Originally posted on the BBC Media Action Insight blog by Melanie Archer, Digital Editor, BBC Media Action, on December 15 2016 - Films in the international development sector are often associated with fundraising but they can also serve as a form of aid in themselves. Films can help mothers manage a pregnancy, assist refugees as they navigate life in an unfamiliar country and influence perceptions of what politicians can achieve.

The annual Golden Radiator Awards is a prime opportunity to learn about some of the more creative films the international development sector has produced over the previous 12 months. From the creators of the seasonal (and satirical) Radi-Aid app, these Awards laud charity fundraising films that go beyond stereotypes in their storytelling.  

But what about films for people in development settings?  In parts of the world where radio is still king (though this is rapidly changing), it’s perhaps not surprising that there aren’t as many development films. But while not as plentiful in supply as those geared towards western audiences, examples of such films do exist and can be a powerful tool for meeting the needs of aid beneficiaries. Here are five examples. 

From Kakuma to Rio

As this year’s top trending topic on Twitter, the Rio Olympics undoubtedly held the world’s attention over the summer. The 2016 Games made history by welcoming the first-ever Refugee team, five out of ten of whom came from Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

To ensure that the people of Kakuma could witness the achievements of their fellow residents, a satellite feed was set up in the camp so people could cheer on the athletes live. This film tells the story of the broadcast, raising questions about what it meant for residents to see their peers achieve great things in places so far-removed from Kakuma. This FilmAid video was shot and edited by Abdul Patient, a refugee from Burundi who lives in Kakuma, demonstrating the power of utilising local film-makers and photographers.  

Turning teenagers on – to safe sex  

With top-quality production values and the unique resonance of the MTV brand with young people, MTV Shuga is well-placed to get its audience of teenage urbanites across Africa to engage in less risky sexual practices. This Season 4 clip shows two characters make a rather embarrassing visit to a family planning clinic on a quest for condoms.

A World Bank evaluation of the show’s third season (produced in Nigeria) showed that those  who watched it as part of a randomised control trial were almost twice as likely to go get tested for HIV. And this isn’t just them saying they’re going to go – the researchers verified whether viewers actually visited a testing centre as part of their six-month follow up survey.

The next season will see the show move to South Africa, where it will continue to push boundaries by featuring a gay character and discussing Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication to help prevent HIV infection. Shuga is but one part of a long tradition of communication underpinning successful HIV prevention efforts.

The West Wing comes to Kathmandu

This is the opening episode of Singha Durbar, a political drama from Search for Common Ground about the fictional first female Prime Minister of Nepal. Singha Durbar means “The Lions’ Palace” in Nepali, which is the seat of the country’s government.

Nepal is a prime environment for a drama about good governance. Having adopted a new constitution a little over a year ago, the country is going through a complex and challenging democratic transition, all while grappling with high levels of corruption.

How to manage life as a refugee

As they navigate border crossings and travel from one unfamiliar country to the next, information is invaluable to refugees fleeing crises. When people aren’t familiar with the local language, customs or bureaucracies, it’s especially important to let them know what their rights are, which services are available and the processes they’ll need to go through, as well as to provide them with some light relief.

This BBC Media Action film warns refugees against being tricked into paying for fake services. It’s part of a series played at UNHCR reception centres in Lebanon and Jordan, where people often have to while away hours waiting to be seen by officials. From practical advice about where to get medical treatment and vaccinations, to information on trauma, immigration and domestic violence, these films help people cope with life as a refugee.

From one midwife to another 

Media can be an effective way of training health workers at scale and – with 53 million around the world giving birth without a skilled attendant – there's clearly a pressing need for better maternal health knowledge and skills.

Founded in response to babies dying in Darfur from tetanus due to their umbilical cord being cut with a dirty knife, Medical Aid Films makes videos that provide health workers and communities-at-large with simple but life-saving information. This particular film talks midwives through how to negotiate obstructed labour.         

The organisation produces videos in a range of languages, from Haitian Creole to Indonesian Bahasa, and tweaks its animations so regional versions more closely resemble the parts of the world they’re targeted at. The number of views on YouTube doesn't really do justice to the reach of these films, which can be downloaded for free and are distributed on DVDs and USBs to later get played on TVs in waiting rooms in Uganda and handheld projectors in Zambia.

Melanie Archer is Digital Editor of the Media Action Insight blog; she tweets as @MelanieBArcher

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