Thursday, July 22, 2010


Permaculture is the philosophy and practice of sustainable living. This documentary presents the ideology's 14 principles. Agricultural systems are designed to mimic Mother Nature. Subsistence farmers from Kiwangala and Lukindu Villages of Uganda illustrate the film with traditional examples of gardening, conservation, and energy cycling techniques.

 The ethics of Permaculture are to care for the land, care for the people, and care for the future using these fourteen principles:

1. Diversity
Permaculture is a system.  The more complex the natural system is the more fluid and productive it becomes.  The principle of diversity is interwoven throughout Permaculture.

2. The Edge Effect
The most productive pieces of land lie at the edge of two different ecological zones. This is where there is the most diversity.  Energy imput and output are highest in these places.

3. Energy Planning
Permaculture is geared to the idea of working smarter, not necessarily harder.  This reduces the wear and tear on the land and the people to ensure future sustenance. A kitchen garden is a good example of Permaculture design.  The idea is to create an organic perpetual motion machine.

4. Energy Cycling
Nothing in Permaculture is wasted.  One system's waste products are used to fuel another system.  The feeding/fertilizer cycle is a closed circuit that wastes nothing and requires no outside assistance.

 5. Scale
Top-heavy, overambitious planning can stunt growth rather than promoting development.  Start small and build off of what already works, not just what you want to work well.  Work off of strengths instead of trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

6. Biological Resources
Synthetic pesticides are expensive especially in the rural communities of the developing world.  They tend to attack the problem narrowly without solving it holistically.  If Permaculture is a biological system then ideally it should be maintained biologically.

7. Multiple Elements
Be resourceful.  If one part of the system breaks or disappears find ways to continue keeping the system productive.  When the cap to this girl's jerrycan went missing, she created a new one out of a banana.

8. Multiple Functions
A chicken is more than just a chicken.  Permaculture uses resources to the fullest so that its ecological participants become jacks-of-all-trades.

9. Natural Succession.
Be in tune with the seasons.  There's a time to plant and a time to harvest.  These are dependent on wet and dry months.  Predicting when the rains will come has been difficult due to recent climate change.  This parsley was one of the few plants to survive a recent drought.

10. Relative Location
There's a man in Japan that is 74 years old and independently maintains 12 acres of some of the most productive farmland in the world.  Areas that need the most attention should be kept close at hand.  Elements that require less monitoring can be kept further away.

11. Personal Responsibility
Permanent agriculture sustains for generations upon generations.  By planning long term for the future, you ensure through responsible management  that there are always enough resources at any present moment in time.

12. Cooperation Not Competition
When you interplant vegetable plants among fruit trees you are providing protective shade for young plants.  The shorter plants create ground cover and discourage weed growth.  It's a symbiotic relationship.

13. See Solutions Not Problems
Don't say, "How do I make this land do what I want it to do?"  Instead say, "What can this land provide me with its unique characteristics?"  Water takes the shape of whatever vessel it is poured in.  How do you adapt to the environment you've been given?

14. Observation
A Permaculturist is just as much a good naturalist.  Nature is built up out of different interactions of flora and fauna.  These sequences and relationships are rich with diversity.  Diversity makes a system fluid and productive.

Highly productive land can be very beautiful.

About the Film

This was the last movie I made before leaving Uganda.  It came about out of a series of workshops I presented to Peace Corps volunteers.  Examples came from the permaculture projects I was working on with the farmers of Kiwangala and Lukindu villages in Masaka, Uganda.

My interest in permaculture started with appropriate technologies.  My Ugandan counterparts taught me how to build tippy-taps, solar driers, firewood saving stoves, and kitchen gardens.  These devices are built out of necessity from locally available resources, but show signs of resourceful ingenuity in their simplicity.  I became interested in food security, got involved with a demonstration farm and co-op, and drew upon my experiences to develop an agro-education curriculum for the local school.  The characters featured in this documentary were my friends and neighbors.

The 14 principles come from Yayasan Indonesian Development of Education and Permaculture Foundation.  IDEP has an excellent permaculture manual that can be downloaded for free. In addition, Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture, was interviewed in an insightful piece for Mother Earth News.  These two sources were great inspiration to my work.  The Peace Corps' philosophy of sustainable development was also a major influence.

Many ideas for this movie came together while I scribbled in my notebook under this mango tree.
Read more

Monday, July 12, 2010


Media for Social Change has made the switch to Wordpress.  The new address is  The URL still works, but traffic is now redirected to Wordpress.  If you've typed in the .org URL and reached this Blogger address refresh your browser's cache. 
Read more

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Revealed Truth Part 8: The Resurrection

The ascension scene returns The Revealed Truth back to the AIDS ravaged fishing village from Part 1. After wading out of Lake Victoria, I remarked to the play's producer that the footage from the play's performance of the resurrection scene didn't come out too well. We decided to reshoot the scene in the bush down the beach from the village. The actor who plays Jesus, Pr. Josham Ssewanja, kept climbing up this hill. The cast and crew had no idea what he was doing. It was all done out of improvisation. In fact you can see one of the disciples trying to persuade him to get back down. However, we got the shot and I think it turned out well.

