Maverick Citizen


‘Sunbox’ film screenings used to engage and enlighten youth across South Africa

‘Sunbox’ film screenings used to engage and enlighten youth across South Africa
E-Howza information pack being shown to the audience prior to the screening of the film 'Thando' at Chiawelo Community Library in Soweto in December 2022. The event was one of a series of film screenings for young people across South Africa, organised by Unicef South Africa, Sunshine Cinema, the Zwakala campaign and Right to Care. (Photo: Lerato Matlawa)

Unicef South Africa, together with Sunshine Cinema, the Zwakala campaign and Right to Care, are using solar-powered cinema, or ‘sunboxes’, to enlighten youth through the power of film. Screenings across South Africa have dealt with themes such as health issues, vaccines, mental illness and poverty.

Solar-powered cinema is being used to engage young people across South Africa in dialogues about health issues and other challenges they face in their communities. A series of over 20 film screenings have taken place across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with further events planned in the Eastern Cape.

Unicef South Africa (SA), together with Sunshine Cinema, the Zwakala campaign and Right to Care, have been hosting the community film screenings since the end of 2022.

“We chose the themes of… public health, and also mental illness and poverty. The films that we have chosen accommodate those themes because most of the communities that we screen in are affected by these social issues,” explained Nontokozo Sibanyoni, media coordinator at Sunshine Cinema.

“While we are facilitating these dialogues about public health, we also showcase the reality of the poverty in South Africa and mental health issues that the youth and their households go through.”

A film screening at Chiawelo Community

A film screening at Chiawelo Community Library in Soweto in December 2022. Right to Care’s Bongani Xezwi explains the procedure behind getting a vaccine to the audience. (Photo: Lerato Matlawa)

Sunshine Cinema is a nonprofit solar-powered cinema network that seeks to address youth unemployment by training young people to be media facilitators.

The recent film screenings have drawn from Sunshine Cinema’s catalogue of over 80 locally made films, created by South African and African producers. Each screening is done using a “sunbox” — a complete solar-powered cinema in a box, according to Sibanyoni.

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“I think [film is] a medium where it’s easy to reach the youth because most of the communities don’t have cinema. Once you take out the sunbox, they are excited to see a movie screening and it’s easy then to talk about these public health issues and dialogues,” she said.

The facilitators taking part in the community film screening project are graduates of Sunshine Cinema’s Impact Film Screening Facilitator Course, run in collaboration with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Film and Media Studies. These facilitators, along with teams from the Community Media Trust, Right to Care and the Zwakala campaign, have been able to answer questions and manage dialogues among audience members.

“We also get feedback from the [Sunshine Cinema] ambassadors… for each and every screening. They have to fill in a screening report, take images, video clips, voice notes, to report back to the team, so we can know… how many audience members we have reached, and the impact that we were able to gain from those screenings,” said Sibanyoni.

Jeanette Masiapata, a community monitor with the Ritshidze project, was present for a film screening in Tshepisong, Soweto. She told Maverick Citizen that a number of parents watched the film, which dealt with themes of health, abuse and suicide.

“It was a good impact because the community… did stay and watch that video, and they found that video very interesting,” said Masiapata. 

“I think it was relevant because… it’s [about] the things that are happening in our communities on a daily basis. So, the film was showing if we do not support one another in our communities, that can happen to any of our children or ourselves.”

Community members participated in dialogues after the film finished, she continued.

“That education was very important for us as parents, to say these kind of things do happen, and there are things that are happening to our children that we do not even know [about] or notice,” explained Masiapata. “That film was also an eye-opener for us as parents.”

For Unicef SA, the screening project is couched in a broader set of actions by the organisation and its partners to strengthen the community-level communication environment around the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Janine Simon-Meyer of Unicef SA. The organisation has supported the national government in the vaccine rollout, including strategic efforts by the Department of Health to intensify the demand for Covid vaccines in districts where uptake was low.

“We’ve worked in a lot of community spaces. I think we could say it’s a very deliberate strategy to open up spaces through community media and through community dialogue, to allow people a place to interact around issues,” said Simon-Meyer.

“At the same time, the Covid vaccine is being promoted, we’re talking about other contexts in which people live, and these are deliberate efforts to create the space for conversations in those settings.” DM/MC


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