By BENEDICT TEMBO
The Zambian trio of Mercy Njobvu, Samson Moyo and Thandiwe Mweetwa were part of storytellers from across the African continent who were engaged in inspiring panels, film screenings, live performances at the just-ended Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF) Congress in Durban, South Africa.
National Geographic Explorers and co-founders of NEWF Noel and Pragna Kok are truly giving Mercy, Samson and Thandiwe among other talented and innovative filmmakers—referred to as NEWF Fellows—the opportunity to own and drive the narrative about the need to protect Africa’s natural habitats and wildlife.
These individuals are refocusing the narrative of Africa with support from a collaboration between Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF) and the National Geographic Society.
Mercy, 25, who has been part of the nature environment and wildlife filmmakers’ space since 2020 when she became a fellow, had an amazing experience meeting different conservationists and film makers from across Africa and the world.
She says NEWF has given her opportunities to interact with other platforms like National Geographic Society and through these interactions, Mercy got the opportunity to apply and qualified for a grant from National Geographic for to carry out her project on mass vaccination of rabies in domestic dogs benefiting her community and wildlife.
“It has given me the opportunity to change the narrative on how African stories are told so as to help tell a detailed story that will help protect Africans natural habitats and wildlife. There were beautiful live performances, film screenings and amazing panel discussions where I wished to have our broadcasting company just help get views on how we can make our films showcased on certain channels and tell different stories to the people that need to hear these stories,” Mercy says
During the panel discussions, her topic was about the iconic south Luangwa.
“About how many passionate youths like me have benefited from the available opportunities and partnerships from different NGOs, how we would love to have more opportunities created for youths around South Luangwa, financial support and broadcasting engagements. Also about how the partnerships and collaborations between NGOs have helped in the protection of wildlife and the habitats they reside in,” she says “The running theme of the congress was Africa Refocused and it centered around the need for creating an enabling environment for authentic African voices to be full participants in the field. I took part in the Wild Women Media Lab, which comprised a group of about 10 strong women from different countries in Africa and I learnt how to first operate a camera,” Mercy says.
The camera kit was sent to Mercy by NEWF all the way from South Africa to Zambia for her to use it and it was quite difficult because it was an online lab.
“But I managed to get pictures and a short film on fighting rabies after the lessons from mentors. I also learnt how to tell beautiful stories from that lab. This year was my second time attending NEWF congress and the experiences I had were all wonderful,” she says
Mercy says NEWF has honed her skills and enabled access to equipment which were serious barriers for up and coming film makers.
Thandiwe says the week in Durban was filled with great events and programmes that showcased the work of various organisations, composers and film makers. There were thought-provoking panel discussions with industry leaders and top executives from national broadcasters of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The most exciting topic for me was on the need for national broadcasting channels to increase access and viewership for nature films so as to driver nature-positive behavior change,” Mercy says.
She says other important topics included how the participation of women in the film production industry can be increased.
“NEWF is providing training opportunities for wildlife filmmakers and storytellers to enable them to become key players in the sector. The NEWF congress brings together conservation practioners and players in the nature and environment film industry. This provides a perfect opportunity for learning and networking which can lead to the co-create of engaging productions that can help spread the message about the importance of the natural world and the urgent need for its protection,” Thandiwe says
During the recent NEWF congress, Thandiwe shared the importance of collaboration and partnerships in achieving conservation goals for both people and wildlife.
Sam joined the NEWF family back in 2019 after taking part in the first Scuba Diving Lab organised by the organisation.
“My journey with NEWF since then has been nothing but life changing and eye opening such that I have grown in so many areas and found courage to tell stories about nature, wildlife and conservation. As a panel we spoke about the partnerships between different conservation organisations in South Luangwa and how they have and still are contributing positively to conservation. We also spoke about the young people these partnerships have produced and how they are taking action with a goal of seeing a better environment, more local people taking a lead in matters to do with conservation, less conflict between communities and wildlife and a preserved/cherished nature/wildlife,” Sam says
He says NEWF is going an extra mile in ending barriers that makes it hard or stops Africans from telling their own stories, stories in/about their communities and the continent at large.
“NEWF is also bringing access (such as resources, places, stories e.t.c) to the table so that nature, wildlife and conservation storytelling in Africa can be seen in a better space where Africans take a lead in telling stories and also ensuring that stores that ate told in different areas of Africa are seen by the communities living in these areas,” Sam says
NEWF funded his first ever short document film, ‘Reformed’ which is about a former poacher, Chilekwa Kapanda, now reformed and currently working as a game ranger for Conservation South Luangwa. During the making of the film.
“NEWF paired me with a mentor who walked me through producing a film and the whole process was such a great learning curve for me,” he says.