Comic Relief to hire African film makers to work on new international appeal films

28th October 2020

  • New plans to modernise international appeal films & shift focus onto partnerships with local communities

  • All new African appeal films for Red Nose Day 2021 will be led by local film makers who bring more authentic perspective

  • Charity to focus on local people telling their own stories as it continues to evolve

  • Announcement comes as Sir Lenny Henry kicks off new series of online events exploring inequality and racism across the charity and creative sectors

Comic Relief has announced new plans to update and modernise its new international appeal films by switching the spotlight to local people leading their own stories with local film makers and photographers for all new African appeals in Red Nose Day 2021.

The move is part of the charity’s commitment to shifting the narrative in its storytelling to reflect modern, astute audiences that have a greater awareness of international issues and to empower and provide a platform for local leaders and communities to lead their own stories.

The charity is known for working with high-profile supporters who have often led films on camera for international project visits which has been highly successful and helped raise £1.4bn over the years and they will continue to play a big part presenting Red Nose Day TV shows on the night.

Over the past 18 months, the charity has challenged themselves and modernised to find the right balance in terms of highlighting serious international issues while ensuring authentic local voices are at the forefront.

These changes were evident on this year’s Sport Relief with famous supporters narrating the start of some international films whilst project workers and local people led the stories on camera.

Comic Relief is now finalising its new ‘story telling’ guidelines with key changes set to include:

  • Local film makers will direct all new African films for Red Nose Day 2021: employing local film makers gives viewers a closer, authentic look at the heart of issues directly from affected communities

  • Switching the spotlight: project workers, doctors, teachers, parents and local members of the community will lead their own international stories, giving audiences insight into grassroots level with international appeal films

  • Working with media organisations across Africa: not just on appeal films but also on a range of creative projects outside of appeals by raising awareness of wider narratives across the continent. This includes a series of short films made by African filmmakers launching today – the Sema’s Stori project

  • Commitment to a long-term plan: to make every aspect of production, film making and editing behind the camera is more diverse and inclusive

High profile supporters will not be sent to international project visits next year. In future years if the charity were ever to consider inviting celebrities to international projects it would only be if films and narratives continued to be fully led by local people. The charity will continue to work on high profile celebrity challenges in the UK and across the globe, which have often focussed on extreme physical feats like mountain climbing , desert trekking and marathons.

The announcement was made today as the charity launched a new series of online discussions which aim to explore better ways to work across charity and creative sectors to support Black and ethnic minority communities and address inequalities.

Sir Lenny Henry, Comic Relief Honorary Life President and co-founder, and June Sarpong OBE, BBC Creative Director of Diversity, are set to lead the opening event with a special discussion around changes in the creative industry, hosted by Charlene White, ITV News broadcaster. At the event Sir Lenny Henry will discuss Comic Relief’s journey and changes with international appeal films to reflect both modern audiences and modern Africa.

He will also mention Comic Relief using its funding streams for the first time to address racial inequalities by investing nearly £6 million in Black-led and minority-led organisations across the UK. After recent reports showed the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on Black and minority ethnic communities, Comic Relief launched a new fund to reach small grassroots charities helping minority communities in partnership with the National Emergencies Trust (NET). Due to an overwhelming response a second round, alongside NET and Clothworkers Foundation, is set to be launched next week.

Sir Lenny Henry, said: “Diversity and inclusion is important both in front and behind the camera. Times have changed and society has evolved, and we must evolve too. African people don’t want us to tell their stories for them, what they need is more agency, a platform and partnership. I have seen first-hand what it means for African communities to see someone who looks just like them in charge of directing films. I am so glad that Comic Relief has listened and put in the work to develop its appeal films and deliver greater representation as they continue to raise millions for people in poverty around the world."

Ruth Davison, Chief Executive of Comic Relief, said: “Over the last 30 years, our international appeals have helped us raise over £1.4bn and we are immensely grateful. We know times are changing rapidly now and we need to modernise our approaches internationally to give local communities the opportunity to lead their stories. We’ve listened to communities, our peers, critics and supporters and I’m proud to be leading the charity at this exciting time as we develop our approaches and shift the power. I hope audiences will see that by investing in wider creative partnership across Africa our films will be more authentic and engaging than ever."

The second part of today’s opening online event will include an international panel discussion on ethical filmmaking, and premier with an exclusive first look at three new African-led films produced through Comic Relief’s Sema Stori Initiative delivered in partnership with Docubox, East Africa's only film funder, owned and run by African film makers. The project worked with 10 up and coming African film makers on a series of short films exploring important social issues through the eyes of local communities.

The three films premiered will include:

  • ‘Everything is Not Okay’ by Eugene Muigai, who reflects on his own mental health struggles, utilising storytelling to bring people in his community together to also help them find their voice and create a stronger community

  • ‘River of Brown Waters’ by Laissa Malih, which focuses on climate change and its effects on the life of communities around the Ewaso Nyiro river, examining how the community has adapted and worked together to overcome the challenges of the changing of the land

  • ‘Rehema’ by Josh Kisamwa, a powerful story of a community female figure who has saved many child brides from forced marriage, while also campaigning for young people to have an opportunity for an education

Josh Kisamwa, filmmaker, said: “As a Kenyan filmmaker there are very few opportunities, but through this programme I was able to create something that I feel is very important. I love that instead of sending a crew to make a piece, Sema Stori supported me, because I am a firm believer in Africans documenting Africa for Africans. It is extremely crucial that we start telling the continent’s stories ourselves because I feel it's more authentic and it is our reality.”

Eugene Muigai, filmmaker, said: "This opportunity makes people like us feel like we are finally being listened to. For so long we've seen people tell our stories, misinterpreting intentions, beliefs and the values we hold. It has led to a loss of culture and pride among our people.”

Laissa Malih, filmmaker, said: “Using local filmmakers gives a voice to certain issues that would otherwise be overlooked. Some local issues are not taken as seriously as others. And most local communities live in remote areas and are mostly forgotten when issues arise. When you use local filmmakers, we can bring attention to these issues and their voices can be heard."

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