Call Me Hope: Behind the Scenes in Africa

December 3rd, 2011

130 Participants!  72 Locations!  2 Continents!  2 minutes and 15 seconds long!

Call Me Hope is the second video in our Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential Campaign which began with Alex Presents: Commando.  With this piece we wanted to push the theme of interconnectedness from observational to participatory.  We wanted to bring our friends and family in Africa into collaboration with their U.S. counterparts.

To the right are the people we live, laugh and work with on a daily basis in Africa.  Program directors, project beneficiaries, and neighbors… they are our dear friends and partners in Mama Hope’s mission.  To the left are the Americans that form our other Mama Hope community… resilient, forward-thinking, committed and involved individuals joining the movement to change the stereotypes that have blanketed an entire continent since guilt-based fundraising took over the development world.

Mama Hope Founding Director Nyla Rodgers works with Call Me Hope co-director Joe Sabia in the back of the Impala Express
Mama Hope Founding Director Nyla Rodgers works with Call Me Hope co-director Joe Sabia in the back of the Impala Express (Photo by Bryce Yukio Adolphson)

The idea for the Call Me Hope video was born in the back of bus near the border of Kenya and Tanzania this last July.  My colleague Joe Sabia (digital artist and filmmaker) and I were wolfing down nadazi pastries and playing mental ping-pong with Stop the Pity campaign ideas.  We’d amassed a lot of outlines exploring perceived contrasts and hidden similarities between our African and American communities, but hadn’t fully tapped into the energy that each of these communities exude.  Our Mama Hope partners on both continents needed to have a say in the project and to actively participate in its creation rather than act as displays to be captured and presented. After much deliberation and many samosas, the trifecta of our film concept emerged:

1. Call and Response

In Africa, it’s hard for us to finish a community meeting without a call and response song session.  Back in the States, YouTube is swamped with people singing along with their favorite songs.  It is a universal concept.  Done.

2. Split Screen
Naturally we couldn’t bring both sides together, so we needed to facilitate some sort of interaction (ideally clever). All the better if we could film people in their natural Africa/U.S. settings and have them match up.

3. Paul Simon
Honestly, we were tossing around some pretty ho-hum ideas until Nyla Rodgers, Mama Hope’s Founding Director, threw her unending love of Paul Simon’s Graceland and “You Can Call Me Al” into the mix.  It was the obvious choice both in tone and meaning (far outweighing Gary Numan’s 1979 hit “Cars”).

Gracie at the Moshi Girls Vocational School in Moshi, Tanzania. (Photo by Bryce Yukio Adolphson)

We started our Call Me Hope journey by assembling a team for this past summer’s Stop the Pity campaign: Nyla; Joe; and myself, Mama Hope Visual journalist and Founding Member, Bryce Yukio Adolphson.  We tasked ourselves with expanding the scope of what nonprofit video content could be.  In line with our Stop the Pity message, we aimed to show the direct opposite of helplessness and hopelessness.  We needed to present the truth that we experienced in Africa: capable individuals full of potential.

Each African community had a different take on the project.  Participants in the urban areas got it right off.  Like most of us here in the States, the idea of acting for the camera is fairly ingrained into their culture.  From Facebook to the movies, they’ve seen and experienced just as much as we have.  About 60% of our friends in the film actually knew the song and perked up immediately upon hearing it.  Our rural partners were different.  The idea of participating in a way that went beyond allowing access to their lives and a few interviews took some explaining.  Having worked with Mama Hope for the past five years, they were perfectly accepting of me and my camera.  Their trust was earned, but how best to explain what we were up to?

We eventually took to carrying around a rough cut on my phone.  Everyone would crowd around watching video footage of people singing Paul Simon’s lines and, of course, children dancing.  The smiles were infectious.  People instantly understood the message and their involvement.  Afterwards, it became difficult to put a cap on the number of participants lining up (there’ll be a much much longer cut when we go back next year).

Bryce Yukio Adolphson reviewing footage with community partners Amathe and Lucy in Kambi Garba, Kenya. (Photo by Amy Vaninetti
Bryce Yukio Adolphson reviewing footage with community partners Amathe and Lucy in Kambi Garba, Kenya. (Photo by Amy Vaninetti)

Ultimately, Call Me Hope became a family album.  It’s a cross-section of our projects and personal experiences.  Not just of this year, but of the relationships reaching back to 2006 when Nyla first met our oldest partners.  We feel this video is the truest representation of these relationships we have.  From the schools to the gardens to the shops, everyone involved is an equal partner.  They are who we are: our hope and potential intertwined.

Special thanks to Mama Hope Operations Director Amy Vaninetti for her constant outreach & bubble letter skills and Raffi Marty for his chalkboard-lifting biceps.

Stay tuned for our “Behind the Scenes in the U.S.” post!

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