“The Sound Man” (27mins) directed by Chip Duncan.
Q&A by Abdul Rahman Ramadhan (the soundman), Salim Amin, and Patrick Muiruri
The documentary, the Sound Man, is a story of a 62 year old professional soundman called Abdul Rahman Ramadhan who has witnessed and recorded the sound of crisis including Rwandan genocide, famine and revolution in Ethiopia, civil war in Sudan, the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia, and tribal conflicts in Kenya. He has been working for more than thirty-five years with journalists, some of whom have been killed during their recording on the field. Abdul speaks his experience of what is it like to be a soundman and a witness of a scene at frontline.
The film opens its scene with the sound of a train going through a narrow way of slum of Nairobi, Kenya, where Abdul grew up. The story is told by Abdul himself, a journalist/producer Salim Amin, a journalist/producer Patrick Muiruri, and Abdul’s wife – members of a close professional or family relationship with Abdul. The documentary tells more than the words spoken as the story is being told with the archival footages they took. Some of them are so brutal you want to cover your eyes yet a scene that is invaluable. The duration of the documentary also tells us how a documentary film does not necessarily have to be three hour long to tell a story. Maybe it is more powerful when it is short and direct.
A line, “Sleep among the dead bodies of the soldiers so we don’t get spotted and killed,” describes the frontline where they can be regarded as enemy at any moment. At Q&A, Patrick Muiruri says that they were once arrested by helping a person on the street. Even giving a hand to a person is a risk to them, since it might appear that they are taking the side of the group the person belongs to. “How much you get involved in the story as a journalist is a very difficult question,” Muiruri says.
It is their recorded sounds and images from frontline that we see on media in the West, but the Western media has always had power to choose what footage to show on their screen. The footage of US armies’ atrocities during their intervention for example, was declined by the Western media. Since their footages had been mainly for the use of outside media, they say that their task now is to deliver news towards their own countries’ audience as well. As a chairman of Africa 24, Salim Amin says “I believe our work has an educational purpose. Along with that, I want to send out positive image of Africa both within and outside the continent.” Meanwhile, Abdul answers to the question why he keeps going back to frontline, “there are more stories to be told,” showing his enthusiasm of continue being a soundman. It is their words filled with enthusiasm that made the audience excited for their future journey. I was very lucky to be part of this audience.
*Featured/thumbnail image courtesy of chrisjta.ylor.ca ©, some rights reserved