These Young Liberians Are Building an Arthouse Movie Theater

The students behind "Image of Liberia" Film Festival are building a new movie house in Monrovia.

Pandora Hodge, project coordinator of Kriterion, Monrovia Courtesy of Kriterion, Monrovia

Before Liberia's two civil wars its capital city, Monrovia, had a lot more entertainment options for young people. Teenagers learned traditional dance at cultural centers. Reading clubs flourished throughout the city. Families took their kids to two movie theaters on the weekend.

All that disappeared and much of it has yet to return in these peaceful times. A few years ago, a group of young Liberians began showing movies across the country to offer people a cultural leisure activity. Since its beginning in 2012, Kriterion Monrovia has done 40 screenings in more than 20 communities throughout Liberia. These screenings were so successful that the founders organized a film festival in 2014, "Image of Liberia."

Now the founders want to make it official and build an independent arthouse cinema in Monrovia. Over the next month, Kriterion Monrovia is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise 50,000 Euros for a cinema. So far the group has raised almost 12,000 Euros.

The Kriterion, Monrovia team Courtesy of Kriterion, Monrovia

"We want to bring the culture back to Monrovia," says Pandora Hodge, the project coordinator of Kriterion Monrovia. "We want to give a new vibe to these people. For us to start this and have people feel like they can go and relax in a cinema— that's showing development too you know," says Hodge.

A team that includes a program officer, finance officer, supervisor, secretary and more than 70 volunteers are working to raise the funds for the cinema.

The cinema will not only show movies that are financially accessible to local Liberians, but it will also be a place for young Liberians gain work experience and plan the future of Liberia. Kriterion Monrovia will be a cultural center for music, exhibitions and social gatherings.

Kriterion Monrovia is based on a cultural project that originated in Amsterdam after the second World War—Kriterion Amsterdam. Students involved in the anti-Nazi movement in Amsterdam started the cinema to fill the void of culture that the war left. Back then it was run as a cultural foundation that helped university students with living costs. In that vein, Kriterion Monrovia is supported by Young Urban Achievers, a Dutch foundation that helps young people around the world to set up their own business in the cultural sector.



The team on the road Courtesy of Kriterion, Monrovia

Like Kriterion Amsterdam, Kriterion Monrovia cinema will be run entirely by students like Hodge. Liberia's economy is improving but it's difficult for young students to study and earn money at the same. Kriterion Monrovia will provide the opportunity to young Liberians to work on an entrepreneurial project so that they can take those skills and create their own businesses in Liberia.

"The important thing about having space is being able to help young people in Liberia," Hodge says . " We will help them to become good entrepreneurs so they can rebuild Liberia and contribute to society."

Watching quality movies in a comfortable setting is almost impossible for locals in Monrovia. The only movie theatre in the city is in an upscale shopping mall marketed to expats. Another cinema that only showed Bollywood movies recently closed. Men sell DVDs on street corners throughout the city but the visual quality of these movies is often shoddy. They are often in other languages like Russian or Chinese. Tiny movie booths dot the city showing these poor quality films.

"It's so hot," says Hodge when talking about the movie shacks. "Everybody is sweating. You can barely understand or see anything. People are falling asleep on you."

Besides lack of a quality cinema, Monrovia also lacks options for leisure activities for young people. For most, a night out on the town includes stopping at a bar for a drink or a restaurant for a cheap meal.

The first film Kriterion Monrovia showed to a large group was "Life of Pi" at the University of Liberia in 2011. For most attendees, it was their first time seeing a movie with good sound. Hodge took the cinema on the road traveling to villages across Liberia to show movies. The movie gatherings became community events attracting the very young up to the very old. When Ebola hit Liberia, Kriterion had to stop its movie showings but the group had developed such good relationships with villages, that it traveled the country implementing an Ebola awareness campaign.

Kriterion Monrovia has the support of engineers and architects from Engineers Without Borders, who will design the cinema of their dreams for free. Young Urban Achievers and SPARK will support them with their business model and organizational structure.

A poster for their Kriterion, Monrovia's crowdfunding campaign.

The Ethiopian Government Has Asked Olympic Runner In Exile, Feyisa Lilesa, to Return Home

After two years in exile, the Olympic athlete will return home and receive a "hero's welcome."

Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian runner who went into exile in 2016 after bravely protesting the Ethiopian government's brutal treatment of its Oromo population at the Rio Olympics, has been invited to return to home.

After living in self-imposed exile United States for two years the marathoner, who demonstrated by crossing his fists as he reached the finish line and claimed the silver medal, has been extended an offer to return to his homeland and compete for his country once again by the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and the country's Olympic committee. According to VOA News, the runner will return home in the coming weeks with his wife and children.

"Athlete Feyisa Lilesa has scored great results at the Rio Olympics and other athletics competitions enabling Ethiopia's flag to be hoisted to great heights," read a joint letter from the two athletics organizations.

"We want Lilesa to return to his home country to resume his athletics competition and upon his return we are prepared to give him a hero's welcome."

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Politics
Image via GovernmentZA's Flickr.

Could Justice Finally Be on the Horizon for Marikana Massacre Families?

New evidence suggests that the police intended to kill all along.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, when 34 mine-workers were gunned down by police after several days of wage disputes at Lonmin Mine in Rustenburg, North West province. New information was recently uncovered that undermines the police's longstanding claim that they acted in self-defence. If anything, it is a glimmer of hope for the families of the victims that remain left behind in the aftermath of that tragedy.

It was the worst mass civilian killing since the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, where South African protesters were killed for opposing the Apartheid regime. The Marikana Massacre, in contrast, was the tragic consequence of week-long wage disputes and clashes between miners and the South African police.

While media footage appears to show the miners as the victims, police have always argued that they were acting in self defence. Consequently no officers involved have been charged. Instead, the surviving mineworkers face murder charges under the doctrine of common purpose. But unnerving facts have come to light that seem to make the police argument even less likely. This includes the ordering of 4000 rounds of live ammunition and several vans from the mortuary the day before the massacre.

I cannot even begin to unpack my anger and frustration at this terrible irony.

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Remembering Aretha Franklin and Her Heartfelt Connection With Nelson Mandela

In honor of the Queen of Soul's immeasurable impact, we revisit her passionate support of Nelson Mandela, and the anti-apartheid movement, through her musical tributes.

Iconic singer, Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul" passed away on Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Franklin was considered by many to be the greatest singer of all time. Her influence on popular music cannot be overstated. The legendary artist sold 75 million records and earned 18 Grammys in a career spanning six decades and she was influential in many global social movements as well.

Having been a widely-embraced public figure for so long, Franklin was present for some of the biggest events of the 20th century, including the funeral of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.

Upon Mandela's release, the singer played a unique role in welcoming him to the States by performing at a freedom rally in his honor in Detroit. Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and Stevie Wonder were also in attendance for the historic night. During the celebration, Franklin called the anti-apartheid leader on stage, where he spoke about listening to and appreciating "the Detroit, Motown Sound" while he was in prison.

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