Slum TV presents the other half of the Kenyan story

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The Independent Online

Men hacked to death; churches burnt to the ground; thousands of people on the move. The recent pictures from Kenya beamed across the world show a country riven with ethnic tensions tearing itself apart. But for a group of young Kenyan film-makers and photographers living in one of Nairobi's largest and most violent slums, they tell only half of the story.

"We look at what is good and what is bad. We see what is behind the scenes," said Benson Kamau, part of a group called Slum TV who were filming in Mathare slum long before the hordes of foreign television crews arrived in the country. "The international media only shows the negative side."

While the world has zoomed in on the tribal clashes that erupted following December's flawed presidential election, the Mathare film-makers have found stories of hope amid the gloom. Luo women hosting Kikuyu families, for example, or feeding centres run by local women in areas where aid agencies are too scared to venture, and a group of men from one tribe saving the life of a man from another.

Slum TV's films are made by a group of young men living in Mathare. None of them have had any formal training, save for a two-week workshop in basic shooting and editing. They are forced to take on odd-jobs, carrying stones to building sites or whatever else it takes to pay the bills. Cameras are in short supply: after funding from Austria paid for a workshop and a computer, there was only enough money to buy one camera.

But Slum TV is undeterred. Every month the group holds a public screening. Hundreds of people gather as the films are projected on to a big white sheet strung up next to a scrap of open land. The head offices of Kenya Power and Lighting Company overlook Mathare Valley, but few in the slum can afford electricity or lighting and so power is provided by slinging a cable over an overhanging electricity line.

On "show nights", Sam Hopkins, a Kenya-based artist who co-ordinates the project, can usually be found on top of a van struggling to keep the sound going and the images rolling.

Some of the biggest hits in the 18 months Slum TV has been "broadcasting" have been comedies like the tale of a crazy preacher stealing from parishioners. But everyday stories of ordinary Mathare life have also been popular footage of a man selling doughnuts, another gathering trash, or women frying crisps.

The immediate appeal for slum-dwellers is a chance to see themselves and their lives represented on the big screen, but the wider aim is to provide a living record of the slums.

In recent days, the cameramen and their subjects have been at the centre of one of the world's main news stories. Slum TV has sought to capture the good as well as the bad, but their cameras have nonetheless captured a wealth of violent material.

Julius Mwelu, the group's main cameraman, has filmed people being hacked with machetes and men dressed as policemen pulling out AK-47s and firing into the crowd. "Until now our material's been pretty innocuous," admitted Mr Hopkins. "What Julius has shot isn't innocuous. I don't think we'll be able to show that in Mathare."

* Kenya's opposition rejected bilateral negotiations with the government yesterday as President Mwai Kibaki named several members of a new cabinet, dimming hopes for a deal to end post-election violence. The developments suggest that Mr Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga were moving further apart despite international pressure to halt the bloodshed.

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