Founder Sydelle Willow Smith explains: “My husband and I started Sunshine Cinema in 2013; we made a short film with an incredible man called Lloyd Maanyina who used to be a charcoal burner, and became a tree planter. We wanted to showcase his inspiring active citizenship within his community, whilst highlighting the benefits of solar power.”
Tackling the heart of some of the challenges and issues faced on the African continent, including war, famine and HIV, Sunshine Cinema has screened to over 8,000 direct members via dynamic, educational, interactive content and media training workshops. The organisation believes in harnessing the power of media to create social change – turning passive viewers into active voices.
“We work with so many resilient people, who regardless of the social justice issues affecting them, they continue to do their work, with courage, and humility - people like Beatrice Phiri in Zambia; she’s a young reporter and climate change activist,” says Sydelle.
Beatrice is just 19 years old but encompasses everything that is great about Sunshine Cinema’s work - she is an AIDS awareness activist, having seen first hand the devastation the disease has caused in her community.
One particularly memorable piece of Sunshine Cinema work came last year, during the International AIDS Conference in Durban. Africa’s AIDS epidemic needs little introduction, with an estimated 15 million people having died from the disease on the continent. This is particularly prevalent in Southern Africa, with some 10% of the population having been infected with HIV.
During the 2016 International AIDS Conference, in locations around Durban and Cape Town, as well as more regional locations such as Qunu, Cato Manor, Wentworth, Umlazi and KwaMashu, the solar powered mobile cinema travelled some 4,000 kilometers, hosting a series of free screenings of extracts from the film Nothing Without Us, a focus on the role women have played in the battle against AIDS, both in Africa and worldwide.
“People came out and really dialogued around pressing issues relating to AIDS stigma and access to treatment. Most importantly, young and old people debated different generational issues which is really important in this space. It was a powerful, intense few weeks,” reveals Sydelle.
This is important work in the fight against AIDS - under its new ‘Fast Track’ strategy, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), renewed its 2011 commitment to eradicate ‘AIDS as a public health concern by 2030’. A lot done; more to do.
In terms of where the Sunshine Cinema sees itself in the coming years, well, the sky’s the limit, literally and figuratively. Sydelle’s hopes to “expand across Africa through more regular screenings focusing on human rights based stories, and develop our Sunbox (cinema in a box) ambassadorship program to activate youth community centres and bring African cinema stories to more diverse spaces.”
The Sunbox is a portable version of the Sunshine Cinema and allows Sydelle and her team to travel quicker and more efficiently to more locations, particularly those that are far from the main cities, on a continent that is home to over 15% of the world’s population. The Sunbox can be gifted to these communities, and allows a mobile phone be turned into a cinema for the community to use.
After that, Sydelle is looking outside the African continent and has recently visited the USA to broaden the scope of the Sunshine Cinema.
“We would love to work with a wide variety of people and organisations in the active citizen space - we are hoping to develop long term partnerships with philanthropic organisations in the UK and USA to continue our work.”
Further information on the Sunshine Cinema can be found at www.sunshinecinema.org