In celebrating the Nelson Mandela Month, Jambo Africa Online promotes the annual three-city Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival which will take place from 28 July to 5 August 2023. The news portal’s Publisher, SAUL MOLOBI, spent time with the two brilliant brains behind this initiative, Firdoze Bulbulia and Faith Isiakpere…

Film, as a powerful medium of storytelling, has the remarkable ability to inspire, educate, and provoke social change. In the realm of promoting children’s rights, the impact of cinema cannot be underestimated. Films have the unique potential to shed light on the challenges faced by children, ignite empathy and understanding, and mobilise action for their rights. By capturing the attention and emotions of audiences worldwide, film plays a vital role in advocating for the well-being and protection of children.

“One of the primary contributions of film to the cause of children’s rights lies in its ability to raise awareness,” says Firdoze Bulbulia, the co-director of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival (NMCFF). “Through compelling narratives, documentaries, and fictional storytelling, filmmakers can shed light on the myriad issues affecting children globally. This is what motivated us to launch this festival. Films have the power to humanise these struggles, offering audiences an intimate glimpse into the lives of children who face adversity, discrimination, poverty, or exploitation.”

Faith Isiakpere concurred and expanded the narrative further: “By presenting these stories, films engage viewers’ emotions and generate empathy, ultimately spurring conversations and encouraging action. They challenge societal norms and attitudes, expose injustices, and compel individuals, communities, and policymakers to address the critical issues faced by children.”

Nelson Mandela, a revered symbol of justice and equality, dedicated his life to fighting for human rights and social justice. Among his many accomplishments, his commitment to advancing the rights of children stood as a cornerstone of his legacy. “In the spirit of Mandela’s extraordinary vision, we celebrate the remarkable role played by film as an art form in championing the rights of children worldwide, says Firdoze. “By embodying Mandela’s ideals and striving to create a brighter future for the youngest generation, our Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival (NMCFF) has emerged as a beacon of hope and progress not only in South Africa, but across the world.”

The NMCFF had its inaugural festival in 2018 during the Gauteng Youth Expo and Cape Town International Film Festival. The Gauteng event saw more than 15 000 youth attendees over 7 days. 

In 2019 the festival was hosted during the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF 2019) with 3000 children participating in several workshops by renowned artists Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, music composer-producer Elvin Ross (USA), Prof. Dragan Milinkovic (Serbia), Sanette Naeye (The Netherlands) animator Mahgan Farhang (Iran), visual artist Liz Castle and international film screenings.

In 2020 due to the #covid19 pandemic the festival was hosted online in partnership with the Africa-in-Motion Film Festival (UK) and in-person animation workshops hosted by African Animation Studio (AAS) and Dipopaai at the Greenside Primary School in Johannesburg.

In 2021 the NMCFF formed a partnership with the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF).  This was a hybrid festival with some events taking place in-person and some taking place online through the DIFF video on demand portal. 

The NMCFF’s mission aligns seamlessly with Nelson Mandela’s unwavering belief in the inherent dignity and worth of every child. Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” The NMCFF understands this truth and tirelessly works to ensure that children’s rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.

Educating and Empowering

Films serve as powerful educational tools, providing insights into complex issues surrounding children’s rights. They can explore topics such as child labor, access to education, child marriage, refugee crises, or violence against children with depth and nuance. By presenting such themes in a relatable and accessible manner, films have the potential to educate a broad audience, including children themselves.

Filmmakers, inspired by the principles of children’s rights, can create age-appropriate content that empowers young viewers. “Films can instill values of equality, compassion, and respect, helping children develop a sense of social responsibility,” says Faith. “By portraying diverse characters and stories, films also promote inclusivity and challenge stereotypes, fostering a more inclusive society that upholds the rights and dignity of every child.”

Mobilizing Action and Policy Change

Film has a remarkable capacity to mobilise action and bring about policy change. “We did this very well during our anti-apartheid struggle through such initiatives as the Film and Allied Workers Organisation (FAWO); and production companies such as ourselves, Video News Service and others,” assets Firdoze. “Impactful films can create a groundswell of public support, leading to increased awareness, advocacy campaigns, and grassroots movements. They can inspire viewers to donate to relevant causes, volunteer their time, or engage in activism to improve the lives of children.

“Furthermore, films can influence policymakers and legislators, spurring them to take action on children’s rights. By providing a visual representation of the challenges faced by children, films can shift public opinion and create an impetus for legislative reforms and policy initiatives. Through their storytelling prowess, films serve as catalysts for change, both at an individual and systemic level.”

Collaboration and Partnership

The impact of films in promoting children’s rights is further amplified through collaborations between filmmakers, non-governmental organisations, and grassroots initiatives. By partnering with organisations specialising in children’s rights, filmmakers can ensure that their work reaches relevant audiences and contributes to real-world change.

The NMCFF’s partners have included the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Department. of Arts and Culture (DSAC), SABC, Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Apartheid Museum, Market Theatre, MNET, Killarney Cine Centre, Ster-Kinekor (Maponya Mall), Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Danish Film Institute (DFI), CIFEJ (Global members who hosted several workshops on animation, performance, scriptwriting, co-productions, pitching for films), Jan Willem Bult and Aldana Duhalde (Free Press Unlimited, Netherlands and Argentina), Dr. Milton Chen (Sesame Street & Kellogg’s Board member, USA) and performance and film literacy trainer Dr. Ruth Cox (USA), Thomas Kutschera (Pixomondo) from Game of Thrones, animations and visual effects based in Germany, Damilare Sonoiki from Black-ish and Simpsons, Africa-in-Motion Film Festival (AiM), UK. Sohir Abdel Kadr (Egypt) and Joan Cooney (USA) were the inaugural recipients of the NMCFF awards, whilst all the International VIP partners also received NMCFF certificates.

“Film festivals and dedicated platforms for children’s cinema provide essential platforms for showcasing films that promote children’s rights,” says Firdoze matter-of-factly. “These events not only entertain but also educate and inspire audiences, fostering dialogue and encouraging the exchange of ideas.”

“Additionally,” chipped in Faith, “collaborations between filmmakers and children’s rights organisations can lead to the creation of educational resources, discussion guides, and outreach programs that extend the film’s impact beyond the screen.”

The couple asserts that film, as a powerful medium of storytelling, has the extraordinary capacity to promote children’s rights and drive societal change. Through compelling narratives, films raise awareness, educate, and empower audiences, challenging societal norms and inspiring action. By collaborating with organisations and utilising dedicated platforms, filmmakers can maximise the impact of their work, creating a ripple effect that reaches policymakers, communities, and individuals. 

Firdoze has the last word: “As we harness the transformative power of film, let us continue to support and celebrate filmmakers who give a voice to children, bringing their stories to the forefront and fostering a world that champions and safeguards the rights of every child.”