Audrey Emerson, a third-year student in the School of Cinematic Arts, has completed filming her documentary series, The Pamoja Project, and is now collaborating with the USC Media Institute for Social Change to finish the project.
In June 2015, Emerson organized a team of four USC students and alumni and headed to Tanzania for almost three weeks to film the three 30-minute documentaries that follow the lives of three Tanzanian women. Emerson directed the film with recent alumnus Brandon Somerhalder and Richard Carlos as the director of photography and production sound mixer, respectively, and Kasey Henderson, a junior majoring in policy, planning and development, as the production advisor.
The women who were the subjects of the documentary work in the areas of education, microfinance and health in an effort to create long-term change in their community. In Swahili, the word “pamoja” means “together” and this documentary shares the extraordinary stories of those who work to create change for the people of Tanzania.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by the best team and support any filmmaker could ask for,” Emerson said. “The biggest challenge really has simply been to keep pushing myself to the next level, to think bigger and work harder. Sometimes the hardest part is just ‘showing up’ and ‘being seen,’ which to me, means getting up even after making a big mistake.”
Michael Taylor, the founder and executive director of USC MISC, was the executive producer of the film. MISC was established in 2012 and is a nonprofit organization that is composed of industry professionals who focus on creating entertainment media with an emphasis on social change messages. Taylor was involved with the project from the beginning, encouraging and supporting Emerson in raising the necessary funds to create the documentary. He will also have a say in the concepts the documentary presents. With the help of individual donors, grants and an Indiegogo campaign, Emerson was able to raise $30,000.
“This film will really be an inspiration to the people of Tanzania who may not be aware how these three women highlighted in the film are singlehandedly changing the face of their country,” Taylor said. “This film can also be a model for other countries to do similar things and will show how media is a catalyst for change.”
In addition to USC MISC, Devlo Media, an Emmy Award-winning production company, has volunteered to work on the editing phase of the documentary pro bono. John Lavall and Kate Kelly of Devlo Media acted as Emerson’s mentors and prepared her for challenges she would run into while filming in Africa. In addition, Unite the World with Africa, a nonprofit organization that helps empower marginalized women to lead more productive and meaningful lives, is backing the project. Emerson has a long history of working with the organization’s founder, Anne Wells. When Wells heard about Emerson’s plan to create this documentary, she offered the organization’s many resources and support for the film and helped Emerson connect with the three women featured in the documentary.
“I have been to Tanzania dozens of times and the people Audrey is working with are like family to me and very close friends of mine,” Wells said. “I told her what it was going to be like, what to expect, and questions I would ask.”
The film follows the lives of three women who have impacted their community. Sister Crispina established a nursery in Tanzania that now houses 43 children. Margaret works with the Maasai women to help create and market handmade jewelry with the profits filtering back into the community. Astridah teaches young girls who are at a high risk for unwanted pregnancy about various life skills as well as vocational training so that these women can support themselves. Through these women, The Pamoja Project hopes to teach viewers about development, leadership and true commitment to one’s community.
“I hope they will be inspired to take action in their own lives and that on some level the stereotypes of poverty and helplessness that exist about Tanzania and Africa will start to dissolve as more individual stories of strength come to the forefront,” Emerson said
Upon completion of the editing and post-production phases, Emerson hopes to attend film festivals around the world, host multiple screenings and promote the documentary to schools as an educational tool, ultimately hoping to distribute the film on network TV.