SandBox #4 – Pre-Testing Stories & Characters

In FilmAid's new drama series, SandBox - developed, produced and filmed in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab - we go behind the scenes into the community-based scripting process...

In the series, the character Uhuoma aspires to take a leadership role in a male-dominated football (for Americans, soccer) team. When the FilmAid production team asks a group of youth whether this is okay, the answer might shock you.

A woman’s role is just to serve tea and not to take up leadership, especially in a male dominated sport...”
— said a young man among them.

Here, it is sometimes difficult to change long-held attitudes and behaviors regarding women’s rights and social expectations without education and access to alternate beliefs. As an NGO focused on communications, FilmAid strives to provide refugees access to information and education, including on issues related to gender-based rights and relations.

FilmAid endeavors to deliver social change both individually and in the community, through creativity, collaboration and participation. An individual has the opportunity to increase their knowledge, and change their attitudes, while the community can also rise to the occasion by responding to social issues and addressing harmful social norms, making change possible.

This is why a story, a camera, and a script did not cut it for SandBox. FilmAid's Research and Learning Department stepped in and took it a notch higher, answering the following questions in close consultation with the refugee community in Dadaab: i.e., "pre-testing" the stories and characters for SandBox.

1. Does the material that FilmAid produce have the ability to deliver on its goal? 

2. Is the material relatable? Is it believable?

3. Does it adhere to the "Do No Harm" policy?

4. Are the aesthetics and the creative elements of the story up to local and high standards?

As said by Mordecai Robins Odera, FilmAid's Research and Learning Manager for Kenya, and also the lead on the pre-testing for SandBox, “The scriptwriters should try as much as they can to make the audiences have a uniform understanding”.

The scripting process took place over six weeks, resulting in the final SandBox Script.

Stay tuned for more updates on the SandBox series over the next few months and check us out on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram to stay in touch for #SandBox updates.

If you’re interested in hearing more refugee stories straight from the camp, check out our Dadaab Stories interactive website, which brings the power of refugees’ voices from across the world directly to your computer.

And as always, if you’d like to support FilmAid’s training and empowerment of local filmmakers, producers, writers, and actors, click here to find out how you can help.

Yvon Ngabo

SandBox #3: One-on-One with Ledama Sampele, First Assistant Direct

We sat down with Ledama Sampele, a Kenyan filmmaker and the Assistant Director (AD) of FilmAid’s SandBox series, a drama series that explores the lives of refugees in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab. 

The Role of a First Assistant Director

 The First Assistant Director is the Director's right hand person, taking responsibility for a number of important practicalities so that the Director is free to concentrate on the creative process.  During pre-production, the First AD breaks down the script into a shot-by-shot storyboard, they also work with the Director to determine the shoot order, and how long each scene will take to film. They draw up the overall shooting schedule for the filming period.  Once the film is in production, they are in charge of making sure that every aspect of the shoot keeps to this schedule.

What was it like working as the First AD for FilmAid’s SandBox series?

In SandBox, which was shot in Dadaab in early 2014, Ledama Sampele was the First Assistant Director and it seems like he was extremely happy to get this opportunity; “I have always wanted to be an AD for as long as I can remember. This has always been my dream job.” 

Having worked on productions like Makutano JunctionHigher Learning, Changes and Nairobi Half-Life, Ledama brings experience and expertise to the SandBox production. The students in Dadaab’s Filmmaker Training Program were given a real opportunity to learn from his throughout this experience.  

“Every job has its own fair share of challenges and perks.”

During the production of SandBox, the hot and dry climate of sandy Dadaab was perhaps the biggest challenge, which took Ledama some adjusting to. On top of this, our First AD, had to be patient because of the number of rehearsals. Additionally, since this was a single-camera shoot, scenes had to be repeated again and again and shot from different angles which obviously made the production process even more complicated. Despite the challenges of working in Dadaab, Ledama clearly found her work rewarding, “FilmAid is doing a great job. Engaging the youth in the Film Training Program here in Dadaab and this experience on the set is a great opportunity to build…the education of the young people. I hope that many other productions arise from this one”.

Stay tuned for more updates on the SandBox series over the next few months and check us out on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram to stay in touch for #SandBox updates. 

If you’re interested in learning about more refugee stories straight from Dadaab, check out our Dadaab Stories interactive website, bringing the power of refugees’ voices directly to your computer.

And as always, if you’d like to support FilmAid’s training and empowerment of local filmmakers, producers, writers, and actors, you can donate here.  

SandBox #2: My name is Njoki Mbuthia…I am a Filmmaker


This week, as part of our SandBox blog series, we are going to be talking to one of the producers of the show.

Njoki Mbuthia, a Kenyan filmmaker and Senior Producer at FilmAid, sat down to talk with us about her role as a producer for FilmAid’s SandBox, our unique drama series that explores the lives of refugees in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab. SandBox addresses a number of issues affecting the communities living in the Dadaab, like early marriage, gender violence and conflict resolution, among other issues.

