The use of oil painted animation brings to life the stories of three powerful women in post conflict Sierra Leone; revealing the violence and corruption women face as they fight for fairer representation in the governance of their country.
Pathways of Women’s Empowerment invited competitive entries to make a film about women and politics in Sierra Leone. Pathways is an “international research and communications programme established in 2006 which links academics with activists and practitioners to find out what works to enhance women’s empowerment. We are identifying where women are achieving real gains and discovering the positive and negative factors which have influenced their journey.”
I am a visual artist not a trained or experienced film maker. I like to concentrate on making art about things that ‘matter’ in the world.
When an email arrived into my inbox inviting proposals from film makers to make a short film about women and politics in Sierra Leone I knew that, although the subject was one I welcomed, I did not consider that I had enough experience myself to put forward a solo proposal - however I knew two women with whom I could collaborate and together we made a unique team.
Jenny Cuffe is an incredibly experienced award winning BBC radio journalist who has worked solo in The Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe and Em Cooper is a brilliant animator who also has experience of working as a documentary film maker. The idea of working with them on such an important subject seemed an exciting idea - and they thought so too.
Tessa Lewin and Andrea Cornwall (the executive producers) and Hussainatu Abdullah, a Sierra Leonean researcher for Pathways, worked with us to find three women from diverse backgrounds whose life in politics could, and should, be celebrated.
Women worked so hard to establish peace in Sierra Leone and yet they have been sidelined by the political system in the eleven years since the civil war, we set out to make a film about their struggle.
Important subjects (things which matter) can be challenging to present as films which will appeal to a wide audience. I am keen to find a way in which to make films about this kind of subject into compelling viewing.
I already knew Em, and whilst she was a student she did some camera work for me on a project with a disabled young woman who could not speak. I found her ethical commitment to ‘things that matter’ was refreshing. After her time at the Royal College of Art, it became clear that she had become brilliant at her very own method of animation - oil paint on glass.
There are anecdotes and stories which cannot be filmed and of course the sense of horror in relation to the atrocities of the war itself in Sierra Leone cannot be portrayed. Animation is a wonderful tool in this respect. I hope that when you see the film in its entirety you will change your mind about the ‘dreamy impressionistic tone’! If you are watching online put your headphones on and turn the volume up loud! The audio makes the animation extremely emotional and gives a gut wrenching reality to the ‘impressionistic’ images.
I sincerely hope that the time, effort and finance required to animate our short film 30% gives credence to our belief in the women and what they wish to contribute to their country.
What are your hopes for both the women and political system in Sierra Leone and your film? Can you update us on the women?
Equality of opportunity surely has to be the ‘given’ in our aspirations for women all over the world. The three women in this film are socially, religiously and ethnically diverse yet support each other in women’s struggle for a voice in a predominantly patriarchal society. Our film, 30%, aims to give witness to those women fighting for the right to have a voice. But for change to really happen, fundamental attitudes within society need to change - for example, as Barbara tells us in the film, there is a commonly held belief in Sierra Leone, that a woman who works in politics must be a prostitute.
The bill which the women speak about in the film calls for 30% female representation in parliament and had been given public support by the president himself. Since we made the film it was cleverly blocked until after the 2012 election.
The great news is that Bernadette Lahai has been re-elected and is now the leader of the opposition so will be in a stronger position to promote the bill. Sadly, Salamatu Kamara did not manage to stand for election as councillor or as member of parliament but continues at University and working as the head of a primary school in Waterloo, near Freetown.
And finally congratulations to Barbara who has remarried and is living in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire. She will be sorely missed as the National Coordinator for the Women’s Solidarity Support Group but I don’t suppose for a moment that she will stop fighting for the rights of women across Africa.
Read more about Anna's film in the Sundance Festival Guide.
Anna Cady was born in the UK and went to art school to study visual art after a career in textiles, achieving a first class honours at Winchester School of Art and an MA at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Anna has made short artist films and exhibited photography and films as installations in the UK and India. She makes work in collaboration with others who are often not artists or film makers themselves, e.g. a disabled young woman, a child, refugees, a friend with a life threatening illness...
Films have been screened at International festivals in the UK and Australia, and at Tate Modern in London.