful in achieving their objectives  and look forward to receiving updates of further screenings and distribution as and when they place.

The Edith M Ellis 1985 Charitable Trust are pleased to support the valuable work done by Purple Field Productions in Malawi.  Further information about their work can be found at http://www,purplefieldproductions.org