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Friday, April 30, 2010

New Photos from Harvard Screening

I just got photos from the Gleitsman Social Change Film Forum that I attended at Harvard a few weeks ago. You can see Chris skyped in from Geneva on the monitor. There are more photos of the entire event at

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Screening at Harvard

From Patti:
A Small Act got invited to participate in the Gleitsman Social Change Film Forum at Harvard by the Center for Public Leadership. Chris and I were to be in attendance, speaking on a panel. It was an event we both almost missed. Chris couldn't leave Geneva because of the volcanic ash spewing throughout Europe, and I missed the last flight to Boston before the event. After many heart stopping minutes at LAX, I was able to find a way through Chicago.

The screening at Harvard was fantastic! The audience, which was made up of a lot of Harvard students, faculty and guests, really keyed in with Chris and all the references to Harvard in the film. You could feel how engaged everyone was. There was lots of laughter (at the funny parts, of course) and tears in peoples' eyes when they came out of the screening. I have to say I was really moved by watching the screening as well and had to keep dabbing my eyes.

At the panel discussion, they were able to Skype in Chris, so he was able to make it after all. Robb Moss, a filmmaker and professor at Harvard was leading the discussion, and Harvard sociologist David Ager and Sundance senior programmer Caroline Libresco were there alongside me and the TV monitor with Chris. It was a lively discussion and lots of fun for me. They were videotaping, so I'm hoping to be able to post that later along with stills of our panel. Here is a photo of the COUNTDOWN TO ZERO panel that was there, too.
A SMALL ACT poster outside the screening room.
Panel discussion from COUNTDOWN TO ZERO, (which also participated at the forum) with Peter Galison, Diane Weyerman, Lawrence Bender, Valerie Plame Wilson and Graham Allison.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Finally... the village premiere!

The screening was amazing! There is no other way to describe it. We arrived at Gathirimu Girls school at 11am. The DVD player didn't work, but we could use my laptop. The speaker jack went out, but we ended up hardwiring everything. The screen was about two times too big, but too big is better than too small. We blacked out the windows (the black plastic constantly fell, but audience members always tacked it back up). With the windows blacked out the school hall must have been AT LEAST a hundred degrees, but people came and they stayed.

Kids came from all ten schools in the district. Teachers came. Chris' mom was there. Our crew arrived along with our translators. All the kids we filmed showed up, even the ones who didn't make it into the final cut. The three lead students: Kimani, Ruth and Caroline came with their families. Ruth and Caroline arrived in style, with their hair completely redone for the screening. Chris had a convoy of friends from Nairobi arrive. Most had been in Law School with him. Jane was also there to greet the students and tell them she had once been like them, from a small school in this very area.

Kimani broke into hysterical laughter at the "Caroline is beautiful" line.
At various points in the screening Ruth and Caroline had to walk outside. I could see tears in their eyes. It is definitely hard for them to see their lives back then. But they weren't the only ones crying. Several adults told me they were moved to tears. The crew in particular commented that they never cried when I was doing the interviews, but the film made them cry - they somehow couldn't believe that!

When the screening was through, there was rousing applause. We did a Q&A and none of the questions were for me, everyone wanted to know how to apply for the fund. Chris also explained that because of the exposure from the film, the Hilde Back Education Fund now had money to sponsor more children, that drew more applause. But the best part for me was when the kids came up after the screening. They were asked to introduce themselves and all three were beaming. Ruth burst out smiling and said "I am the girl you saw in this movie and I am so happy to be here!" After the screening was through we went to Chris' Mom's house for an "after party" of grilled goat and warm soda. Very popular with the crew, less popular with my Mom and step-dad who came with me to Kenya. I learned at the party that Chris' Nairobi friends had pledged to start their own funds - they wanted the story to continue...

Director with surprise flyer (Chris wants to make this the first
screening of a whole festival)
Setting up the screen
Trying to adjust the projector
Blacking out the windows
Kids line up to enter
Chris arrives!
Jane with former HBEF beneficiaries
The screening
Kimani, Ruth and Caroline just after the screening
Director Jennifer Arnold, with Kimani, Ruth, Caroline and HBEF
coordinator Baba Bernard (see the T-shirts my mom brought the kids)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A special film preview for Kimani, Ruth and Caroline

I decided to test all our equipment and make sure the screening would go off without problems. The HBEF team and I also decided that we should probably show the film to the 3 lead kids and their families before the public screening. Kikuyu people are very private and there are a lot of intimate details in this film. They are excited we are bringing the film back to the village but I really wanted to make sure they weren't horribly embarrassed at the big screening.

