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We Want the World to Remember Daughters of Chibok – Joel Kachi Benson

Documentary filmmaker Joel Kachi Benson, the first African to win the prestigious Virtual Reality award at the Venice International Film Festival, shares his journey with The Interview.

Joel Kachi Benson is founder and Creative Director of JB Multimedia Studios / Photo credit: Joel Benson
Joel Kachi Benson is founder and Creative Director of JB Multimedia Studios / Photo credit: Joel Benson

What’s the motive behind Daughters of Chibok?

As a storyteller, you want to get to the root of the matter, and that was my main attraction to doing a story on Chibok, to find out the truth for myself.

Were these girls really abducted? Does this place called Chibok truly exist? I wanted to find out the truth for myself, and so, I had to go to Chibok.

It was a story that I have always been curious about. And I also wanted to make it in VR because for me, with VR, I can take people to Chibok.

So, Chibok is a place many people have heard of but very few people have been there. It is far, it is high-risk, and it is wrapped in all these mystiques; this mystery.

I felt that with virtual reality, we could demystify this place, and take people there, let people see it as it is.

How did you meet Yana Galang, the focus of your documentary?

One thing is: those women are living in abject poverty. They don’t have any form of psychosocial support, they don’t have any form of therapy, and I felt it was wrong on so many levels

I was making another documentary that took us through Chibok.

It was a regular documentary I was commissioned to make on the insurgency, and that took us through like four or five states in the northeast and different communities.

One of those communities was Chibok. We were supposed to pass through Chibok and film the school where the girls were kidnapped, and I felt it was a fantastic opportunity to go to Chibok.

I always travel with my VR camera – just in case. So when we got there, my first question was that I wanted to meet the people; I wanted to meet these women; I wanted to speak to them.

We were introduced to a couple of women. Yana was introduced to us as the women’s leader.

She was our first interface, and she took us around different places, telling us different stories. Through her, we met other people.

Originally, my story was not meant to be on Yana. The story started with Yana’s daughter, who is the step-sister of Rifkatu that was kidnapped.

So, I started with Laraba. We had spent the first day filming Laraba: followed her to school and all of that.

And then, when we got back from the school, I said to my guys that I wanted to go speak with Yana, let me just interview her.

Before she started speaking, I knew I had been barking off the wrong tree. I knew this was my character. It wasn’t a hard decision to make at all.

One of the things that the women told me was that in the beginning, it seemed like everybody cared, but now, the world has moved on, and it was important for me to mention that to the world: “you cannot move on from this tragedy because it is not over yet.”

How overwhelming was it for you when you learned you won?

I was notified of the win the day before, which is what actually happens in Venice.

The award ceremony is only for winning producers or directors; no other person is invited.

So I already knew. But you see, before we left Nigeria for Venice, we had proposed in our hearts that whatever happens in Venice is an opportunity to amplify the voices of these women.

The project was born out of curiosity but halfway through the project, my focus shifted.

It became a campaign for the women because I saw something there that no one has spoken about; no one has talked about these women, everybody talks about the girls.

One thing is: those women are living in abject poverty. They don’t have any form of psychosocial support, they don’t have any form of therapy, and I felt it was wrong on so many levels.

And they are the ones in that community who are the pillar of their homes, they are the ones who go to the farm, they are the ones who take care of their children, they are the ones who send them to school, pay their school fees, and then they are the ones who have to bear the burden of the loss.

I felt it was really, really wrong on so many levels. I resolved in my heart that the film will be used as a vehicle to get support for the women.

And so, when we were nominated to go to Venice, I felt this was an opportunity to take that message to the world stage.

The win was a huge surprise and shock to all of us. I spent the next 24 hour rehearsing my speech because I felt it was an opportunity to say something about the film, and say something about these women.

I remember going over it, and then I sent it to my wife to have a look at it.

We all did that back-and-forth until we felt, yeah, this is the message that you should send to the world for everyone to hear.

And so, when my name was called, I prayed, “Lord, please let me not forget any lines.”

Before I mounted the stage, I inquired if I could bring out my paper and read, and they said yes, but as long as it is not too long.

They announced my name, got there, pulled it out. I felt it was an opportunity to say something important about the plight of these women.

One of the things that the women told me was that in the beginning, it seemed like everybody cared, but now, the world has moved on, and it was important for me to mention that to the world: “you cannot move on from this tragedy because it is not over yet.”

The book doesn’t have a closing chapter; 112 girls are still missing. We can’t afford to move on.

The film served as a reminder and everybody seemed grateful about that – the opportunity to remind them. And not just remind them, but to take them there

What were some of the positive feedback you got for the documentary?

I mean, everybody kept saying “thank you for reminding us.” It was interesting.

I had people from Taiwan, Korea, Brazil, Australia, everybody, without exception.

Everybody from across the world had heard about Chibok, they knew about Chibok, but like what the women said, “Some of them had forgotten.”

So, the film served as a reminder and everybody seemed grateful about that – the opportunity to remind them. And not just remind them, but to take them there.

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