Push The Red Button: Film-making in Malawi

Our friend Sabine Hellmann was featured in our digital-only zero edition of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, with her photographs from the Namumba Trading Post in Malawi. Now Sabine wants to return to the country as part of a film-making project titled Push The Red Button. Sabine and the team are currently crowdfunding the project via Indiegogo, and we wanted to use this chance to speak to her about what they are trying to achieve in the hope that some of our lovely Elsewhere readers will give them some support.

So Sabine, can you tell us a little bit about the motivation behind the project?

When I first started to train a group of farmers from rural Malawi to use video cameras, inspired by how they used the technology to tell their stories. With hands-on exercises and games, all part of a 'participatory video' workshop, the farmers understood quickly how storytelling in film works and the results were great. It was also a fun way to work together.  With Push The Red Button I hope to capture those wonderful moments when technology that is perhaps new for a particular group of people is embraced and used to tell their stories. Added to this, it was important for me to focus on women's stories, as these are so rarely heard.

Why Malawi? Is it a personal connection?

The connection came through my work and the observations I made when facilitating the video workshops. In Malawi where there is no electricity in the vast rural areas, it is nearly impossible to see moving images and so film and television remains something very special. This spring the sustainable farming project that I work for is coming to an end and it is the last time I will have the chance to visit Malawi and make a film about the magic that film-making brings for those who have had little opportunity to tell their stories, but have ample stories to tell!

Who are the women you are working with in Malawi and how did you choose them?

The five women who will appear in the film are Agnes, Sofeleti, Eunice, Judith and Emily. They live in Dzoole and Nthuzi villages in the district where we work. Two of them are grandmothers and the other three are in their twenties, some with children. Our project coordinators met them in the farming clubs and we chose them because they have not yet had a chance to be part of the video workshops that were held there. Each of them has a story to tell and issues like old traditions vs. modern influences will be explored during the filmmaking.

You are raising funds for the project via Indiegogo. How much money do you need and what will you be using it for?

We are hoping to raise a fairly basic production sum that will enable us to cover a number of expenses for the two weeks of shooting in Malawi. From car hire, decent wages for our colleagues in Malawi who will help with the production and translation, as well as international travel and local expenses for food and lodging. Part of the budget will also enable us to get an editor on board to create a rough cut and approach for more funding after the trip.

Aside from raising the money - what are the main challenges for a project like this?

There are a number of challenges - first of all we are shooting in Malawi and despite it being a peaceful and beautiful country, the infrastructure is not the best. We will face challenges like getting around in remote areas, working in sweltering heat and having to adapt to a much more relaxed e.g. slow way of doing things. I'm used to it through my work and I have gathered a great team on the ground that I can rely on. We'll be able to face those challenges and with Malawi being one of the friendliest countries in Africa, there is always a way around a problem.

Once the film is completed, what is the plan?

Once Push The Red Button sees the light of day, we hope to get it out and into film festivals. We are also looking into educational distribution possibilities, perhaps in conjunction with school screenings. This universal story is reflecting on the challenges of women from rural Malawi in a unique way, by observing them embrace the technology totally new to them and telling their stories. In return, I imagine it will also cause us to reflect on our own use of media and how it dominates our lives.  

Thanks Sabine… and best of luck for the project!

To see the pitch film and more about the project, visit the crowdfunding page on Indiegogo, and follow the project (and share!) on Facebook here.