A film about African sorrow and joy.
We showed 19 great films at the Road Junky Film Festival in Berlin a couple of weeks ago and the unanimous winner as voted by road junkies was a film from Emil Langballe and Maria Somoto le Dous about a man called William in Zambia who is responsible for 21 orphans. The courage and charisma of William as he raises, educates and feeds the kids won everyone’s hearts.
We can’t show the full film at the moment as it’s just been accepted for another film festival but Emil and Maria talked to Road Junky about the film.
RJ: How did you hear about the story of the 21 orphans?
Emil and Maria: We heard about William from our friend, who met him when he worked for the Danish aid organization Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke in Zambia. We got a scholarship from the Danish aid organization Danida to go and make the story, so we did that and later we travelled Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and had a wonderful time.
RJ Is this a common thing to see in Zambia?
Emil and Maria: No, not at all. But large families are very common (it’s a traditional African way of living) an due to the high number of aids orphans, a lot of families take care of the kids of their deceased relatives. But we did not meet anyone who came close to William, in the sense of babysitting. Especially because of gender differences, it’s very rare to see a man in Zambia who takes care of that many children.
RJ: What did William and the children think about you filming them?
Emil and Maria: They were very exited but they did not know anything about documentary film making so in the beginning they had the impression that we (the two of us!) were producing this big Hollywood blockbuster. But they liked the attention and the kids enjoyed watching themselves on the camera’s small LCD flip screen.
RJ:What challenges did you run into?
Emil and Maria: In the beginning, it was extremely difficult to shoot in the village because of all the attention we got. The inhabitants were not very familiar with white people and especially not with video cameras, so it was very hard just to be a “fly on the wall” in the beginning.
Also it was almost impossible to prevent people, and especially children, from looking into the camera lens, but finally they got used to us being there and it all went very smoothly. Another issue was the amount of deaths in the village. During our stay 5 people died just within the village, so William had to cancel several of our appointments due to the high number funerals.
RJ:How does William stay so happy and positive?
Emil and Maria: Of course William was special, but this also has to do with the African mentality. There is a saying that African people ‘laugh at destiny because they know that it will hit them hard eventually‘ and maybe that’s what William does as well. Some people has been through so many difficulties, that happiness might be the only thing that can help them survive.
RJ:The children seem to look after each like one big family – are children raising themselves in Zambia?
Emil and Maria: Yes, they are indeed. Of course William tried to look after them the best he could, but since he had to take care of the garden, sell vegetables and a lot of other things, the older kids had to keep an eye on their younger siblings. And this is in fact very common in Zambia and other African countries with large families.
RJ:Are you still in touch with them? Would you ever go back to film them again?
Emil and Maria: Yes, we still correspond with William now and then, and we are about to finish a 25 minute version of the film, which hopefully will be screened at other festivals later this year. And we would love to go back and do a follow up!