This Amazing Solar-Powered Cinema Is Sharing South Africa's Stories
Films spark debate and shape culture — and this cinema is bringing them to everyone.
Movies are one of the most popular ways to convey a message, educate the public, shape culture, and of course entertain in the process.
But in South Africa, there’s only a small cinema-going audience — largely because the price of going to the cinema regularly is more than most South Africans can afford. Therefore, cinema-going audiences remain predominantly in white areas.
That’s why Sunshine Cinema was born, to bring Africa’s best films to communities where a visit to the cinema is a luxury.
After nine years of running a successful Cape Town-based production company, Makhulu Production, filmmakers Rowan Pybus and Sydelle Willow Smith launched Sunshine Cinema in 2013 to take the empowering content they’d been producing to the people.
“Making films is a cycle and a few years back we realised that we hadn’t taken the full cycle of our films in terms of their lifespan and impact into account,” Pybus told Global Citizen.
We are looking for African feature films or documentaries that deal with #lgbtqi related issues and gender based rights and inclusivity themes for a series of impact screenings with youth entrepreneurs and arts activists from Cape Town to Malawi from September 2018- March 2019. Thanks to support from @childrensradio @princeclausfund and @berthafoundation @alucab @ecobox.co @mltpower @jbl_pro . Interested filmmakers can get in touch about our licensing fees budget and our impact approach @sydellewillowsmith Sydelle@sunshinecinema.org #SpreadAlittleSunshine #solarcinema
“We had been using the films we make to tell important stories but noticed due to various economic, political, and geographic reasons the films were not being seen where they were made,” he said. “We thought it was vital to close the loop and bring the films back to showcase the local grassroots activists’ stories amongst their own communities.”
The cinema is also really driven by the idea of spreading the message and stories of African filmmaking, with Pybus and Smith being concerned “that we were building a culture based on Eurocentric and American films.”
“We saw that the history of African filmmaking was not being shared and promoted,” says Pybus. “Our continent’s history, when it comes to its films, is incredible and we believe strongly that by focusing on the best films from this continent we will play our part in allowing for healthy progression in the space of storytelling.”
Sunshine Cinema not only has a visually entertaining element, but it also sparks conversations on political, economic, and cultural positions faced by everyday South Africans.
A little recap of last night free screening of the incredible documentary about @winniemandela directed by @pascalelamche. Thanks to @moviesthatmatterfestival and @africanscreennetwork , @mltpower for the solar for our cinema @makhulu_ @l_figlan @lee_br11_bogota for the video and tech crew and @alucab for the continued support of our mobile cinema @lamuthelandy . Most importantly thanks to @sindiwemagona and @wanelisaxaba for your engaging discussion about the silencing affects of patriarchy with our diverse audience at #GugasThebe in #Langa . See you all next week for the screening of a new Sotho Western @fivefingersformarseilles - don’t miss out #SpreadALittleSunshine #SolarCinema #SunshineCinema #AfricanCinema #WomensVoices #Feminism #WinnieMandela #PascaleLamche photos by @sydellewillowsmith
Being powered by solar energy, it can driven and set up around South Africa’s less-privileged communities, such as townships and rural areas. A particular bonus is that it can visit communities even when they don’t have an electricity supply.
But using green energy also has its environmental advantages. It’s non-pollutant, and doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
But Sunshine Cinema is more than just a cinema — it’s a whole grassroots movement. Pybus and Smith are encouraging fellow community members to get involved, to expand their mission and empower others.
They’ve created a mini solar-powered portable cinema, called a Sunbox, funded by their partners Bertha Foundation and the Prince Claus Next Generation Fund. It comes with a solar panel and battery, mini projector, speakers, and instruction kit. And it can, according to the website, turn any laptop or even mobile phone into a community film screening.
Pybus and Smith want others to become Sunbox Ambassadors, to adopt a similar strategy of screening films and engaging their respective communities through film.
Our first @moviesthatmatterfestival screening of the year is @inxeba_the_wound on January 23rd at Gugasthebe in Langa. No under 16, 100 people capacity . To secure a seat email firstname.lastname@example.org event starts at 7:30 sharp . #solarcinema #sunshinecinema #spreadalittlesunshine #thewound #inxeba #moviesthatmatterfestival
“We are calling on the general public to support our Sunbox Ambassadors as they create change from within their own communities through fascinating screenings and talk,” says Pybus.
For Pybus, they’ve seen the organisation impacting people’s lives in different ways. After a film screening, during discussions, Pybus recalls people says things like “I didn’t know that was what was happening,” or “I feel more informed and connected to what I am passionate about,” and “this film you showed is me! This is my story.”
With a film called This Land, which deals with the issue of land rights in South Africa, the filmmaker and their team went on a national tour of screenings — following the public hearings into land policy around the country.
“Their screenings were always ahead of the public hearings and so helped the people be more confident and be able to speak their truth,” says Pybus. “This ranks as one of the highest examples we have to date where our programme has been successful.”
Another tour — called Ignite Your Rights — is coming up, which will be a series of films mainly addressing gender rights, and the shifts currently occurring in gender and identity.
We are hiring! We are running a series of free solar powered screenings of incredible African films and documentaries with @moviesthatmatterfestival from January to April 2018 in Langa, Cape Town. Are you a passionate project manager fluent in Xhosa, own car and drivers license , available for a part time contract? If you are send us a message or email us Sydelle@sunshinecinema.org - we want to work with you! #africanfilmfestival #solarcinema #moviesthatmatter #langa #capetown #jobopportunity #southafrica
Sunshine Cinema also hosts workshops in different communities for aspiring filmmakers, which combine technical training, creative empowerment, and social media strategy.
“We spend time going through the techniques to shoot and capture better content on any camera or mobile phone, and explore the various creative approaches one should evoke to serve the story better, and lastly sharing our experiences working for the biggest online platforms, brands, and artists,” explains Pybus. “It’s a condensed deep dive into having your voice heard.”
When asked what keeps them going, Pybus says: “We keep going in a way to set an example, but because we believe in what we do.”
The partners for the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 are our Presenting and Major Partner The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners, House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and Associate Partner, HP and Microsoft.