Generally, producers have overall control on every aspect of a film's production, bringing together and approving the selection of the whole production team. Their primary responsibility is to foster an environment in which the creative talents of the cast and crew can flourish - producers are therefore ultimately accountable for the success of the finished film.

“I have been a writer for as long as I can remember,” says Njoki when asked. She used to write stories when she was young; her classmates would read them and always ask for her to write more. Njoki has been in the film industry from as far back as college, where she was a news editor and producer. She has also worked as a floor manager and a production intern at the Kenya Broadcast Cooperation (KBC). Throughout her stay at KCB, she shadowed directors. She later joined Good News Production where she caught a break as a director when they needed a director for a feature film, “Unseen Unsung Unforgotten”, and she rose to the challenge.

What is it like to work as a producer?

“Producing is very challenging, and that is what I enjoy about it. In the film industry, the producer usually writes a proposal and chooses which script should go into play when the script is not predetermined. He/she also looks for funds by pitching the story or script to potential donors/investors. He /she also ensures that the production goes according to schedule. A producer ensures that the script is properly aligned with the theme of the production. Pre-Production is preparation of the venue, the actors, the location and the days of shooting, among other details. Production is the filming process or shooting of the film. Post-Production includes video editing and sound editing.


How was it working as a Producer for SandBox?

“I chose to produce for SandBox because it was an opportunity to challenge myself and share my experience with the professional team on board as well as the Filmmaker Training Program students, whom I believe are upcoming professionals.”

“What is most exciting about the series is that it is authentically from Dadaab, the actors are from Dadaab, most of the crew is from Dadaab. Some parts are even shot in local dialect, like Somali and Gambela. The students and our staff on the ground have had a great opportunity to learn from the industry professionals we contracted.“

Stay tuned for SandBox #3 episode of our blog and check us out on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram to stay in touch for #SandBox updates.

If you’re also interested in learning about more refugee stories straight from Dadaab, check out our Dadaab Stories interactive website, bringing the power of refugees’ voices directly to your computer.

And as always, if you’d like to support FilmAid’s training and empowerment of local filmmakers, producers, writers, and actors, click here to find out how you can help. 

Winning Film Released in Michael Kiwanuka & FilmAid Music Video Competition

The winning film in Michael Kiwanuka and FilmAid's music video contest has been released on Vevo, it was announced today. You can view the video hereBelow, NeeNee Productions' Gayle Nosal discusses the creation of the video, winning the competition, and what's next for their project.

The footage seen in our music video came from a two-week field production in Uganda in the summer of 2013. The filmmaking team at Inflatable Film—Leah Warshawski, Todd Soliday and Chris Towey—traveled from Rwanda and Seattle to meet NeeNee Productions and collaborate on the initial phase of a longer-term production to follow a group of refugee and displaced teenage girls who live together in Uganda, hoping to stay in school and pursue their dreams for the future. The longer-term goal of the project is to capture over time the important dynamics of the girls’ lives—their shared pasts, their common household, their larger community, and their future pathways. 

NeeNee Productions is returning to Uganda in February 2014 to continue gathering footage of the girls as well as their families and friends in the surrounding communities. We are also excited to share that during our February trip, NeeNee is collaborating with Ugandan professionals to bring various skills and expertise to the project and provide creative and personal mentoring to the girls. For example, in February, NeeNee Productions is hiring four professional, university-educated Ugandan women as camera/video instructor (using video cameras donated to the girls by NeeNee), cultural and community liaison story-telling teacher, interviewer, and refugee consultant. NeeNee has also hired a Ugandan-based videographer for this trip.

We at NeeNee Productions are overjoyed that FilmAid and Michael Kiwanuka chose our music video to be the grand prizewinner of their contest. We extend our deepest gratitude to the young women featured in the music video, to their families and friends, and to the people of Think Humanity, who are dedicated to educating these girls. The ongoing project will culminate in a documentary film as well as a unique video content online. You can follow the progress of these girls and our project at and on twitter at @intheneenee

On behalf of everyone involved at NeeNee Productions, we would like to thank FilmAid, Michael Kiwanuka, Talenthouse as well as Inflatable Film and Think Humanity for the opportunity to enter this contest and share our deep connection to the girls with others.

Making Big Noise for Soundcheque


Are you a filmmaker or a musician?  If so (or even if not) we'd like to give a big sout out to our scoring partners, Soundcheque, who have provided the soundtrack for 18 of our latest films.  These films were made by our students in conjunction with our seventh FilmAid Film Festival, currently taking place in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps and in Nairobi.  


Soundcheque supply a fabulous, personal service that connects music and media makers.  They provide the perfect soundtracks for films, TV, games, and other media and have a brilliant bank of original scores.  You can work directly with a composer or Soundcheque will find the music for you without you having to search, saving filmmakers time and money.  They cater for all musical genres and every filmmaker's budget.  Their slogan is 'Helping Music Makers Make It', as their composers retain 100% of their rights and royalties.  Check out their showreel here.  

