This past week I experienced something rare. I, a man, got to see the world through the eyes of women. I got to see firsthand their fears and hopes, their struggles and victories. All this was in the course of the just concluded inaugural Udada Film Festival. The festival, held in Nairobi, is dedicated to films made by women from all over the world and the second of it’s kind in Africa after International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF), in Harare, Zimbabwe. Udada seeks to highlight women issues as well as celebrate the achievements made by women in the filmmaking arena. It kicked of with a decent opening ceremony at the Kenya Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium and concluded with an award ceremony at Alliance Francaise’s Wangari Maathai Auditorium while most of the screenings took place at the Goethe Institut. Ekwe Msangi’s short Soko Sonko was a fitting start to the festival with it’s discourse-provoking as well as hilarious style, sharp in contrast to the final film Auf Unseren Herzen (Dust in Our Hearts), starring Stephanie Stremler,which was pretty somber.
About 65 of the 150 submitted films were screened in 5 days. Workshops covering areas ranging from copyright issues to film criticism to film distributions were also conducted with actress Stephanie Stremler coming from Germany to conduct the acting workshop. The films showcased were a looking glass into issues affecting women all over the world today.From a sick woman barely getting her husband to take their young daughter to the salon to get her hair braided when all he want is to go watch a Gor Mahia FC match in Soko Sonko, to a young woman overcoming cultural inhibitions to become a flying nurse in Ann Mungai’s 1998 Kenyan classic Saikati The Enkabaani, to Alberto Pernet’s short, Maria, about a broke woman’s pain after a blow to her dignity and pride when she has to beg for food from a cafe. Plenty of heavily themed films that could make watching all of them quite a draining experience( but maybe I’m just being a man) so I just watched a good number of them. For a fist-time festival, I have to commend the three directors; Wanjiru Kinyanjui, one of the pioneer filmmakers in Kenya and a lecturer in film studies at the Multi-Media University, Matrid Nyagah, her former student at Kenyatta University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Film, and Naomi Mwaura, a young champion of women empowerment. I reckon it was a heavy task putting together the festival though I suppose Wanjiru’s experience from being one of the organizers of the now dead Kenya International Film Festival came in handy. That said, the festival had a few hiccups that were too elementary even for a new festival. The computer kept shutting down every five minutes disrupting my immersion into the films and ruining my movie experience. I also missed a workshop because it started more that 2 hours late and I could not wait any more. This though didn’t hinder the general success of the festival. It had been a long time since we had any notable Kenyan film festival, making Udada a much needed breath of fresh air that wields immense potential.