Award-Winning Filmmaker Eliaichi Kimaro Visits University of Redlands, Uses Film to Begin Discussion on Culture and Diversity
Photo Courtesy of: Hannah Amante
Ellie Kimaro introduces her film “A Lot Like You” before the screening begins.
By Hannah Amante
10/11/2013 at 11:34 AM
An activist for domestic violence issues, Eliaichi Kimaro had never seen herself as a filmmaker before. But having been born to a Tanzanian father from the Chagga tribe and a Korean mother, she began to contemplate how she would impart her cultural heritage to her future children.
“My path led me here kind of by accident,” she said, before screening her film on the night of Oct. 1 at the Orton Center at University of Redlands. The inspiration for her file came when she was driving in her car listening to music. She shared that one particular song stuck with her and planted an idea for a new artistic project. “I had a vision in my mind, of coming back to Tanzania and filming what my Chagga family and culture is all about, so that I could have some way of sharing that with my kid and making Chagga culture feel real and relevant to them,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t have any kids, but I was thinking ahead. And as that song was unfolding, visions of being back in Tanzania were playing back in my mind like an opening film montage.”
Despite the fact that Kimaro had never picked up a camera before, she signed up for classes and bought the necessary equipment on eBay. Seven months later, she and her partner resigned from their jobs and bought one-way tickets to Tanzania. They stayed for nine months, and a film was born, telling the story of Kimaro’s father’s side of the family, whom she interviewed extensively, and exploring topics such as gender violence, multicultural/multiracial issues, and cultural identity.
The resulting film, “A Lot Like You,” was released in 2011. Kimaro has been touring on the film festival circuit for a couple of years now, but is now working with a Seattle-based company that helps coordinate campus lecture circuits. “This film is really well-suited for schools,” said Kimaro. “I’m enjoying sort of being able to connect with folks because the film brings up a lot for people and it brings up a lot of conversation—juicy conversation—and dialogue afterward, so whenever possible I like to show up together with my film to sort of connect with people and see where that post-screening conversation takes us.”
Kimaro was introduced to last Tuesday’s audience by Leela MadhavaRau, the Associate Dean for Campus Diversity and Inclusion at University of Redlands. It had been MadhavaRau’s idea to bring her on campus. “I look to people who will generate conversations and from what I had heard particularly about this film, I thought that our students would respond to a film that looked to these questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How am I defined?’ and ‘Who defines me?’ and these bolder questions around culture.”
Since her return to the States, Kimaro has made several short videos for various non-profit organizations, often working with the same people with whom she collaborated on “A Lot Like You.”
“In terms of movies, this is probably the only one I’ll make,” she said. “I mean, it seems to have evolved in just the right way at just the right time. This is the perfect medium for telling the story, and I think I’ve now told the story I wanted to tell.”
After showing the film, Kimaro held a question-and-answer session for the audience. She also invited audience members to speak with her individually after the session was over.
Victoria Fakalata, a senior at University of Redlands who is majoring in Race and Ethnic Studies, was among the audience members. “My passions are aligned with what this movie is about: finding your identity within your culture and digging deeper into that,” she said.
As a first-generation student whose parents emigrated from Tonga 25 years ago, Fakalata’s experiences were similar to those of Kimaro’s.
“I’m just growing up in an American lifestyle where my culture is kind of pushed down and hidden in a sense, and I didn’t fully capture who I was without my culture and I didn’t realize that until I went to Tonga for the first time two years ago. I just fell in love with the people, the culture, and intuitively felt as if that was the thing that was missing my whole life,” said Fakalata, who hopes to return to Tonga to do fieldwork.
Kimaro, who lives in Seattle, is currently working with the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence on a three-year project to look for ways to address the issue of homelessness among domestic violence survivors across the entire state.
“I’m churning out a lot of videos for that,” she said.
By the end of the project, she hopes to have produced 14 short films showcasing the efforts to find stable housing for domestic violence survivors.
“Work is being done in rural communities, in tribal communities, in urban centers, in refugee and immigrant communities,” she said.
During the making of the film, Kimaro gave birth to a daughter, Lucy, who is now 7 years old. The film is dedicated to her. Kimaro said that because of the film, Lucy is more connected to Tanzanian culture than her mother had ever been growing up. Lucy has also toured with Kimaro, even participating in the question-and-answer sessions. Her answers, said her mother, are “surprisingly thoughtful.”
If there is anything Kimaro hopes her audience would take away from her film, it is that individual stories matter. “There’s like a ripple effect of storytelling, of truth-telling, that can happen when you get inspired by somebody’s story,” she said. “And I say this not because I’m going in there looking for people to be inspired by my story, but what I was able to do in this film is capture the stories of my family, in particular my aunts, and their stories in turn inspired me to make this movie.”
Kimaro has been partnering with educators, activist groups and non-profits around the country who want to find ways to use this film as a way to further their organizational missions or academic programs.
“So that’s kind of what our goal is in using this film,” she said. “Trying to use it as a springboard for that dialogue for activism. Bridging art and activism is something I feel very passionate about.”