Report from the field: FilmAid’s Filmmaker Training Program for Girls in Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya

FilmAid Kenya’s Communication Intern, Sammy Olumola visited Hagadera Refugee Camp, one of six camps in the Dadaab complex. There he met with participants in FilmAid’s Filmmaker Training Program designed exclusively for women and girls.

Dadaab, Kenya – July 23, 2013 – For most Somali girls in Dadaab Refugee Camp, cultural biases are barriers to participation in public life. Women are not allowed to interact freely with men or even speak in public; their voices have been silenced by a male dominated society.

It is the month of Ramadan and I am set to meet a group of 15 Somali girls assembled in a classroom at the Information, Communications and Technology Centre in Hagadera. As I enter the room, Robert Gikunji, a FilmAid staff member and trainer, has already informed the girls of my visit to ask them about their training.

“Why did you join this class?” I asked. The girls are timid, but Halima Mohammed Ali, the class prefect, raises her hand and breaks the ice. “I want to be journalist” she says. Soon more hennaed hands shoot up to contribute to the discussion.

The training targets Somali girls who have completed secondary education to assist in building their future careers in filmmaking and other media professions. The project further seeks to empower the girls by strengthening their self-confidence and social skills.

According to John Kilungu, Manager of FilmAid in Dadaab, strong cultural beliefs have continued to limit the participation of Somali girls who wish to join the Filmmaker Training Program. Some members of the community have often ridiculed those girls who have completed work behind the camera, or engaged in public film activities. The program hopes to encourage active participation by providing a favorable and safe environment for learning.

Since October 2012, the girls have been introduced to a number of topics on cinematography. The majority of their studies focus on scriptwriting and video editing, as such skills do not necessarily require the girls to be shooting films publicly–thus reducing the risk of community backlash.

According to Hussein, member of the Filmmaker Training Program, most people consider the film industry to be dominated by men. She recounts sneaking out of her house to attend film classes because her parents did not approve of her undertaking such a career.

I listen keenly to Robert as he explains how difficult it is for him and the girls to conduct practical lessons in Hagadera. Instead he has to transport the girls, 32km distance to the nearby Girls’ Centre’ in Dagahaley refugee camp. There, Robert can comfortably teach the girls how to handle cameras and film.

"The Girls’ Centre in Dagahaley is a safer place where I can teach them various practical skills of handling a camera. And they also move around freely with the cameras within the Centre,” said Robert.

Built in 1991 to shelter 30,000 refugees fleeing Somalia, Hagadera now houses over 132,000 people, according the UN refugee agency, 60% of whom are women. Despite their huge numbers, Somali women do not have the freedom to speak openly and share their experience even amongst themselves, let alone with the rest of the world. Among others, the International Rescue Committee has been sensitizing refugees in the roles of women and the need to empower women and children. The community has begun to slowly change their perception of women in society. “Before, my parents and relatives would not allow me to leave my home to interact with other people in the community, but now they have started appreciating my contributions in the family. They are very supportive and they give me permission to go out and meet my friends and work.” Fardosa Ali, a facilitator at FilmAid in Hagadera.

“If we get more knowledge, the men in the community will listen and respect us,” said Khadro, a member of the Filmmaker Training Program.

Most of the participants in FilmAid’s training program would like to pursue full-time careers in filmmaking and journalism. The success of the program has drawn significant attention, particularly from local leaders of the surrounding host communities, who live in the vicinity of Dadaab refugee camps. As a result, some are insisting on being consulted during the recruitment process of new members.

Since its introduction in February 2009, over 60 people have been trained in the Filmmaker Training Program. Thirty-five are currently undergoing training: ten people from the host community, ten boys and 15 girls from the refugee communities. As part of the training, FilmAid has invited Visiting Training Artists to Dadaab to train participants on specialized areas of filmmaking such as lighting, script writing, editing, directing and casting. 

Meanwhile, FilmAid is in the process of forming an alumni association of all the program’s graduates. The Filmmaker Training Program alumni association will be run by the members and will offer further trainings as a form of income generation to the group.

As the program’s participant’s increase, the main challenge becomes one of limited resources. The students are forced to share a camera, an editing machine and other production equipment, which has resulted in less time dedicated to practical lessons.

Consequently, FilmAid has decentralized its activities to different camps in Dadaab complex to allow wider participation in the program’s activities. For instance, the Filmmaker Training Program is based in Hagadera; the print media project (The Refugee Newsletter) is based in Dagahaley; and the participatory video project is based at IFO refugee camp.

The Filmmaker Training Program in Hagadera has changed the lives of many refugees already. Robert and his colleagues at FilmAid in Dadaab hope that this initiative will inspire behavioral change amongst Somali communities to allow more girls to freely pursue filmmaking careers.

FilmAid thanks the many supporters who make the program possible, including contributors to Slashfilm's campaign earlier in 2013.