Mark Roper, supporter of PFP partner organisation Temwa, recently visited Malawi and was present on the very first occasion when our HIV/AIDs drama, Mawa Langa. was screened in the field. His enthusiasm was such that, immediately upon return, he sent us the following informal account – We arrived by boat at Ruarwe after dark – about 6.30 ish. The TV (an old fashioned quite small one) DVD player, sound system and generator were unloaded and set up on the beach. At this stage a few kids had arrived and plonked themselves down on the sand.
Once everything was wired up the generator was turned on – and nothing happened. The extension lead was broken – so this was “fixed” and the repaired joint was buried in the sand! We then discovered that there was no TV or DVD remote so there was much fiddling of the manual controls until the former sparked into life. Sporadically.
Jumbo from Temwa then put on the crowd pullers – Zambian music videos! By this stage a crowd had gathered on the beach and it soon increased once the music started blaring out. Sporadically. Because at this point we realised that the generator wasn’t powerful enough to drive the TV, sound system and DVD – so the telly kept cutting out! A man was dispatched to collect the village generator. And all the while the crowd was growing….
After several videos of Zambian bump and grind (not sure what message that was sending but hey….it got the crowd in) I estimate there was something like 350-400 people watching – pretty much the entire village I would imagine. And the fact that Jumbo kept replaying the same two videos didn’t seem to fazed them at all.
By now the generator was replaced and everything was functioning – so it was time for the movie. No DVD remote meant we had to play the track without English subtitles so we hoped that they would all understand – as the local language is Tumbuka not Chichewa. Jumbo briefly explained what was going to happen – and the film started.
It was immediately clear that it spoke to the local people – from the title sequence which was full of familiar scenes of Malawian life. They were entranced and started entering into the spirit – even though some of them may not have heard it all as the sound quality wasn’t great and there were so many people there – plus the generator was chugging along in the background. There was a collective groan when Effie’s mother died, whistles and catcalls when the baddies appeared – and laughter too. They were totally engrossed from start to finish – and we had two brief breaks in the film whilst Jumbo discussed the issues raised with the crowd – who entered into the debate with huge enthusiasm. At the end there was another debate and then calls for the whole thing to be replayed.
I cannot really put into words how magical it was – sitting on a beach under the Milky Way watching the crowd watching the film was an experience that will live with me – and I’m sure Dan – for the rest of my life. And to those of you who were involved in the production (excuse my ignorance but I don’t know who you all are!) – congratulations. I think you’ve made something that resonates with the local people and talks to them in a way that they totally understand. I hope you get the chance to see it in Malawi one day!