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Pathways of Women’s Empowerment film selected for screening at Sundance film festival

17 January 2013

30% (Women and Politics in Sierra Leone) - a documentary short film produced by the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment programme in collaboration with Screen South – has been selected for screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

30% film stillThe film was one of 65 short films selected from a record 8,102 submissions for the festival, which takes place in Utah from 17-27 January. Sundance is the USA’s largest and most influential film festival and a premier showcase for independent film.

The film examines women’s participation in formal politics in Sierra Leone, through the stories of Dr Bernadette Lahai of the Sierra Leone People's Party, Barbara Bangura, National Coordinator Women's Solidarity Support Group, and Salamatu Kamara, a political candidate. In particular it focuses on the push for the '30 per cent bill’ which would produce a parliamentary quota for women. Anna Cady and Emily Cooper directed the film which is based on the work of Pathways of Women's Empowerment programme (Pathways) researcher Hussainatu Abdullah.

Challenging perspectives and fostering dialogue for social change

30% is part of the Real World series of films which were developed by Pathways with the aim of combining research with visual media to provide both more positive and more nuanced representations of women. Too often development issues are presented from a negative and ‘victim-led’ perspective in the media. In particular ‘southern’ women are portrayed as poor and powerless. By working with filmmakers Pathways researchers hoped to challenge these limited representations.

In the digital age visual media offers an immediate and accessible mode of communication. Popular YouTube uploads can go ‘viral’ in days even hours. By harnessing this power Pathways sought to reach a far more mainstream audience than they could ever hope to with more traditional routes of research dissemination. In providing a more emotive and compelling way to tell a story, film is important in fostering a ‘societal dialogue’ on the route to social change. As Mulki Al-Sharmani suggests (speaking on the Real World film Khul in respect to legal reforms to marriage in Egypt) ‘We really need to address public opinion, how men and women think about women’s roles and relations… We need to have a dialogue, a societal dialogue’.

Innovative communications methods for development

What the Real World programme offers which is new is that the researcher works together with the filmmaker to create the film, rather than just contracting them to make a product. Filmmakers can identify good stories and tell them in an absorbing way, but the researcher is able to explain context and political nuance through their research and more developed access to research participants and communities. There was some creative tension in the filmmaking process, but the Pathways team found this was most effectively resolved by ensuring that the projects had a 'film champion' who was prepared to actively work with the filmmaker in developing their ideas and to be on hand to explain political significance and research nuance.

Ultimately, the Pathways team believes this method has created a series of much more compelling, dynamic and contextual films. With Emily Cooper’s painterly animation which mixes with live action in 30% to push the imaginative boundaries of traditional political documentary, Pathways team member Tessa Lewin suggests that this is ‘stylistically the most creatively daring’ of the Real World series. 30%’s acceptance into the Sundance Film Festival and the intense media coverage which surrounds this means it has achieved the project’s aim of reaching a far wider audience. The hope is that it raises awareness around the serious political issues addressed in the film, in a way that may help the women’s movement in Sierra Leone.

For more about the IDS-coordinated Pathways of Women’s Empowerment programme see the Pathways website.

Watch the film

Visit the film director's website: Anna Cady to watch the film