OUT OF AFRICA: Local spearheads Pamoja Project film

Hopkinton native Audrey Emerson speaks with a confidence and determination that belies her young age. She also exudes an unbridled enthusiasm that’s both inspiring and reflective of her youth.

Emerson attended the Walnut Hill School in Natick and is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California, majoring in critical film studies. Yet she already has an ambitious project well underway—making a documentary to be filmed in Tanzania this summer.

The documentary is called “The Pamoja Project” and will feature the stories of three enterprising Tanzanian women working in the areas of activism, education and entrepreneurship. For the record, “pamoja” means “together” in Swahili.

Emerson has long had an interest in issues concerning poor and developing countries, particularly in Africa. Since the age of 14, she has been involved with an organization called Unite the World with Africa, which supports many African NGOs working in areas such as health and education. It was while working here that she learned about Tanzania. Unite the World with Africa put her in contact with the women who will be featured in the film, and all agreed to be a part of the project.

The women work in local schools and orphanages and another helps Masai women sell their beaded jewelry in stores in Tanzania and for sale overseas. All the women are determined to make a difference in the lives of the people in their communities and to help future generations of children attend school and receive a good education.

Emerson is concerned about the current media coverage of African countries. “I want to tell the other sides of the stories and images portrayed about Africa,” she says. “I want the media to not just tell the stories of poverty but of how people are trying to solve problems. The media just doesn’t tell the stories of powerful women like this.”

With her passion and interest in Tanzania and her skills in film production, Emerson decided that one way she could tell these women’s stories and bring them to a wide audience was through film. “Change is already happening there and I want to show that, and how these women are finding solutions to problems,” she says.

She already has a crew lined up (three in total, including her) and they plan to shoot their documentary in Tanzania this summer over the course of two and a half weeks. Her goal is to make a 30-minute film, with vignettes on each of the women.

Emerson says the goal is to raise $23,000 to make the documentary and she and her team are already nearly halfway there. Much of the funding has come via private donors, and all donations are tax deductible. Emerson is responsible for the content on The Pamoja Project website, which is impressive and comprehensive. Both the University of Southern California and Unite the World with Africa have been instrumental in helping with some of the logistics, publicity and planning of the project. Devlo Media, where Emerson worked last summer, has agreed to do all the editing and post-production on the film pro bono.

Emerson says, regretfully, that she hasn’t been to Tanzania, but she is headed there in a few short months, film crew in tow. When I point out that it’s impressive to have already raised so much money, created a website and made so many arrangements for a film that hasn’t even started shooting yet, she laughs: “I like to work backwards!”

Emerson says that she is drawn to great stories and this is what she finds compelling in a good documentary. “I hope this film can bring an awareness that you are not alone in the world … people who seem worlds away are just like you,” she muses. “Everything we do, in small and huge ways, affects everyone else. We are all connected.”

She adds that she hopes, with this film and with other films she might work on in the future, that the proceeds will return to the people whose stories she’s telling.

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