Press Release

Africa Refocused Announces 2024 Cohort of African Conservation Voices Producers Lab Fellows

Through a collaboration with the African Wildlife Foundation, Africa Refocused is supporting 10 filmmakers who will develop conservation films from an authentic African perspective

Ariel Gakunga of African Wildlife Foundation and Wambui Rachel of NEWF introduce the fellows at the 2024 NEWF Congress.

Photograph by Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF)

From the outset, a love of vultures, encounters with sperm whales, and a community’s transition from poaching to sustainable agriculture might seem like disparate stories.

But for 10 African filmmakers, unearthing these stories is a collective endeavor - one in which they’ll share their own lived experiences, change how people see Africa, and inspire communities to protect their nature, wildlife, and cultural heritage.

Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF) and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) proudly introduced this year’s African Conservation Voices Producers’ Lab (ACVPL) cohort of 10 storytellers at the NEWF 2024 Congress. Through this collaboration, all 10 storytellers have become NEWF Fellows. ACVPL was made possible with support from Africa Refocused, NEWF’s collaboration with the National Geographic Society.

Throughout the nine-month fellowship, these 10 mid-career filmmakers will receive support in developing, shooting, and distributing short conservation films told from an African perspective. The fellows will also participate in storytelling workshops throughout the program, including one in Nairobi in April.

With Fellows representing Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, and Mauritius, ACVPL demonstrates the true power of Pan-African collaboration, said Wambui Rachel, lead for NEWF Story Labs.

“NEWF has strengths as a storytelling organization and the African Wildlife Foundation has vast experience as a conservation organization, and now we’re leveraging the reach and impact of both,” said Wambui during remarks at the NEWF Congress. “And seeing the cross-pollination of our collective storytelling community that includes AWF’s African Conservation Voices Fellows, NEWF Fellows, and African National Geographic Explorers has been so exciting.”

The fellows’ films in development will explore themes including human-wildlife coexistence, climate change, the role of Indigenous people and local communities in conservation, community resilience, and species conservation. The cohort of new fellows are:

  • Adams Cassinga, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Kudzanai Dhilwayo, Zimbabwe
  • Shuimo Trust Dohyee, Cameroon
  • Ghaamid Abdulbasat Hatibu, Tanzania
  • Aika Kirei, Tanzania
  • Prashant Mohesh, Mauritius
  • Sama Mildred Ngenseh, Cameroon
  • Anthony Ochieng Onyango, Kenya
  • Benjamin Owuor, Kenya

“When we thought about what this collaboration could look like… we wanted fellows to be able to use the films to convene around certain issues,” said Ariel Gakunga, AWF’s Field communications, Storytelling, and Production Manager. “We have a unique philosophy at AWF. We understand that If you care for wildlife, you must care for the lands where the wildlife exist, and you must also recognize the people who live in those lands and the laws that govern them. Film is a powerful way to get leaders and policymakers to care about these issues.”

Tanzanian filmmaker Aika Kirei, one of the newly named ACVPL fellows, recently released a short film, “A Land of Lost Lakes,” through her storytelling grant for the Society’s World Freshwater Initiative. The film tells the story of Dar es Salaam’s once flourishing lakes, and she has since taken it to classrooms to inspire young learners to protect and preserve freshwater. She hopes to have the same level of impact with the film she’s producing for ACVPL, while gaining skills and experiences she didn’t necessarily have earlier in her career.

"“Many filmmakers in Tanzania don’t have access to formal training in the rigors of production… so as a result we tend to ‘learn on the job’ or from online resources,” said Aika. “That’s why I’m so happy about the ACVPL opportunity. Learning about that whole production value chain in a formal setting will really push me to the next level to coordinate large scale productions. I think it will make me a better filmmaker, a better storyteller, and a better team leader.”"

As Aika embarks on the ACVPL journey, she’s also drawing on some of the lessons learned from “A Land of Lost Lakes,” and considering what she’ll do differently, such as working with local musicians to produce the score, and refining character development.

