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Documentary: Waithira

Director: Eva Munyiri

Cinematography: Eva Munyiri

Director Eva Munyiri explores the life and legacy of her late grandmother, in the touching visual biography, Waithira. The premise of this documentary was inspired by Munyiri’s belief that though she barely knew her grandmother, Cucu Waithira, she had a hand in shaping the woman Munyiri is today. As a competing documentary, Waithira is no mere story about a woman’s journey of self-discovery; it is a narrative about the pertinence of preserving the generational teachings of African women.

The narratives of Waithira enact the different experiences of a family inspired by their late grandmother. These stories, captured through Munyiri’s cinematography, recount major periods and moments of family members who candidly share how Cucu Waithira personally inspired their decisions and shaped their resilience. The manner in which Munyiri uses interviews and visual narratives to highlight the contrast between the experiences shared by different generations emphasises just how much knowledge is lost from one generation to the next.

“We are the generation that has forgotten”, remarks Munyiri, referring to how little she knows about the issues of colonialism and migration issues encountered by her Kikuyu people, who hail from from Kenya. This notion is reinforced through the descriptions weaved by the various generations within Munyiri’s family. The account of Munyiri’s uncle reflects his knowledge about the struggles of the Kikuyu people. This differs from her cousin's account, who makes little reference to the history of the Kikuyu people; choosing rather to share current life experiences. This reinforces Munyiri’s statement of “the generation that has forgotten”.

The audience soon discovers that this notion of not knowing about one’s personal history is through no fault of Munyiri’s own. The generation of Munyiri’s parents hesitated to share their hardships because they did not want to traumatise their children. What’s more, the history of indigenous people is rarely taught in schools. Though this documentary is a personal reflection, its theme of the preservation of indigenous history is one of great importance in the entire African continent, making Waithira a timely and significant piece.

What could possibly confuse the audience is the rigid flow from one interview to the next, as there is no thematic link between each interview. This however, does not take away from the relatable narratives shared by the members of Munyiri’s family. The use of narration and personal imagery pulls at one’s heartstrings, further connecting the audience with the story of the late Waithira. Waithira, is a not only a tribute to a woman whose life inspired Munyiri’s parents, but Munyiri herself.

This story emanates from the Student Media Lab, a collaborative student-reporting project spearheaded by the Centre for Communication Media and Society in partnership with The Durban International Film Festival. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the student reviewer, Nongcebo Ngcobo. MaNgcobo is a Culture, Communications and Media Studies student at the University of KwaZulu Natal. Give her pizza, and you’ve won her heart.