Engaging youth through film screenings

Insights from a Sunshine Cinema facilitator in addressing young people’s everyday challenges.

Lerato Mbowane, Sunshine Cinema facilitator
Sunshine Cinema facilitator surrounded by youth holding up informational brochures
UNICEF South Africa/2022/Mofokeng
Right to Care and Zwakala teams with Sunshine Cinema ambassadors Morena Mofokeng and Lerato Matlawa mobilizing ahead of the film screening the following day.
30 January 2023

As a facilitator on the ground, you learn that each community has unique dynamics that impact the lives of children and young people. But issues such as poverty, bullying and teenage pregnancy and other health concerns are a common factor.  


UNICEF South Africa, together with Sunshine Cinema, the Zwakala campaign and Right to Care are hosting community film screenings for young people across the country. The film viewings are followed by facilitated discussions to explore key issues that affect children and young people in their communities.

Films cover topics based on the most pressing challenges that young people face, from violence at home and teenage pregnancy to fear and misunderstanding about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Through the screening of films, along with information clips and testimonials created by Eh!Woza and the UNICEF South Africa supported Zwakala Campaign, Sunshine Cinema Facilitators lead discussions with young people as they reflect on some of the challenges they face. This includes ongoing work to help dispel some of the misconceptions around COVID-19 vaccinations and to encourage immunisation uptake.

In Chiawelo, Soweto, many teenagers raised the issue of negligence at healthcare facilities as being a major concern. They reported that nurses can be judgemental when they seek healthcare. As a result, some youth end up avoiding consultations due to the mistreatment they may encounter. The tragic impact is that they can and do end up resorting to unsafe alternatives.

So, at one of the screenings, which told stories about the importance of looking after and having agency over your own body, we worked with the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute to provide HIV testing and counselling. Health experts spoke to young women about sexual and reproductive health and shared relevant information, such as about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) that many were not aware of. What is common is that many young people do not have enough accurate information about health issues that affect them.

This became particularly clear during COVID-19, as the misrepresentation or lack of information led to confusion and misunderstanding around COVID-19 vaccinations. Infertility and potential death after taking the vaccine were rumours and concerns regularly raised by youth.

youth sitting in room watching film projected on a sheet
UNICEF South Africa/2022/Matlawa
A packed community library in Chiawelo, Soweto for the screening of “Thando”. After the screening parents and children drew on the film in describing the issues impacting their community.

That’s why educational programmes through film screenings and related discussions following the viewings are so important. They help to spark discussions that impact facilitators like myself help to manage, guiding the conversation and providing factual inputs from partners when needed. These events are important in sharing knowledge and at the same time bringing communities together.

The mistreatment of people living with disabilities and substance abuse problems has also been raised. The impact on children and young people is terrible and it is an issue that needs to be tackled urgently.

The Sunshine Cinema partnership with UNICEF South Africa, Right to Care, the Zwakala campaign, Love Life and other community-based organizations continues to not only help communities diagnose these grave issues that impact their lives, but also strengthens communities to develop their own solutions.

Sunshine Cinema facilitator surrounded by smiling youth
UNICEF South Africa/2022/Mofokeng
Sunshine Cinema Impact Facilitator, Lerato Matlawa, with the young audience outside the CCC Community Library in Soweto after watching “Thando” – a film that highlights the challenges facing young women and girls growing up in South Africa. Most of the girls described how they relate to the film and how they would like the community to be a better environment for every girl child.

There is growing demand on filmmakers to provide content that can tackle all of the current crises and challenges that young people face, many of which were made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trained facilitators are key to support these discussions and I’m proud to be able to play a role in supporting young people directly in coming up with solutions in their communities.

Sunshine Cinema has also partnered with the University of Cape Town to develop and share an online “Film Impact Screening Facilitator Course” and UNICEF South Africa has sponsored 10 bursaries for selected students. Through this course, we can broaden the base of facilitators who have the skills to hold difficult conversations and support the development of solutions with more vulnerable youth across the country.

Group of people standing outside school after receiving vaccination
UNICEF South Africa/2022/Mofokeng
Outside Esiyalwini Junior Secondary School in Soweto where first time vaccinators pose with their vaccination cards after speaking with Zwakala and Right to Care teams about the importance of getting vaccinated.

This work has been enabled and supported by the Government of Germany through UNICEF South Africa in its response to the broad ranging impact of COVID-19 on young lives.

Lerato is a graduate of the Spark Impact Apprenticeship Programme.

The Zwakala campaign advocates for and promotes vaccination as the best way to save lives, including COVID-19 and routine childhood immunisations.

Right to Care is a leading healthcare organization that began in response to the public healthcare emergency of HIV and AIDS in South Africa, and the pressing need to make medicine and care available to public sector HIV/AIDS patients.

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The UNICEF South Africa Blog promotes children’s rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from the world's leading child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in more than 190 countries and territories. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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