A Malawian mother’s dreams for her daughter are altered by the challenges of rural poverty. FIVARS sits down with Yankho directors John Tenny and Praises Padambo.
What led to the creation of this piece?
The VR film YANKHO was a collaboration between Orant Charities Africa, an NGO based in Malawi, Africa, and their US partner, Orant Charities. The co-directors of the film have worked together for years telling stories from rural Malawi. In 2022, they got together to write and produce YANKHO with the goal of using the new medium of VR to tell a story of rural Malawi, where both nonprofits operate.
What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?
We had only about two weeks to shoot the project after a couple of months of coordination and prep work. The early morning shot of the community water well was a technical trek in the dark, but since it was also a walk that the women in the community do every morning to fetch fresh water, it made many of our challenges seem irrelevant.
After shooting in Malawi, we commissioned a local Malawian musician to make an original soundtrack for the film using traditional Malawian instruments. We then sent the film and music to our editing team in Chile to prepare the film and master the audio. We have worked with them on VR projects before, so it was a familiar environment.
How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?
John Tenny has worked in VR in a variety of ways since 2019. When COVID-19 started, he needed to find a way to connect to his friends around the world, so he began hosting events in different social VR applications. Soon, that developed into producing purpose-built events like fundraisers and educational experiences, one of which won an award at Stereopsia LATAM in 2021.
What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?
In Malawi, it is nonexistent. Larger and richer African countries are starting to develop more of an industry around VR. Still, in Malawi, there needs to be more money or resources for the most part.
What do you have planned for the future?
This year, we are taking a break from VR production. We have worked very hard to produce a new VR experience every year since 2020, but this year, our team is focused on expanding our holistic programs in Malawi, so our next project might have to wait until 2024!
What would you like to share with fellow content creators and the industry?
YANKHO was made possible by the tireless effort of the team at Orant Charities Africa, which works hard to provide medical and holistic community support to over 40,000 people in Central Malawi. Furthermore, with the outstanding actors, chiefs, and villagers who allowed us to film their lives and families, we could tell this story.
Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?
Yes! It is through festivals like FIVARS that we can keep learning and growing. We can better develop our visions for using this technology when we meet others and see new projects.