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Won New Frontiers Grant!

Today Indiana University announced the recipients of the New Frontiers in Arts and Humanities Grant. I am happy to say that we were among that group! I am delighted to have received over $44,000 to make more films in Kenya this summer. I will be shooting a series of short narrative films, about an hour. See my post from October 8th for more details about the project.

Below I have posted some excerpts from the application.


Through an international collaborative effort between faculty from the School of Liberal Arts; the School of Informatics & Computing; the School of Medicine and Moi University’s Department of Theatre, Literature and Film Studies, this project will create 6-8 short narrative films in Kenya. These films, created through participatory methodologies incorporating a diverse group of stakeholders and viewpoints, will address various aspects of HIV stigma as they pertain to youth. For use in HIV counseling by AMPATH, and with larger distribution to schools and churches throughout Kenya and beyond, these films will expose audiences to issues of HIV stigma and consequently impact cultural attitudes.


  1. Background and Significance


This proposal seeks funding for a series of 6-8 short narrative films (approximately 60-70 min.) addressing issues of HIV stigma. Utilizing participatory methodologies (as described in Aline Gubrium and Krista Harper’s 2013 Book Participatory Visual and Digital Methods) involving Moi University faculty and students and other stakeholders in the issue of HIV stigma, these films will be shot in Kenya in the summer of 2015. While participatory filmmaking methods have been used in ethnographic filmmaking since the 1960s, their use in developing narrative films is non-existent.

Derived from real-life scenarios of HIV-infected youths, these films will empower and support those with HIV by generating empathy, fostering understanding and confronting community stereotypes and false beliefs. These films will be used in AMPATH counseling and support groups, but they will find a larger social impact with screenings in schools and churches throughout Kenya and other Sub-Saharan countries.

This collaboration of faculty will establish a large US/Kenya network of HIV patients and families, teachers, students, community leaders, congregations, filmmakers and AMPATH providers. Input from this diverse group of stakeholders will create a solid participatory groundwork from which the films’ content will emerge.

A.1 The Participatory Framework

Since the 1960s, ethnographic filmmakers have sought to directly involve the film’s subject and surrounding community in the telling of their own stories. This approach, often tied to strategies of advocacy, gives voices to and empowers groups as they disclose their own stories.

Participatory documentary film techniques, as pioneered by filmmakers, such as Sarah Elder and Leonard Kamerling, seek to express community concerns and perspectives to form a collaborative filmmaking relationship. The resulting films–far richer, accurate and culturally aware than otherwise possible– are products of relinquished control over film direction and a creative process guided by diverse perspectives and opinions.

This project seeks to use these participatory techniques, but for the creation of narrative films that engage with the issues of HIV stigma as they pertain to youth and African audiences. This is a novel approach to the creation of narrative films. Creative considerations, such as character development, stories and structuring strategies, as well as practical considerations such as actors, locations, shooting schedules, will be developed through this participatory framework. The resulting films, made with the support of the community and a diverse mix of viewpoints and sensibilities, will accurately reflect issues regarding stigma, in terms of community values, ethnic identity, spiritual beliefs, and gender roles.

One major participatory strategy that is central to our unique creative approach is having the roles of HIV patients be played by actors with HIV. Not only would their own personal experiences regarding HIV stigma (1) greatly inform the portrayal of their characters, it would also (2) broaden the filmmaking possibilities to include elements of documentary. This narrative/documentary hybrid (with documentary elements inserted in an otherwise narrative film) pushes the form of narrative film itself as it lends a significant degree of authenticity to the films.

A.2 Methodology

The participatory approach central to this research has a goal to culturally contextualize the experience of stigma to make this experience more accessible and understandable to a diverse audience. It is hoped that greater understanding will help to change people’s beliefs and behavior, and in turn, decrease the stigma experienced by HIV+ youth. The project will be directed by  an Advisory Team consisting  of Thomas Lewis (SOIC), Jeanette Dickerson-Putman (SLA), Christopher Odhiambo (Moi University DTLFS), Rachel Vreeman (IUSM), and selected HIV+ youth. Dickerson-Putman will work closely with Vreeman and her team  to (1) identify a small sample of four HIV+/18+/female youth and four HIV+/18+/male youth from two different cultural groups, and (2)  with the input of our youth participants, develop an interview schedule to guide youth to place focus in their stigma narratives on how gender and cultural beliefs and practices have shaped their experiences.

Main scriptwriting will be a collaborative effort between American and Kenyan scriptwriters, Thomas Lewis and Christopher Odhiambo, and anthropologist, Dr. Dickerson-Putman–all supported by the stories and experiences of Kenyans in the community.  The narratives for the proposed films will be informed by qualitative research by Dr. Dickerson-Putman and Dr. Vreeman’s research team.

All filming will be done in Eldoret, Kenya over 6 weeks in the summer of 2015. Required equipment will be brought from the United States. Editing and post-production will take place at the SOIC at IUPUI. Feedback will be sought from collaborators and stakeholders in Kenya.

One comment on “Won New Frontiers Grant!

  1. Pingback: On the Ground in Kenya | untitled event

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