Film-Making as a Powerful Tool in Accountability and Social Change
By Lawrence Yealue and Francis Lansana, Accountability Lab Liberia
There are often complaints in Liberia about inequality and corruption, but in many cases little effort is made to validate these claims and create positive change. To begin to address this issue, the Lab has set up an Accountability Film School to train young Liberians to investigate and document cases of the abuse of authority. During the 5-week program, participants receive training on both accountability issues and how to make useful low-budget films. The students then used these skills to produce their own short documentaries on an accountability issue they witness in their communities.
On September 17th, the Accountability Lab hosted Liberia’s very first film festival to showcase these student productions from the inaugural session of the Film School. Over 60 participants, including university representatives, civil society members, and government employees, crowded into iLab Liberia’s Monrovia office for the viewing. The corruption featured in the films related to the everyday lives of many Liberians- topics ranged from exposing insufficient distribution of electricity to citizens, to pleas for taking individual responsibility in keeping communities clean. The evening also included an extra film about maternal health problems titled The Right to Life, produced by the Film School’s lecturer, Divine-Key Anderson.
Following the viewings, attendees voted for their favorite film. The first prize went to Dorcas Pewee for her film, Say It – which exposes the sexual exploitation of women, an issue she has been a victim of herself. All the student film-makers were given certificates for their hard work. Divine, Dr. Stefan Rusche and German film producer Zorana Musikic were also honored for their brilliant contributions in training the students and organizing the festival.
The Film Festival was a huge success, as it opened the eyes of many to how the abuse of power affects Liberians’ everyday lives. Francis Lansana, the Lab’s resident in Liberia, explained that “for many Liberians the film festival laid bare in a very real way the constraints holding back Liberia’s development.” The high turnout and positive feedback by participants and attendees alike indicate a widespread recognition of the need for change in Liberia. Many supported expanding the Film School program beyond Monrovia, arguing that “we need this type of program in our country more often.” Other attendees suggested merging the projects into a single film and submitting it to the relevant authorities. The films are now accessible to the public via our YouTube channel. Our hope is that they will continue to inspire Liberians to demand accountability from their power-holders and to think about their own contributions to an accountable society.
Future Plans and Partnerships
The Accountability Lab recently partnered with Liberia’s independent arthouse cinema Kriterion Monrovia to help organize and execute an “Image of Liberia” film festival in January 2014. Kriterion Monrovia’s mission to strengthen democracy and activate civil society through cultural events is a natural fit for the goals of the Lab’s Film School. In addition to hosting 5 accountability-related films at the festival, the Lab is also supporting Kriterion Monrovia by hosting a series of 3-day workshops leading up to the event, which will train young Liberians on accountability issues and the various elements of documentary film-making.
The Lab also plans to organize a round-table debate on the impact that film-making can have on accountability and social change in Liberia, which will involve a prominent panel of representatives from the artistic, civil society and governmental communities.