If we don’t tell our own stories nobody will

Miriam Odaka, Programme Director, Maisha Film Lab

Kampala day 2. If we don’t tell our own stories nobody will. The slogan of Maisha Film Lab  says it all. Here is a group of people who know what they want, tell their own stories and create their own unique image.

I feel we as Ugandans and Africans are being judged. There are so many stories and tales about us created by others. As filmmakers and storytellers we have the tools to tell the stories that are relevant to us and counteract the misleading perceptions, says Miriam Odaka, Programme Director, Maisha Film Lab.

Confident, friendly and with a totally professional attitude Miriam Odaka has reserved an hour of her busy schedule to explain what Maisha film is all about.  We sit in her office at Makerere University campus where the organisation is located.  In the next office some of the other Maisha Film employees are busy planning for the annual Maisha Filmmakers and Technical Lab starting next week. Through the open doors we can hear how they are making sure the logistic ends meet.

Maisha Film Lab began in 2004, but the idea behind it took shape in 2001 when Director and Oscar-nominee Mira Nair shot her film Mississipi Masala; a love story between a native Ugandan young man and a young woman of Indian decent in the midst of the xenophobic atmosphere of early 1970s Uganda.

While shooting the movie Mira Noir was overwhelmed by the rich storytelling potential she met in East Africa. She decided to establish a training institution for filmmakers in the region to provide a platform for the stories to be expressed on screen.

The first Maisha Filmmakers and Technical Lab in basic screenwriting and production ran in 2005. Since then the 26-days intensive program has been the corner stone of film organisation, but other initiatives have developed from it including an intensive 8 days screenwriting lab, a documentary film lab and apprenticeship with local filmmakers. During the last few years Maisha has also become a platform for international recognition of East African films.

This year has been very good, Maisha supported films are not only participating at the African film festivals but also at festivals like International Film Festival Rotterdam  and Sundance Film Festival, explains Miriam Odaka

Starting in 2011, Maisha Film Lab ventured into a new program focussing on building a film culture for the youth aged 13-19yrs, and the demographic reality of the Uganda where 50% of the population is below 14yrs.

There are several elements in the new program, from mobile cinema and film clubs to production labs for the youth.  Workshops for film practitioners looking into film making for the youth, as a target group, are another feature of it.

I find the youth program very exciting and I am in particular looking forward to the production labs and to find out what kind of stories our youth want to share, says Mariam Odaka says

During the first year the youth program will run in Kampala and Gulu. At a later stage it will be extended to among other places Moroto in Karamoja. Like the other Maisha initiatives its gets external support and funding. Gottenburg International Film Festival is among Maisha’s oldest external partners. The new youth program is supported by Danish Center for Culture and Development and the Danish Film Institute.

While working as Director of Information for Danish Center for Culture and Development and as Communications Advisor for Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke I experienced how in particular small organisations can loose track of their own ideas and core values because they need funding, – and in order to get it they have to live up to the funder’s agenda. I have always found this to be a huge challenge for both the small organisations and the funders, so I asked Miriam Odaka directly if Maisha’s foreign partnerships in any way challenge and side track the organisations core agenda and pull it away from its original vision.

I don’t think we can be side tracked or compromised. We as Maisha Film Lab are very aware of what we want and what we are doing. It’s our stories, we are telling them and we only collaborate with partners who understand and share our vision, Miriam Odoka answers.

2 Responses to “If we don’t tell our own stories nobody will”
  1. rob says:

    totally agree…!

  2. Joseph says:

    Kudos Miriam for the moving story on Maisha labs..

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