The trajectory of Hawa Noor from Kenya parallels that of many African women in cinema, who in addition to director, work in various media-related areas such as camerawoman, scriptwriter, festival, forum and conference organizer, cultural events curator, lecturer in media-related areas, all of which play important roles in the culture of cinema. And thus they wear multiple hats, and rather than changing mediums or fields, there is fluidity within these roles.
Hawa, you told me that your filmmaking career runs in your blood even as you explore other interests. I find this fascinating as in general, African women in cinema reflect your path, integrating filmmaking with other experiences, careers, interests. Talk a bit about yourself, how you became interested in cinema and your work.
Thanks Beti, I have been the lady behind the camera since I finished my first degree in mass communication. When I went for my first internship at a local newspaper bureau, I preferred to take photos and so I became friend with a still cameraman—a colleague that I always loved to accompany to the field. Soon after, I discovered that I preferred motion images and so I loved the television. The impact and especially, as a journalist I felt a lot of satisfaction when I “told my story to the world”, the simple fact that people were watching the work of my hands was a great motivation especially to my family with whom I could watch my stories in the evening after work. They congratulated me all the time and this gave me motivation to do more. In spite of many challenges involved, I always enjoyed my work as a cameraperson and this allowed me to broaden my scope and produce documentaries.
In 2008 you pursued studies in peace and conflict, what motivated your focus on this subject and how has it intersected with your interest in filmmaking?
Thanks for this important question. After about four years of journalistic work, I developed a sort of fatigue against the routine of simply reporting and so I wanted to tell my story more as a problem solver than just a reporter of information. This idea came to my mind one day when I had gone to Kainuk, a remote village in Kenya, to record footages for a peace documentary I was developing for World Vision. The international Peace Day was held the same week and on that occasion, four children were unfortunately killed by armed militia--a situation that allowed me to witness the incapability of institutions to deal with such a problem. This was the time that I decided I wanted to do a study on peace and conflict in order to play more of a decision-making role that would also allow me to tell my story through film. My studies allowed me to research a lot about, among others, the media, and this landed me a job as a part-time lecturer in media and conflict resolution at the University of Nairobi.
In the courses that you teach on media and monflict resolution at the school of journalism at the University of Nairobi's school of journalism, are cinema students among the journalism students?
My classes match in journalism as a whole; not limited to a certain group only and so film students as well as broadcast journalists have been part of my classes.
What methodologies specific to Peace and Conflict Resolution Journalism are important for a filmmaker to learn?
The most important fundamental message that I have talked about in each of my classes is for practitioners to adhere to ethnics. The impact associated with the mass media is not to be underestimated and so a thorough research is essential in presenting all sides of the story. Ethnical standards and avoiding capitalization on stereotypes (such as ethnic and racial) is also my strong message.
In another conversation with me you have stated that you also do research on peace and security and plan to integrate these issues into documentary work, are you currently in the scriptwriting process? What will the documentaries entail?
After my second degree I was engaged in interfaith peace building and communication work, from which I resigned to start a career as a researcher where my areas of focus includes issues of gender mainstreaming, religion, identity, cohesion and intercultural relations, terrorism and transnational crime, and mass media monitoring. The reason why I like doing research is the fact that I gather enough knowledge in my areas of interest to enable me to practise filmmaking again. As I just started, my paper, currently under review is about gender mainstreaming in Kenya and Somalia and this is the basis of my new documentary in which I plan to communicate my message for change.
Kenya is rapidly developing a cinema culture that is establishing itself internationally, particularly in the sector of popular culture. Do you see a role for your genre of filmmaking and your area of interest within this Kenya cinema culture?
Yes, very much so, both as an insider and as a critic. I hope to bounce back in full speed soonest.
Interview with Hawa Noor by Beti Ellerson, September 2013.
Updated 02 October 2013.
Updated 02 October 2013.