It was a good thing we showed it to them. It was amazing to watch their faces when they saw the film. I didn't take pictures or video, I wanted them to just be able to absorb what would be shown without feeling watched over.
There were moments were the kids were laughing hysterically and other times when their faces revealed that the film was extremely real for them.

When the screening was over there was silence. I explained that I knew that there were deeply personal things revealed in the movie and that I knew they told me things they probably wouldn't have told their own neighbors. I explained that I knew seeing all their problems exposed might make them uncomfortable, but I wanted to make sure the story was touching. I wanted to show the complete reality of what their families go through when trying to put their kids through school. I told them I brought the film back, so they would know exactly what audiences would see and I wanted to answer any questions they had about what I had put in the story. Slowly they started to talk, telling me they didn't think the film would be as real as it was. They said it was very, very touching. It made them feel both happy and sad. In the end they said the film showed the truth, and because it was all true it was good that I was going to show it, both here and abroad.

After the talk was done. We all went outside for tea. There seemed to be a huge amount of bonding and relief. They were teasing me, telling me I need to marry a Kikuyu because I know so much about them. We all laughed and laughed and had a terrific time.

Now we are really ready for the screening tomorrow. I think it is going to be intense for all of us to show the film here.

PHOTOS: Jen and Caroline. Jen with Kimani and family. Testing the equipment.
The "movie stars" Ruth, Kimani and Caroline after the pre-screening of the film - relieved and happy!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Seeing Ruth again

I went to see Ruth yesterday. She is the girl in the movie who was Kimani's main rival. It is just amazing to see how she's transformed. HBEF arranged to have her transferred to one of Kenya's best secondary schools. In fact, it is the school that Jane Wanjiru (Chris' cousin) went to. She said the school is much harder than her previous school. Her favorite subject is history, and she has transformed from an incredibly shy primary student to a glowing young woman. She asked if I could get her an English dictionary - which I'm off to buy today. But her English seems pretty fluent to me.

Then it was off to lunch at the Agip Café, which was our lunch spot of choice during the filming. Actually, it was one of the only choices. The place is awesome, they have a decent menu and are (always) out of everything except cabbage and rice. Yesterday they were out of rice, but did have beef stew - so I guess I was lucky.

The next stop was Kimani's mother's house. It hasn't changed a bit, but there are a few more little kids running around. Kimani's mom seems to be in good health, which is a relief. There are some pretty intimate things about their family in the movie, including a scene at the doctor's, which is a very private matter in Kenya. I wanted to prepare her for that, but she told me I worry too much! I really do wonder how the families are going to react to the film. I'll know pretty soon.

In other news, we've (sadly) ditched the "feed bag movie screen" idea and switched to sewing together some bed sheets. It is rainy season and we're all worried that the paint won't dry on such a big surface.

Here's some photos of Ruth and the Agip Café. (Agip is a gas station by the

Photos: Jennifer and Ruth, Ruth at school, Agip Café.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Prepping for the big screening

It's the second day in Kenya, and I was off to visit Kimani. He's been
transferred to a great secondary school called Corner Brook, which is owned
by one of the HBEF board members. He looks the same! A little bigger, but
he's definitely the same sweet kid (actually a full on teenager now). It was a
Saturday at an all boys school. Everyone was hanging out in the cafeteria,
blasting Jay-Z and Lil' Wayne. Kimani says the kids are nice, but (and I
quote) "sometimes it can be very distracting to be a teenager." He still has
a way with words.

The next stop was the village, which hasn't changed at all. I'm putting
together a village screening of the film. We found the "theatre."

Gathirimu Girls School has donated their school hall for the event. Pink Roses Academy
has donated a video projector. And the best part is the coordinator from
HBEF is going to donate all of his used, empty feed bags. We're going to
have them sewn together and painted white to make a big screen. Excellent!

Kimani at Corner Brook

Gathirimu Girls School Hall

Baba Bernard - HBEF Coordinator
Ndichu - former HBEF beneficiary
Kariuki - Driver
With feed bag (soon to be movie screen)

A closer look at the future screen

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Going back to Kenya

I'm in Heathrow airport on the way to Kenya. I'm going to rent a church or
school hall, black out the windows, rent a projector and show the movie to
everyone who participated. It will be the village's first movie premiere!
I'm especially excited to show the kids who we filmed. I can't believe it
has been over two years since we finished shooting. I really hope they like
the film...

Jennifer Arnold, director "A Small Act"