8 April 2013

Radio Amina (short film), and an interview with director Orlando von Einsiedel

Radio Amina takes an imaginative, sometimes lonely, but very energetic look at the call for change in educating girls and women in Africa. It's a beautifully constructed film that contrasts the rough edges of a child's reality with the excitement and possibility of her imagination. Check out the film here:


Orlando von Einsiedel is the co-founder of the award-winning London TV/film/web production company, Grain Media. Very exciting to bring to you this mailterview with Orlando, written from far-off locales.

CR: What was it like to work in Kano?

OE: In the run up to the shoot there had been some nasty incidents involving the militant group Boko Haram near Kano, so we were not entirely sure how the atmosphere would feel in the city or how open people would be to us. However, in general people could not have been nicer and we all really enjoyed filming in the city. It was ridiculously hot, and as we were shooting on 16mm film the dust and dirt made everything that much harder, but we had a lot of fun making the films. Nigeria gets a really bad rap, but I really love working in the country and have made lots of films there over the years. It's one of the most intense, colourful and energetic places in Africa, and Nigerians are full of life and really nice people.

CR: What kind of reactions did you get from Nigerians and other Africans aware of the film, with respect to the fact that it promotes a better quality of life for girls and women?

OE: The response to Radio Amina has always been very positive from people who've watched it. The film was primarily made for a local audience in Nigeria and we were all interested to see how it would be perceived. However I don't think many people in the country seriously think girls should not be given any opportunities, so it's hard not to like the film's message. In Nigeria, it's not really a case of "let's not educate women because they are women"' (as it can be in other parts of the world), it's more a case of allocating resources. When a family's resources are scarce, they tend to prioritise sending their male children to school. The campaign the film fitted into was about trying to change these types of thought processes by showing that if women are given opportunities they can really make use of them and this will in fact benefit everyone (potentially, far more than if a man is educated…).

CR: Amina’s voice has such a wonderful ring to it, she seems like an incredibly lively and obviously resilient
girl. Have you stayed in touch with her since the film?

OE: We worked together with a local NGO on Radio Amina's sister film, Aisha's Song, and we've stayed in touch with them. They keep us updated on how Amina and Aisha are getting along -- both of whom are healthy and doing well.

CR: Do you think your films have made a difference so far in the lives of girls and women in Nigeria and Ethiopia?

OE: I wouldn't necessarily say that the films alone have made a difference to people's lives but the campaign that they were a part of certainly has. The films were made for the Girl Effect campaign, which has been investing a huge amount of resources into young women in Africa, as they are seen as a massive untapped catalyst for development in the region. The films' aim were twofold; to show to policy makers that young women, if given the right opportunities, can go on to achieve great things and also to inspire young African women themselves to believe in better.

CR: Your films have often focused on children dealing with the struggles of their surroundings, and raising their voices or opinions up through the din. What experience(s) made you want to focus on kids in tough situations?

OE: I really find the way children still manage to be full of hope and ambition in the most unbelievably harsh circumstances deeply humbling. About a year before making Radio Amina I made another short film in Afghanistan about a skateboard school there for children and I was simply blown away at how full of life children, who'd only grown up knowing conflict, could still be. Another refreshing thing about working with young people is that are often not afraid to say the truth about something or talk about how they are really feeling, while adults are much less likely to be as open or about things. I've moved away for the time being about making films focusing on young people, but I definitely spent a few years concentrating on it.

CR: What do you hope to achieve through your films?

OE: I think most documentary filmmakers want to make films that "make a difference." But that said, I'm not naive and know that most of the films I make won't actually go on to have any real impact. Of course it's wonderful when you get it right and your film is used to help people. At the end of the day though, if my films just make someone smile or force people to view a situation differently then I'm happy too.

CR: What is your favorite challenge about being a director?

OE: I think the challenge I love the most is using both the creative part of your brain and the more thoughtful or intellectual part. To make a good film both these thought processes need to come together and every project is challenging and new and forces you to constantly adapt and be original.

CR: How did you get into films and what/who has inspired you most?

OE: I had a bit of a strange route into filmmaking. Once upon a time I was a professional snowboarder which led me onto making snowboard films and then onto making content for brands. I'd studied anthropology and development at university so had always wanted to move into documentaries eventually and I guess when I more or less had a basic grasp of the craft of filmmaking I started to make docs - which is what I mainly focus on now.

There are so many film makers who inspire me; James Longley, Kevin McDonald and Nick Broomfield are a few filmmakers who I'm really liking at the moment. These guys have all mixed documentary and drama forms really nicely, something I am doing more and more of myself.

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There is a wonderful article on Fuji Film's EXPOSURE about the making of the film, and links to learn more about the organizations that Orlando partnered with. Check it out! 

Thanks again to Orlando!

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