Art for Peace

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Shanshan Chen

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

There are many, for example, Agnès Varda, Gus Van Sant, Wim Wenders, Nicolas Philibert…


What motivated you to make this film?

I’m curious about people and what kind of life they have, which are mostly different from mine, and how my films can reflect their work and life.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Sony FS5, X70; Canon 5D


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

I get to know the characters before the shoot by chatting with them and sending them my previous work. Mutual understanding and building a rapport with the characters is key.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

I usually have schedules of what to shoot each day, but there are always surprises during the shoot and difficulties that make me change plans.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

Getting to know the amazing people in South Sudan – their resilience to rebuild their country which reminded me of people from my own country, China.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Spend time with the characters – it’s always worthwhile spending more time than less to know the characters and waiting for the story to unfold.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

I most enjoy looking for characters, getting to know them, as well as being behind the cameras.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A watch with multiple time zones – it’s more reliable than mobile phones.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your film:

AnaTaban: Arts movement AnaTaban, or “I am tired” in Arabic, advocate for peace and unity among young people through media they like – rap music, slam poetry, and YouTube videos. Junub Open Space: a grassroots NGO which gives young entrepreneurs, activists and filmmakers a space to expand their work. The founder, Emmanuel Lobijo Josto, works with other young people volunteering as actors, producers and directors are making films to get communities talking about social problems and build South Sudan’s film industry “Sosywood”.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

When my colleagues and I went with an AnaTaban member Ayak to her flat, we were followed by a person who knocked on her door and asked about her safely. Ayak told us that he could be a national security personnel, and now she might need to move again. We had the same issue at Junub Open Space with the filmmakers, when the film crew (“Sosywood”) were stopped for nearly an hour by some people came in a van. It gave me a real sense of how difficult it is for the artists to continue their peace work in the country.


What do you want audiences to take away from this film?

To start paying more attention to the situation in South Sudan.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

How I found the characters and got them onboard; the most difficult part of making the film; most rewarding part of making the film; what was my first impression of the country; experience working with other filmmakers/journalists as a group (I went as part of the International Women’s Media Foundation reporting trip); plans afterwards (I’d love to going back to the country to do follow-ups, or making feature films with the filmmakers); what was my feeling when I left South Sudan


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

One of the activists that we interviewed and quoted in the accompanying article of the video (but not featured in the video) Peter Biar Ajak was arrested in July, only two months after my colleague and I left the country. It seemed that the situation in the country hasn’t improved.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

On behalf of the multimedia team with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, I donated some filming equipment to the filmmakers. If anyone is interested, the filmmakers need more updated equipment and training in filmmaking. Screening opportunities and distribution of their films are needed. It is hard to get the equipment to them, so I can help to facilitate with a German NGO that provides training to them and whose staff can travel to South Sudan or the neighbouring Uganda.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):

South Sudan’s Sosywood: Coming soon to a screen near you

Armed with poetry and rap, South Sudan’s young artists battle for peace



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