Thousands of Refugees Enjoy Outdoor Movies in Tanzania, Africa

Open Air Cinema brings films to Refugees in Africa

Tanzania. The forest stillness is broken by squeals of laughter as African refugee children watch monkeys drive cars in the movie "George of the Jungle." The next film "Neria," teaches them about human rights, with an emphasis on the rights of women. For many of the 15,000 or more Tanzanian refugees watching tonight, these are the first movies they've ever seen.

"These kids are going to have to move back to their country and not have anything like this, (but) for a little while, it's good," said Stuart Farmer, president of Utah-based Open Air Cinema LLC, which provides outdoor movies on inflatable screens. "With outdoor cinema in America, we're here to entertain people and promote community involvement," Farmer said. "But out in Africa, outdoor movies are much more than that."

Farmer started Open Air Cinema in 2001 after winning a business competition at Brigham Young University. When he learned about FilmAid International, a nonprofit group that reaches out to refugees through film, Farmer knew they had to help. So the company donated three screens, projectors and speaker systems, which all run on gas generators. Farmer just returned from three weeks in Africa where he saw the grateful reception.

"The inflatable screen represents a new technology for us that I believe is going to give us more flexibility," said Andrew Heyduck, program director for FilmAid International. "We're really, really happy. The inflatable screen has become a key part of what we do." Prior to the inflatable screens, films were shown on screens attached to stacked shipping crates. Headquartered in New York City, FilmAid International brings educational videos and entertaining films to the nearly 33 million people who are forcibly displaced from their homes by war, natural disasters or political upheaval, according to the group's Web site,

One of their biggest geographical focuses right now is Africa. "We're providing entertainment and education, but it's also about giving them a voice," Heyduck said. Heyduck's background is in delivering relief supplies to refugees. However, refugees need more than just food and first aid, he says. "We're ... empowering them, giving them film production training," he said. "We're providing services that nobody else provides to refugees." FilmAid only goes into areas where basic life needs are already being addressed. In response to education needs, the films address HIV/AIDS, domestic abuse, rape, sexual exploitation and land mines, as well as how to promote peace and reconciliation.

A refugee advisory committee screens each movie to check for cultural sensitivities and whether it would be relevant to that particular group. Refugees also develop scripts, produce and shoot many of the films. "Films that are shot on site have a real special impact," Heyduck said. "They're much more relevant."

Tanzanian native Pius John was hired by FilmAid International in December 2002 as a technical assistant. He has moved up through the organization and is now a participatory video coordinator and helps to train others and repair equipment. "Refugees love very much FilmAid," John wrote in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News from Tanzania. "It is the only program that can pass messages to the thousands of people at a time. FilmAid program also refresh refugees mind so as to forget the past!" He said the program not only entertains and inspires refugees, but it provides them with skills and training that will help them find opportunities in their own countries.

Farmer said he was amazed at how respectful and gentle the crews were with the equipment that represented so much for them and the community. "Refugees around the world need help," Farmer said. "They have absolutely nothing. FilmAid is looking to educate them, also to entertain them and inspire them."

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