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Cy wants to go back to Malawi

10 December 2012

A filmmaker friend of mine, Cy Kuckenbaker, was recently made semi-famous after posting the video he made of airplanes landing at San Diego International Airport (below). Maybe you saw it on The Atlantic, Gizmodo, Laughing Squid, or even the Southwest Airlines Twitter feed.

So how does a professor of African Politics know some guy in San Diego who takes film of airplanes? It turns out that Cy also made two films from Malawi. The first, Troubles in Zolokere, was a look at HIV/AIDS in a village in Northern Malawi (see trailer below).

When I taught a seminar on HIV/AIDS at UCLA, I curated a series of screenings of documentaries on HIV/AIDS in Africa and that’s how I came across Troubles in Zolokere and got to know Cy and his work. Luckily for the students in that UCLA seminar, Cy came to share a new film he was making, Bush League (see trailer below).

Bush League is a feature-length film, also shot in Zolokere in Northern Malawi. Through following a group of soccer players, Bush League tells a rather accurate story of village life. The film also captures the challenges faced by a well-intentioned outsider: Jake, a Peace Corps volunteer, and Cy’s friend in Malawi. Cy interviewed me about my research in Malawi as he was finishing up Bush League for shopping out to film festivals. It was reviewed in Variety and selected to a handful of festivals, and won Best Feature Documentary at the New Jersey International Film Fest.

Now that Cy’s “airplane video” has brought him international attention, he’s trying to harness the interest to generate resources via Kickstarter for a new project: The Malawi Family Portraits Photo Book. Do not read this thinking this is some sort of charity or development project — it’s one guy trying to go back to a place he really likes and do a nice thing for some people he knows who previously did him the favor of letting him film their lives. It just so happens that the people he knows are in Malawi, where photos can be challenging to come by, and thus are very special to those who have them. Said guy is not just a filmmaker, but also a very talented photographer.

I don’t typically use haba na haba to promote anything (exceptions: shameless promotions of my own research), but I think Cy is worth the exception. I can vouch that he is good people, and that is not something I say about a lot of people.

If you liked the airplane video or like the idea behind The Malawi Family Portraits Photo Book, I encourage you to support Cy’s next project via Kickstarter. You can also purchase some super sweet swag that uses images from the airplane video. The coffee mug is PERFECT for an office white elephant gift. There is also a great Bush League T-shirt for sale, as well as DVDs of the film. Cy isn’t out to make a buck — in fact, the films he’s made are screened freely online.

Good luck raising the funds for The Malawi Family Portraits Photo Book, Cy!

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