Frenchman armed with lens takes over Maathai’s conservation war

Saturday February 16 2013

By EUGENE MBUGUA [email protected]

Imagine this: It is the year 2062, and Europe has crashed environmentally, economically and socially.

The climate, after years of human abuse, has given in. Giant tsunamis have swept away great cities, leaving them shells of their former selves. The whole continent is covered in a dark cloud from volcano eruptions and nuclear accidents. Food and clean water are scarce. Death and disease are everywhere.

However, there is hope for the few who can get away. One place remains unpolluted — an oasis where the sun still shines, plants still grow and water is abundant. There is hope for those who can get away to this place: Africa.

Above is the story line of a movie, Future, to be shot in Kenya by French author and film-maker, Marc Rigaudis.

Marc, 62, looks every bit a man who would come up with such an idea. For over a decade, Marc’s life has been of rebellion and going against the odds.

“I started out in my 20’s as a photographer in London and Morocco,” he says in his heavily accented English. “In the early 1980’s, I went to Tokyo, liked it and decided to settle there. I was able to get an exhibition and landed a job as a fashion photographer.”

Peculiar style

It’s while in Tokyo that Marc developed his peculiar style of storytelling, one that also got him into a bit of controversy.

“Ijime is a type of bullying that is unique to Japan. It had been a taboo topic for many years but I decided to write about it. My story was about a teenage girl who is too beautiful for the society and who is driven to suicide.”

While Marc’s book was widely acclaimed in France and Europe, and was eventually turned into a movie, the Japanese were not happy about it.

“The Japanese thought the book was terrible. They asked why I couldn’t write about the beautiful hills of Japan or the women in beautiful kimonos. There are things that are happening every day that people don’t want to take notice of or talk about,” he says.

Marc went on to publish several books about Japanese culture in French like Sofa, Ito San and La statuette de Pierre. After his books, the French Government asked Marc to write a series about how French literature looked at Japan.

Although he does not use the title doctor, he earned a doctorate in French literature and civilisation at Montpellier University in France while developing the series. He had his thesis turned into a book, Japon, mépris (passion).

While still in Japan, Marc heard about and took an interest in Kenya.

“I met a Kenyan in Tokyo about 12 years ago and he told me about his incredible home. I started reading about the place and was fascinated by it. It was the extreme opposite of Japan where everything is so methodical and planned out. I was especially captivated by the story of the El Molo tribe that lived by the shores of Lake Turkana and only had a few people left who could speak the language.”

Shortly after, Marc travelled to Kenya and headed to Lake Turkana where the last surviving members of the El Molo lived. He made a documentary, The Last Song, about the dying tribe and how they passed their culture on to their few descendants through song. The documentary was taken up by TV 5 — the French equivalent of CNN.

Marc’s love for Kenya was cemented and he was soon back, only this time to fight desertification.

“I visited several times after that, working with NGOs like Rainmaker Japan, planting trees and that’s how I met legendary environmentalist Wangari Maathai.” The late Nobel laureate changed Marc’s life.

“I attended a few of her parties and speeches. She was a great woman with unbelievable charisma.”

Marc was so impressed with Wangari Maathai’s work that he decided to do a documentary about her.

“When she came to Japan, I started filming her speeches; I wrote a script and started doing a story about her.” But the movie was not to be. “Soon after, production was cut short because an American company contacted me and said it already had the rights to the story.”

Marc’s dream to further Maathai’s work remained alive. His new movie, Future, partly draws inspiration from her environmental work.

“My stories, whether in books or films, though fictional, draw heavily from what is happening in the world. This movie, for instance, is about migration laws and what is happening in the world environmentally.”

With its peculiar story line, Marc says he is expecting the movie to ruffle a few feathers.

“I like the fact that some people are going to hate this movie.” Marc says the film is about corruption, segregation, racism and corporate stronghold on the world.

“There are a lot of bad things happening in this world and it would be interesting if situations were reversed so that the people behind some of these inhumanity can see how it would be if they were on the receiving end.”

First phase

The movie, which will have its first phase shot before May, will star mostly Kenyan actors.

“I want to work with Kenyans to give the movie a genuine and authentic African feel. I am working with a local film company — Euphonix — and we intend to shoot a teaser before May and I will present it at this year’s Cannes film festival.”

One of the main characters in the film will be played by world renowned Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana.

“I am very glad to have Ajuma on board because she is a symbol of African beauty and she is from Turkana.”

Marc, who is currently lecturing film at United States International University (USIU) is also in the process of setting up an annual film festival for filmmakers from across the globe.

“While in Japan, an American producer friend and I developed a programme called Panorama Asia Africa and we’ve been developing a festival which USIU has agreed to host every year.”

In preparation for the festival next year, a film forum will be held to mark the end of Black History Month at the end of this month.

The purpose of the forum and the film festival, which will feature films from Japan, Turkey, Europe and the US, Marc says, is to encourage young film makers and help build the local film industry.