Sauti Zetu shines a spotlight on equity & empowerment

Audience at the Sauti Zetu Film Festival on October 13-15, 2023

By Karen Chalamilla

The inaugural Sauti Zetu film festival, successfully held at the Little Theatre, drew in droves of filmmakers and film lovers alike.

This first-of-its-kind festival, organised by Media for Development and Advocacy (MEDEA), set out to raise community awareness of human rights and encourage civic engagement through film.

With the motto “hadithi zetu, sauti zetu,” the festival addressed several issues including freedom of expression, youth involvement in governance and policymaking, and gender equality.

As the festival director Elias Maeda reiterated, the festival sought to position “citizens as champions for equity and freedom of expression.”

Filmmaker and film festival organiser for Kitale film week Peter Bwire shares that such is the potential of this first iteration of the Sauti Zetu film festival.

He asserts, “Film festivals are significant events in the ecosystem of the film industry, bringing together people from different sectors...collaborating, making new films, getting money to make these films, and developing the place these films are placed.”

The Sauti Zetu festival was made up of panel discussions, the invigorating storytelling lab, visual art exhibitions, performance art, and, of course, film screenings.

The well-curated programme was stacked with quality entertainment; there was something for the veteran filmmaker, the -and-coming o one, the avid film watcher, as well as the casual art lover.

As a nod to Tanzanian film culture, some of the screenings were held in the makeshift kibanda umiza put together by the Sauti Zetu team to allow audiences to really immerse themselves in the experience of communal watching.

For filmmaker Sarah Kimario, this was one of the festival’s highlights.

She expresses, “It took me back to the time when I started dreaming of making films. I fell in love with films in Vibanda Umiza because of the experience of watching films together with people.”

Audience member and Director of the Sauti Ya Mtoto Foundation, Jerusa Kitoto, shares a similar sentiment: “It made me happy how the organisers embraced authenticity with the film screenings in the Kibanda Umiza.”

She adds that she was most impressed with the films that addressed women and rape culture in our societies. “As a feminist, I appreciated the films for being so candid about the realities of what women go through. It was also a joy to see well-known Kenyan names like Njugush be part of a film that aims to educate society.”

Another audience member, Ilyasa Hassan Maduo, says, “I’ve never been a part of anything like that, so I really enjoyed myself. I wish it would happen more than just once a year.”

He adds that his favourite film was the Sarah Kimario-written and directed film, Samaki Kwa Wote, which highlights the realities of Tanzanian working women. This film nabbed itself the Equality Unleashed Award at the festival.

When asked how she felt about her work not only featuring in the festival line-up but also winning, Sarah responded, “I feel like the films have been given another chance to fulfil their purpose. My work met a wider audience, and I got to be in the room when they were watching them; their reactions were everything.”

The other award-winning films were Jasiri for the Express Yourself Award, Bangarang for the Youth Power Prize, and Act of Love for the People’s Choice Trophy.

Kaole Sanaa Group, was also honoured for their invaluable contribution to the growth of Tanzanian film.