This post comes to us from Brooks Marmon of Accountability Lab. Photos by Morgana Wingard.
“Liberia’s Ebola epidemic was prolonged by corruption and a system afraid of transparency and accountability”, stated Wade Williams, a leading Liberian investigative journalist speaking before a packed auditorium at a recent film festival in Liberia highlighting the Ebola crisis.
As we have argued elsewhere, there is no doubt that weak public health infrastructure, citizen distrust of the state, and ignorance of the disease, made the Ebola epidemic in West Africa even more severe.
International media efforts have been at the forefront of initiatives to combat the spread of the virus by helping to build awareness. But it is homegrown, grassroots productions that appeal to the sensibilities and interests of those fighting the virus on the front lines as well as build trust in communities from the bottom-up.
Down a winding, water-logged trail 45 minutes outside Monrovia, not far from the location of Liberia’s last Ebola case, a film school has been helping young students to do just this. The Liberia Film Institute (LFI) aims to educate Liberians, empower its students, and entertain audiences through short films. A few years ago the film institute was just an idea, but the ‘We Fought Ebola through Film’ festival last week brought together hundreds of people to create a much larger conversation about what worked and what went wrong during the crisis.
Film as a tool for social change is useless if it fails to resonate with its intended audience. Pieces produced by those embedded in the communities impacted by Ebola have an authentic voice that that allows them to more closely examine the impact of the Ebola crisis. The dozen student films screened explored public transportation, access to health care for other ailments, stigmatization of survivors, laborers who were not compensated for their services despite the massive financial inflows to assist with eradicating the virus, preventive measures at school, and the risks of sexual intercourse with an Ebola survivor, among other topics.
As the murmurs and exclamations of the audience at the “We Fought Ebola Through Film” festival indicated, the films resonated clearly with Liberians, highlighting their daily experiences and challenges from a perspective that is difficult for outsiders to replicate.
LFI’s work is important not just for the change it can make in the present, but also in the future. The LFI students serve as strong role models for other youth, which is essential if the younger generation in Liberia are to collectively push for a better future in their country. As student Dorcas Peewee, a winner of a previous film festival, pointed out to the crowd: “if I can make it, anyone else can make it too.”
Brooks Marmon works for the Accountability Lab in Monrovia, Liberia.