I am a visual storyteller raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and via a number of cities ended up in Nairobi, Kenya. I developed ‘Le Lac’ as an immersive journey through the change and rupture of Lake Chad told by the poetic voice of the lake herself. After two years of hard work and support from Electric South and BlackRhino VR, it was both an honour and privilege to have ‘Le Lac’ premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Sheffield Doc/Fest was not the first time I had my work selected at a film festival, but due to financial and work constraints, I had never been able to see my work shown to a large audience. The Film Africa Travel Grants changed all of that for me. With the grant I received, I was able to attend the festival, present on a panel about covering conflict and climate change, showcase my work, rub shoulders with talented creatives and truly immerse myself in the spirit of the Sheffield Doc/Fest.
I arrived in rainy Sheffield, an old steel manufacturing town in the middle of England nervous in the age of Brexit. I wasn’t sure what the reception would be to a bunch of artsy foreigners. The city was speckled with orange, the festival’s signature colour, and to my delight, I was warmly welcomed and received a number of impromptu mini-tours of the city, including the best fish and chips shop, and where they used to make cutlery in the steel hay days. I was part of an Alternate Realities delegation that had creatives from Ukraine, India, Nigeria, Argentina, Brasil, Lebanon, Iran and Zimbabwe, and together we strutted through the town, from one event to another, learning about each other’s experience as creatives from traditionally underrepresented and underreported areas. It was comforting knowing we were all experiencing similar challenges in accessing funding or equipment, but also that we shared common goals of decolonizing storytelling in our respective regions.
Whether it was in a long queue for tickets to see “For Sama” or in a cafe outside the Alternate Realities Exhibition, I was constantly engrossed in conversations about extended reality (XR) vs traditional film, or interrogating what stories we tell and the intention behind them. I was able to connect with festival and museum curators, listen to and learn from filmmakers I admire, and I was able to interact with the audiences of ‘Le Lac’, hearing their thoughts about the piece and crisis around the lake first hand and making them conscious about the issue.
My three highlights from Sheffield Doc/Fest were being part of an all-women panel discussion on covering sensitivities in our stories – the entire festival sported a greater amount of diversity from gender to ethnicity and for me it very special to be a part of that. The second highlight was being able to get to spend five days just watching and experiencing amazing installations like ‘Clitme’, ‘Through the Wardrobe’ and ‘Another Dream’ – it made me feel like all my seemingly whacky ideas are valid and can be brought to life. And my last highlight was receiving the Digital Narrative Award – it was an extremely humbling and overwhelming feeling to know the jury thought so highly of the film and the voice of Lake Chad and great to receive a chunky steel batton to prove it.
Following on from the festival, my office is full of stacks of business cards of people I want to work with. The festival’s theme this year was “Ways of Seeing” and through each installation or documentary I saw so many ideas percolate before me, and left wanting to experiment with creating not just a mixed reality piece but an interactive installation about my experiences of travelling around the African continent.