HFPA Supports FilmAid International in Empowering the Next Generation of Filmmakers in Vulnerable Communities Around the World

What do Joseph Lopir, a student of FilmAid´s Media Training Program at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya; Abdiqathar Keinan, of the Media Training Program at Dadaab Refugee Camp; and Lismari Machado, a member of the Communication Network that serves the Wayuu Community, the largest indigenous community in Colombia, have in common? They share the passion and willingness to tell stories that reflect the reality of their own communities.

FilmAid is a non-profit organization founded by film producer Caroline Baron in 2001 with the mission of empowering refugee communities to strengthen their ability to access high-quality, lifesaving information, as well as advocate for themselves through filmmaking and visual storytelling. Since 2003, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has played a critical role in the work FilmAid is doing in Kenya, specifically through its support of the Media Entrepreneurship Training Project for refugee youth in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. 

Over two decades, the HFPA has disbursed a total of $1,265,000 to provide young refugees with education in film, photography, journalism, and digital media. With its support, the HFPA has contributed to the training of young storytellers in using the power of film to educate, inspire and empower people who have been affected by the influx of refugees, migrants fleeing socio-political instability and people who are at risk of disappearing due to massive corporate action that jeopardizes their basic resources.

This year, supporting FilmAid´s Media Entrepreneurship Training Program in Kenya as well as scaling up to its bourgeoning work in Colombia has been the focus of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association´s grant.

The METP in Kenya provides young refugees with the technical and creative skills necessary to create compelling, informative, and educational media content while understanding how that content can be used as a dissemination tool to empower affected communities. This nine-month course has been a fulfilling and enriching experience for students of both Kakuma, located in northwestern Kenya with a very diversified population of 200,000, and Dadaab Refugee Camp, the world´s largest refugee settlement, roughly half a million people, located near the border with Somalia. “In Kakuma, 50% of the population is from South Sudan, while the other 50 comes from other countries like Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the D.R of Congo. While in Dadaab 95 percent are Somalian,” explains Gita Saedi Kiely, FilmAid´s director.

In November 2021, FilmAid-Kenya started preparing students in both refugee camps to work beyond the nine-month training program to take advantage of increasing opportunities for both educational and professional development. Thanks to this year´s HFPA support, FilmAid has been able to scale up their media training program inviting alums from previous years to participate in the “Learn by Doing “production program, a hybrid learning system comprised of hands-on workshops, pitching and on-site production.

By participating in this project, Lopir, a 26-year-old student at Kakuma Refugee Camp, has understood the importance that media plays in today´s life if used positively, sustainably, and dependably. “Society can be inspired and built by embracing each other and resolving our issues,” says Lopir who is eager to become part of the team that, in collaboration with the community, creates and produces positive stories via filmmaking.

“After completing the basic filmmaker training program, I was stranded on where to begin in building my experience,” confesses Noel Bol Deng, another Kakuma student. “The mentorship element of the program has added great value to the skills I gained and being in the field with my colleagues and peers while enhancing my creativity has been a great benefit to me,” adds Deng.

Adbiqathar Keinan, a 27-year-old alumnus of the Media Training Program at Dadaab Refugee Camp talks effusively about his new passion, cinematography.  “Understanding how light works, its intensity, and the four types of light that exist has been a very rewarding experience. It has opened up my thinking, challenged my creativity, and increased my confidence,” says the future cinematographer and documentary producer.

For Nyalat Simon, a 24-year-old student at the Kakuma Media Hub Multimedia Training Program who enjoys writing and reporting in media, this program has allowed her to write and market good compelling stories. “It has been such a fulfilling and enriching experience for me. Having an opportunity to work with teachers and other fellow students has made this training very insightful,” explains Simon who is keen to become a journalist.

For the 23-year-old Agnes Achan, the training elements of how to be a producer and film director are the best part of the training program. The chance to meet with a professional from Chams Media, a media company based in Lodwar, who gave a talk to the students and shared with them his successful story, was inspirational. “You never know which opportunities could come your way,” says Achan, a future filmmaker.

In 2019, FilmAid became a project of Internews, an international non-profit dedicated to empowering local media and expanding freedom of expression globally. With close to 80 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced, this collaboration has allowed FilmAid to reach communities in need in other countries, like Zimbabwe and Colombia.

Since 2021, the HFPA has joined the efforts of FilmAid in expanding work with the Wayuu people, the largest indigenous community living in La Guajira state on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

FilmAid is collaborating with the Wayuu People´s Communications Network (La Red de Comunicación del Pueblo Wayuu), a group of journalists, filmmakers, and media activists from the Wayuu Community to help youth build their ability to create and distribute their own stories in both Wayuunaiki and Spanish.

This year the HFPA grant went to purchase equipment to strengthen the capacity of young Wayuu filmmakers to produce and distribute broadcast-quality videos.

One example is the short film Reflection of Wayuu Customs in the Framework of the Pandemic, a dialogue between the protagonist, a Wayuu woman, and her grandmother, of the Wayuu Sinojo clan. It is a film about the meaning of confinement, traditional medicine, and its uses in an urban context.

“Each year we take on projects among several members and organizations of the Network,” explains Lismari Machado, member of the Communication Network of the Wayuu People. “The level of demands is increasing and the level of the quality is rising. We have become known for the work that as a collective we have woven for years with the founders and former participants who are already members of the Network.”

The HFPA support to these programs across the world has been essential in assisting vulnerable communities to address their needs. By giving them the power of film and the ability to speak for themselves, the HFPA is contributing to their development and freedom.