On your bike – cinema comes to remote Ugandan villages

Posted on March 12, 2011


This week I was mortified to see just how much my electric bill has gone up. It’s a utility I know I can’t live without, but it makes me so cross that certain companies are hiking up their prices even when they’ve earned a bumper profit in the recession.

Electricity is something I think we don’t really appreciate until we have a power cut and our “modern” lives grind to a halt, albeit temporarily. I remember when London had a blackout in August 2003 and the entire capital went into meltdown; radio and television journalists commented that the Blitz spirit had kicked in, which is a joke because we were only in the dark for a few hours – hardly a hardship. Imagine if there was no electricity everyday.

In many remote villages around the world, that’s the norm. The Great Apes Film Initiative (GAFI) is a charity that aims to promote great ape conservation through film and television. A bit of a tall order if there’s no electricity right?

Mountain gorilla with infant, photo copyright of Andy Gray

GAFI together with the Ape Alliance; an ingenious young inventor, James Beecher, and four other creative people Katy Jedamzick, Theo Webb, Colin Tonks and Simon Beer developed a pedal powered cinema. The projector uses energy generated from the humble bicycle to power film screenings in areas where there is no electricity. So if you have the stamina of Lance Armstrong you could feasibly watch quite a few films.

This mobile cinema was taken to Africa to screen conservation films to raise awareness among school children and adults about the plight of endangered great apes (gorillas; bonobos; chimpanzees; orangutans). What’s clever about the pedal-power cinema is that it can be packed away and the bicycle used again, to actually travel to the next village – very eco-friendly.

So far it’s been used in Uganda and more than 12,000 children and adults have come to various screenings. This year GAFI hopes to reach 160,000 in the Virunga region.

Director of the GAFI, Madelaine Westwood told me: “Uganda pedal power was amazing, much more successful than I could imagine. It has generated a lot of interest internationally and GAFI and the technical team are now building the second pedal powered cinema system for our partner, the Sumatran Orangutan Society, which will begin to screen films in Sumatra this year.

“We’ve had 14 requests for pedal-powered cinema systems to go to Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sulawesi, Borneo, Sierra Leone and more in Uganda which would support conservation and education initiatives for all of the four great ape species.”

Inspirational work by GAFI let’s hope those riding the bike have lots of wheel-power (sorry couldn’t resist the bad pun!).

Here’s a short film about Uganda’s first taste of pedal-power.