As Ssewanja gets to the top of the mountain he raises his arms out and looks down, creating the same iconic pose as the O Cristo Redentor statue of Rio De Janeiro. Christ the Redeemer is considered to be the largest art deco statue on earth. It is 130 feet tall, weighs 700 tons, and has been voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

I don't think that the Ugandan cast and crew were aware of the giant statue in Brazil, but there is a correlation with The Revealed Truth. Christ the Redeemer sits atop Corcavodo hill looking down into the favelas below. These slums are riddled with drugs and gangs and considered to be some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Both the Christ in Rio and the Messiah in The Revealed Truth are redeemers, not of sin, but of poverty.

From my experience in making this film, I've learned that Uganda has more than its fair share of destitution. Domestic violence, corruption, disease, vigilante law, and malnutrition make day to day life difficult. In an environment like that, one can only have hope that things will one day change.  Christ's transcendent qualities are often the only thing that keeps people going.  Organized religion is the backbone of the community.

Closely linked to the church are the faith based charities that sponsor children.
It's one way of creating redemption in rural villages, but is it beneficial for the community? Selected kids attend boarding schools in towns outside the village.  When they go to University it's hours away in the capital.  Those fortunate enough to pursue higher education become professionals in their careers. Yet, they are often reluctant to return to their homes after finding a better life elsewhere.  That's redemption for the individual, but creates brain drain on the country. The best and brightest Ugandans don't even live in Uganda.

 Foreign intervention by itself is not a viable solution. It fosters a culture of dependency that keeps things at status quo and often creates an environment vulnerable to corruption.  Today Africa must struggle with an ill-fitting Western paradigm of development. It's structured in a way that the region will be forever playing catch up to the rest of the world.  The continent's redemption must come from within. Africa is a wealth of natural resources and culture.  Those who were fortunate enough to get out of Africa in search of better education and jobs must make the Christ-like sacrifice to return to their former life of poverty so that they can lead their people out.   Africa needs to develop itself in a uniquely African way. 

I'd like to conclude The Revealed Truth blog series with a shot from the end credits.  I woke up the morning of the play to find the two donkeys grazing in front of the school.  As the day wore on it became clear that the the livestock needed to be transported to the performance area.  The crew pulled up along side a tall hill.  The donkeys were pulled on ropes up to the top.  Someone took a few 2' x 4' planks from out of the truck bed and positioned them over the space between the hilltop and the pickup.

The donkeys were led single file over the gap.  Led is not the best description.  A few guys pulled at ropes tied at the beasts' necks.  Another group pushed from behind.  Some poked with sticks.  I can't stress how risky it is to guide two large animals over a narrow, flimsy board over a ten foot abyss.  Luckily, the donkeys made it onto the truck.

Yet, that's the way life works out in Kiwangala, Uganda.  The people who live there are faced with seemingly impossible challenges.  Often the only solutions are unpredictable and precarious, but everyday Ugandans take the chance anyway.

While working and living in the country I encountered a spirit of perseverance over adversity like no other.  I mentioned in the introduction that making this film was difficult.  It took a year just to sync the audio and figure out the subtitles.  My inspiration to finish the movie came from watching the cast and crew.  Seeing them balance the burden of the world on their shoulders put my work in perspective.

Sometimes, I'd question what I was achieving by making a movie about an African passion play.  It seemed petty in light of the suffering these people are facing.  What good is art if people are starving?  Then one of the actors would see me working on my computer.  I didn't have electricity at my house, but I would bring my laptop down the road and sit in a dusty garage that had an intermittently working outlet.  The actors would come in, stand behind me, and watch me work.  When they saw themselves or a friend or neighbor on the screen, even if it was just for a moment, they would erupt with excitement.  They may have never seen themselves on video before, but they were eager to share their talents with an audience.  It gave them a feeling of importance, a feeling that they weren't forgotten by the rest of the world, that they were more than just a third world statistic.  The challenges that Sub-Saharan Africa faces doesn't boil down to economics, education, or management, but of esteem.  When someone feels they are of worth they are capable of doing anything.

I certainly can't formulate a solution for all of Africa's problems in this closing paragraph, but I believe that media has a part to play.  Awareness and advocacy comes from good communication.  Giving the voiceless a voice is the first step in creating equality on the planet.  These are ideas that I've explored in past posts and that I will continue to develop in future blog entries.

The Revealed Truth Blog Series

This is the final post of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film. The movie is about an hour long but I've broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes.  If you are reading about The Revealed Truth for the first time, the best place start is the introductory post.

The previous post was The Crucifixion.   

Read more