Film : The persistence of hope
It seems that every time veteran filmmakers Len and Georgia Morris set out to tell one story concerning the plight of the world's neediest children, they discover another that demands telling. Such is the case with their latest film, "Rescuing Emmanuel," the story of an ambitious boy struggling to survive on the streets of Nairobi. The seeds of the idea were planted during work on the couple's previous film, "Stolen Childhoods," and then fully realized when their lives intersected with this charismatic street child.
Next Monday and Tuesday at the Capawock Theatre, Galen Films will present "Rescuing Emmanuel," the second in a series of three films that shed light on the problem of exploited, impoverished and forgotten children across the globe.
The Morrises, founders of Galen Films, have made it their business, literally, to explore the more unpleasant side of life in order to give a voice to the underrepresented children of the world. In "Stolen Childhoods," the Morrises focused on the world of child labor. While filming in places like India, Mexico, Romania and Kenya, they met up with, and filmed, members of another often ignored group - street children, and realized that it was a much bigger story that deserved its own treatment.
The filmmakers gave this second film a working title of "Nobody's Child," and headed back to Kenya for more footage. While on location in Nairobi, the Morrises encountered Emmanuel, a savvy 13-year-old with "beguiling personality" who "hijacked" their film.
One of the first scenes in the film shows Emmanuel picking through garbage for his next meal. He takes the opportunity to plead his case to the camera, stating insistently that he wants to go to school. According to the Morrises, he showed up again and again, taking center stage with his entreaties for clean clothes, a home, and most of all, a chance to go back to school. Says Ms. Morris, "His need wasn't what he lived with. He lived by his intellect."
In torn and filthy clothes and reeking from lack of hygiene, the street boy was relentless in his effort to get Ms. Morris's attention. "He literally grabbed me, and he stayed on me, and engaged me," she remembers. When they moved on to film in another part of Kenya, Ms. Morris's thoughts remained with Emmanuel, and upon returning to Nairobi, the crew made it their mission to find him. Eventually they became convinced that Emmanuel was their story, and he became the vehicle for presenting the plight of street children the world over.
Using the footage of their search, both for Emmanuel and for a way to help him, the Morrises crafted a poignant story of one child's struggle, while focusing on the global crises. Says Mr. Morris, "Emmanuel is a representative of 100 million street children all over the world."
While the film's plot centers on the Morrises' mission to save Emmanuel, it also introduces other street children, as well as some remarkable local people who struggle against great odds to provide aid. These Samaritans are as much a part of the story as the children themselves. Says Mr. Morris, "We always try to line up sort of the flipside of misery. We're not just looking for problems - we're looking for solutions."
For example, a tour of the squalid Kibera, the densest, and arguably filthiest slum on earth, is made bearable by the presence of heroes like Sister Joyce, a surprisingly upbeat nun who is helping HIV-infected kids, and Mama Zipporah, who runs a home and school for 150 abandoned children. The filmmakers hope the film will rally support for these two, as well as others.
Ms. Morris says, "There are so many people in the field working in these countries and they're woefully underfunded. They're pushing boulders up a hill."
"Rescuing Emmanuel" presents interviews and footage of children in six impoverished nations. It is full of twists and turns, disappointments and frustrations, as well as optimism and small victories, including messages from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai.
There are harrowing scenes shot with a hidden camera inside a prison, scenes of young girls selling themselves for a meal, and kids sniffing glue to ease their misery. However, the film also reveals the spark of childhood, a persisting sense of self-respect found among children in the worst possible circumstances. Emmanuel epitomizes the perseverance and fortitude that define many children of the streets.
Proceeds from the two Martha's Vineyard screenings will be used towards launching the Morrises' latest project, "Media Voices for Children," a nonprofit web-based news agency and media resource library for children's rights. "We're hoping to create a public dialogue about the state of children," says Ms. Morris. "We want to be able to put this material online, so schools, libraries, media and journalists can use it," Mr. Morris adds. "We've sought out some of the clearest and most impassioned spokespeople for children."
Len and Georgia Morris have made it their mission to give a voice to these children and hopefully advance their plight to the forefront of public awareness.
"Rescuing Emmanuel," 7 pm, Monday, Feb. 9, and Tuesday, Feb. 10, Capawock Theatre. Pre-show reception with Len and Georgia Morris at Che's Lounge, 6-7 pm. Tickets, $25 (tax-deductible) to benefit "Media Voices for Children." Advance tickets at mvtickets.com, and day of event at the door. 508-717-2667.
Oak Bluffs resident Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.