Aika Kirei, a National Geographic Explorer and NEWF Fellow from Tanzania, shares what inspired her to produce a short film on reforesting a beloved landscape.

Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF)

For Kenyan storyteller Anthony Ochieng Onyango, the ACPVL fellowship is an opportunity to pivot into film. A career photographer, Anthony has longed to tell the story of a fishing community in Tsavo National Park in Kenya, who live in harmony with elephants. It’s a story with characters, emotion, and nuance that film can capture in ways photography may not.

“Often we hear about the conflict between people and elephants. But one of those fishermen told me, ‘these elephants are like my brothers. We’re always happy to see them,’” said Anthony. “This community knows the routines of the elephants - like which one is the stubborn one. They know when the elephants are moving from the highlands to the lakes, and they share water resources during times of drought. Film is going to be a compelling way to tell this story.”

Some of the new ACVPL fellows are longtime youth educators and community leaders, so filmmaking is a natural extension of the storytelling they’re already doing in classrooms and informal settings.

With the ACVPL fellowship, Prashant Mohesh, a National Geographic Young Explorer, is excited to join the NEWF community as one of its first fellows from Mauritius.

“Mauritius is a bit underrepresented in Africa’s conservation stories, but it has such a rich marine heritage,” he said.

Prashant has led summer camps for young divers, youth ocean photography workshops, and beach cleanups to make people aware of the perils of human litter in the ocean. Ultimately, he hopes his short film - using sperm whales - will be yet another vehicle to inspire youth to become stewards of the ocean.

“Sperm whales are the gentle giants of the ocean. They’re abundant in Mauritius, all around the island. So I’ll be highlighting why they're so important to our ecosystem and way of living,” said Prashant.

Sama Mildred Ngenseh, a Cameroonian social worker turned documentary filmmaker, envisions her film will be a tool for peacemaking and social inclusion. She’ll be profiling a semi-nomadic community from southern Cameroon who were once engaged in poaching and game hunting as a source of livelihood - but are now embracing agricultural practices that promote conservation. Policymakers will be a critical audience for her film, she shared.

“In this region of Cameroon, there has been a conflict between governments and Indigenous people over land,” she said, “I want governments to understand the role of Indigenous people in conservation, and understand we can all cooperate.”

NEWF’s Wambui Rachel said the ACVPL selection process reinforced how many creative ideas there are coming from around the continent. Some of the applications that were not selected could also be put forward to other fellowships and Labs within NEWF, she added.

The ACVPL cohort’s films are expected to be showcased at the 2025 NEWF Congress. Some of the fellows aspire to bring their films to governments, classrooms, and wider audiences. For Kenyan filmmaker Benjamin Owuor, it’s also a chance to be part of something bigger: contributing to the stories that will be shared with future generations.

“I’ve always been inspired by the stories I heard from my parents, grandparents, and the people around me,” he said. “As Africans, our ways of conservation will be passed down through these stories.”

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About Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF)

NEWF is a platform in Africa for filmmakers, conservationists and scientists to engage, network and contribute through storytelling towards a shared vision of protecting the earths’ natural assets for future generations. NEWF started out as an annual Congress in 2017 and has grown to become an all year round capacity building, impact and outreach organization building a connected network of Africans advocating for the protection of the continent’s natural habitats and wildlife through visual storytelling. NEWF’s vision is that the stories of Africa that celebrate and advocate for the protection of her natural history are told by a connected network of visual storytellers organically led by indigenous African voices. NEWF’s mission is to remove the barriers to entry and build capacity in order to enable access, support inclusion and foster a culture of equity for African nature, environment and wildlife visual storytellers.

About African Wildlife Foundation

The African Wildlife Foundation is the primary advocate for the protection of wildlife and their habitats as an essential part of a modern and prosperous Africa. Founded in 1961 during the African independence movement in order to build our capacity to steward our natural resources, AWF articulates a uniquely African vision, bridging science, education, public policy, and field programs to demonstrate the benefits of conservation and build a future for Africa where people and wildlife thrive.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.