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This Amazing Solar-Powered Cinema Is Sharing South Africa's Stories


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Global Citizen believes in building an international community of informed and engaged activists. And Sunshine Cinema is using film to do just that — with the added bonus that it’s powered with green energy. You can join us by taking action here to help be the generation to end extreme poverty. 

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. 

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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 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.”

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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

A post shared by Sunshine Cinema (@sunshinecinema) on

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. 

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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.

“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. 

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“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. 

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.” 

You can find Sunshine Cinema on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


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.

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