Untold is a series of 9 short films from 9 Southern African countries - Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The series forms part of a cross border regional collaboration, led by the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication, and is an effort to act together as a region to help deal with the HIV epidemic in southern Africa. Over an 18-month period, producers, scriptwriters, and directors from each of the 9 countries were trained in filmmaking and the edutainment process. In each country, local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are partners of the Soul City Regional Programme, worked with the film producers to produce each film. The Untold series deals with a range of issues including HIV testing, teacher-learner relationship abuses, friendship, loyalty, fidelity, gender-based violence, growing up and making choices, living with HIV, and AIDS orphans.
According to the Soul City Regional Programme, as HIV and AIDS does not respect borders, the success in curtailing the epidemic depends on a coordinated regional response, which not only allows organisations in the different countries to share best practice, but also ensures synergy of health messages.
The series of 24-minute films aims to change complex patterns of particular sexual behaviour that put people at risk of HIV infection. According to Soul City, this cannot be done through simple messages. Through drama, it is, however, possible to deal with the journey of complex characters facing complex choices, whilst entertaining and educating. The series aims to reach people with authentic local stories that will get people talking and challenge them to reflect on their own lives and the lives of the people around them. The films are shot in the local languages of the respective countries.
According to the organisers, television is an important vehicle for reaching large audiences and has the potential to contribute significantly to Africa’s development. For that reason, the project also aimed to create opportunities for local filmmakers to develop their skills to tell new stories and grow the local content of quality dramas on television across the region.
Filmmakers and writers across the region attended an intensive 18-month accredited training course in script writing and drama film production in order to make the edutainment films. The multifaceted training programme consisted of: workshops with writers and filmmakers from across the region; follow-up assignments; and mentorship and technical support provided by well-known directors and producers on set and during pre- and post-production.
The filmmakers worked closely with the local NGO partners of the Soul City Regional Programme, who provided input on the content and messaging of the films, and were involved in much of the research and testing that formed part of the production process.
The series consists of the following 9 films (partner organisations indicated in brackets):
The Test - Malawi (Pakachere)
This is a comedy about facing fear. A successful, ambitious young Malawian man is too scared to have an HIV test at the request of his girlfriend, even though this may jeopardise his relationship.
Secrets and Lies - South Africa (Soul City)
A couple, who are unable to communicate with each other, seek comfort and pleasure elsewhere. This films looks at how HIV can enter a relationship and how keeping secrets can put people's lives at risk.
A Tempestade (The Storm) - Mozambique (N'weti Comunicação para Saúde) [See the video, below]
This is a story about domestic violence in a small fishing community in Mozambique. A young fisherman must risk his relationship with his father to save his mother from harm at the hands of his father.
Ulendo wa Rose (Rose's Journey) - Zambia (Kwatu)
This is a story about a young HIV-positive orphan in need of care and support and the choices faced by her extended family who are considering taking care of her.
Batjele (Tell Them) - Swaziland (Lusweti)
This film, set in the foothills of Manzini, tells the story of a young Swazi girl who is being abused by her teacher. In order to expose the abusive teacher, she must stand up against a community that does not believe her.
Rebel Rhymes - Botswana (Choose Life)
This is a fast paced musical drama about growing up and taking responsibility. An angry young rebel rapper, in search of fame, suddenly becomes a parent to his orphaned siblings.
Mapule's Choice - Lesotho (Phela Health and Development Communications)
A young garment worker from Maseru must keep her HIV-positive status a secret to please her abusive husband. This forces her to travel long distances to get ARVs and means she does not get the emotional support she needs. She has to choose between her husband and saving herself.
Chipo’s Promise - Zimbabwe (Action)
This is the story of a young girl, living in the heart of a township in Harare, who is forced to be a mother to her orphaned younger brother and sister, after their parents pass away due to AIDS. The film shows how they struggle to make ends meet in a community that does not want them.
Desert Soul - Namibia
Set in a funky hair salon in Windhoek, a friendship is put to the test, when the wealthy, smooth-talking boyfriend of one of the characters makes a move on her friend and business partner. Facing financial pressures due to an ailing father, she needs to make a choice between money and maintaining her friendship and new business.
From October to December 2008, these films were broadcast across the region in prime-time television slots.
The films are also available on DVD. In addition, a booklet has been developed to support discussion and debate on the issues raised by the films.
The Soul City Regional Health Communication Programme was initiated by the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication in 2002. The project seeks to build a regional network of health communicators by working with identified partners in eight Southern African Development Community [SADC] countries - Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The project aims to have impact on health and development issues, in particular HIV/AIDS, by building local capacity for health promotion through training, adaptation of existing Soul City multimedia products (print, radio, and television), and, more recently, by supporting the creation of new media products in each country.
In 2009, Soul City evaluated the impact of the Untold series as a whole. It showed that "we - as individual countries and communities - are not alone and that as a region we face very similar problems. At the same time, it showed that AIDS, domestic violence and other social problems are above culture, ethnicity, language and other differences between countries."
With the film A Tempestade (The Storm), the Mozambican organisation N'weti (partner of the Soul City Regional Health Communication Programme) won the Golden Impala short Eastern Africa film award. It was conferred in 2010 at the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival: Domestic Violence is above Culture. The film was part of a mass media campaign about domestic violence, which had as a crucial objective the passing of a law against domestic violence by the Mozambican Parliament. Oxfam Novib and other affiliates supported this lobbying project for years through the partners Forum Mulher and Women and Law in Southern Africa; in August 2009, the Mozambican government adopted a law against domestic violence.
The series is sponsored by British Petroleum (BP), Royal Netherlands Embassy, European Union, Department for International Development - United Kingdom (DFID), and Irish Aid.