How a South African solar-powered mobile cinema is creating jobs for young people

How a South African solar-powered mobile cinema is creating jobs for young people

The solar-powered mobile cinema comes equipped with a micro-projector, tripod, folding screen and a battery.

High costs of data, airtime and a lack of Wi-Fi make it difficult for African audiences to access locally produced films. A solar-powered mobile cinema initiative increases accessibility to African cinema, while also creating opportunities for training and job creation. 10 years ago, Sunshine Cinema trained more than 80 young people across Southern Africa. For news and analysis on climate change, go to News24 Climate Future.

A South African film initiative, Sunshine Cinema, creates training and employment opportunities for young people using solar-powered cinemas.

These mobile theaters were developed in 2013 by husband and wife team Rowan Pybus and Sydelle Smith.

Pybus and Smith both have a background in filmmaking and were inspired to start Sunshine Cinema when they realized they couldn’t reach viewers in Africa. Smith says the high cost of data, airtime and lack of wifi make it difficult for African audiences to access locally produced films.

They worked on Amazing Grace, a film documenting the journey of Lloyd Maanyina, a Zambian man who used to cut down trees for charcoal fire as a form of income. With a change of heart, Maanyina began planting trees as a “payback” to nature. But Maanyina has not yet been able to watch the award-winning film about his life.

In response, Pybus and Smith developed Sunshine Cinema. Apart from promoting storytelling in Africa, the initiative also supports the training of young people from rural and peri-urban areas, including informal settlements in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. “We train young people to be media entrepreneurs who are able to earn an income while sharing locally relevant films…” says Smith.

The training program was designed in collaboration with the University of Cape Town’s film and media department.

Participants in their training program, also known as Sunshine Ambassadors, learn about basic photo and video production, audience facilitation and media entrepreneurship. They also gain work experience.

“As of May 2021, over 40 young South Africans are earning income from the skills acquired in the program by offering impact shows, professional photography, short video production, social media management and design, graphic design and other freelance digital marketing opportunities .on average, most earned between R1 000 to R5 000 per month,” says Smith.

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The sunshine ambassadors are also equipped with a mobile cinema set known as a sun bowl, which is used for screenings.

The solar box includes a portable solar PV power system – this is a battery that is charged with solar panels. The battery is then used to power the other equipment needed for the show, such as the projector. “Solar power [power] was chosen as it is a renewable, green solution to our increasing carbon-based electricity crisis,” adds Smith. It is also possible to charge the battery via grid-connected power, Smith says.

Other items in the sunbox include a tripod or stand for the projector, blackout material, a fold-out screen and a camera for the Sunshine Ambassador to document the show.

The ambassadors go to local community halls, crèches, shipping containers or any spaces available to them to set up the cinema and host screenings. They can choose films to screen from Sunshine Cinema’s catalog of over 80 films. They earn an “ongoing job fee” for each screening they facilitate.

In turn, their local audiences have a chance to discuss the topics explored in film, which are often relevant themes that affect their lives.

Morena Mofokeng is one of the Sonskyn ambassadors. He shows films to his community in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg. Before his training at Sunshine Cinema, he was a freelance filmmaker and now earns five times what he used to, he told News24.

Morena Mofokeng screens films in his community in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg.

Mofokeng says the initiative makes a positive impact on his community. The films cover issues such as gender-based violence, poverty and teenage pregnancy. It gives people the confidence to open up and ask for help. Mofokeng said he was able to direct people to organizations where they could receive the help they needed.

“Some of these films have allowed members in the community who were voiceless to open up and engage in conversations about certain issues. We even refer them to a professional organization if we can help them,” said Mofokeng.

Smith says the core of what they do is to train young people through film to be active citizens. “The way you can physically bring people together through a cinema screen is a very powerful tool for dialogue and engagement… Storytelling is such an ancient form of communication, especially in Africa. We work out who we are through the stories what it tells us about ourselves and our communities.”

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