Kenyan VR film narrated by Lupita Nyong’o has won a global award

A virtual reality film “My Africa” narrated by Kenyan actress and Oscar award winner Lupita Nyong’o has won a global award in the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards which celebrates the world’s most effective science storytellers and stories. The film showcases community-led wildlife conservation in Samburu County, a remote area of Northern Kenya that was previously overshadowed with a dark history of poaching.

Directed by David Allen, the film was shot in Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya’s Samburu County, where the community has been rescuing and nurturing injured and orphaned baby elephants since 2016 before returning them to the wild. Reteti is the first community-owned elephant rescue centre in Africa, a part of the 394,000-hectare Namunyak Conservancy that is implementing a model of community-led conservation while reaping benefits from tourism. The sanctuary also supports local employment, education and security.

In stunning virtual reality, the film transports viewers to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, providing an up-close experience of the life of a young Samburu woman Naltwasha Leripe who takes viewers through her community’s daily life, tending livestock, digging “singing” wells deep into dry riverbanks and rescuing an orphaned baby elephant.

The nine-minute film emerged top in the Virtual Reality/360° Storytelling category for “effectively using 360 technology and resources to advance an appreciation or understanding of a scientific discipline, discovery or principle.” More than 500 film entries from around the world competed in 22 categories and at least 100 international judges screened an aggregated 1,250 hours of media before selecting the finalists.

Actress Lupita Nyong’o.

According to Business Daily, the winning films were announced last week in Boston, USA in the presence of 300 scientists, producers, filmmakers, writers and technology innovators to honour and explore cutting-edge technologies and approaches in science media.

“My Africa”, which was commissioned by global non-profit environmental organization Conservation International (CI) which supports community-led wildlife conservation in Northern Kenya in partnership with Northern Rangeland Trust—is available in 7 languages including English, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Samburu, Spanish and Swahili. In April this year, it was shortlisted for screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in the US.

According to The Star Kenya, Senior Vice President for Conservation International’s Africa Field Division Michael O’Brien-Onyeka said the film has successfully deployed the latest filmmaking technologies to tell the conservation story in a more compelling way.

“The film gives viewers an up-close and 3D experience of what community-led conservation of wildlife in a remote part of Kenya is all about,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll inspire a broader support for this model of conservation across Africa and the world.”

“Africa is the last continent on earth where significant numbers of the world’s largest land mammals still roam free, but its lands are under threat, in large part due to rapid, unchecked development, land degradation and climate change, a statement on CI reads. “Smart, sustainable use of Africa’s “natural capital” — its forests, fresh water, soil and wildlife — is crucial to both reverse the continent’s trend of scarcity and provide economic growth for its people.”