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[Interview] – Katja Bentrah – ‘Watu Wote’ – A Short Film


Posted November 26, 2017 by

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Director Katja Bentrah and Producer Tobian Rosen’s award-winning film Watu Wote (All of us), is based on a true story and has won over thirty-five film festival awards, including the Gold Student Academy Award. The film stars Adelyne Wairimu, Barkhad Abdirahman (Captain Phillips), Fasal Ahrmed (Captain Phillips) and Abdiwali Farrah (Fishing Without Nets).

For a decade Kenya has been targeted by terrorist attacks of the Al-Shaaab. An atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust between Muslims and Christians is growing. Until in December 2015, Muslim bus passengers showed that solidarity can prevail.

Katja Bentrah started her career as a theatre tailor, but fell in love with filmmaking when she studied acting in Vienna. Her first short films (Babydoll, No one pukes in Heaven & Tilda) have been playing successfully at many international festivals. During her master studies at Hamburg Media School, she directed Where have you been, Secrecies and Watu Wote.

Producer Tobias Rosen was brought up in South Africa. After returning to Germany he worked as an actor at theater and for film, before he joined the producing masterclass of theHamburg Media School. He supervised the graduation movie Child of Fire as director and producer as well as the historical drama Valentina. Rosen also produced the shorts Secrecies, At the End and Watu Wote.

Just a handful of this must-see films awards include; Best Narrative short at Brooklyn Film Festival, Best Short Film at the oscar-qualiyfing Bermuda International Film Festival, Best Short & Best Production at the German Newcomer Awards FirstSteps, the winner of the SanSebastian International Human Rights Film Festival and the Gold Student Academy Award, which qualifies it to be considered for a live action short film Oscar.



To begin with, tell us about your film ‘Watu Wote’, what is it about?

Watu wote is a short film about a true event that happened in December 2015. It is a very powerful story about humanity, loyalty and respect.

The border area of Kenya to Somalia is considered highly dangerous. In recent years the region have been struck repeatedly by terrorist attacks.

Since a decade, the Islamist militants of Al-Shabab terrorize both, their own people in Somalia and their Christian neighbours in Kenya. Even in the heart of Africa jihadism is on the rise. On 21 December 2015 suspected Al-Shabaab militants attacked a bus in Mandera County/ Kenya.

In the past similar attacks resulted in a massacre. Mostly Christians lost their lives. Those who could not quote from the Koran were executed. This time the terrorist coerced the Muslim passengers to help them identify the Christian passengers. However, the passengers opposed.

Where did the idea come from? What was it that compelled you to start the production?

We read it in the newspaper and on the BBC Website and decided that this is the story we want to tell and want people to know about. The impact was huge… it was the days before Christmas… In our world right now – in my opinion – it is necessary to focus on a great goal or good things more or at least  as much as on the bad side… if we don‘t know where we want to be – we will never reach it. Shining a light on events where people stand up for each other, despite religious beliefs, or prejudices – just because the person next to you is a human being –  might give us a chance to realize, what could be possible.

These thoughts gave us the spirit to fight for the possibility to shoot this short film where it belongs… in Kenya. But attached was a huge responsibility… We didn‘t want to go to Kenya, “colonize“ a story and tell it from a European perspective… We wanted to find out, if Kenyan filmmakers were already planning to make a movie about it and/or if they would team up with us and give all their passion and skills into this project together. Kenya has great and inspiring filmmakers and we were able to do it all together. Lightbox Africa was our amazing partner during the project.

Tell us about the cast, who are the stars?

We found some great Actors. Adelyne Waimiru our lead actress was part of a big casting call. She was too young but very fascinating – but since THE best makeup artists in Kenya already were on board (Suki Kibungury and Valery Mdeizi) we decided to work with her and make her older.

We rehearsed a lot and worked on her part. The teacher played by Abdiweli Rakim Faarah is not an actor but was part of the project ‘Fishing without Nets’ so he had some set experience. He did a great job – rehearsing with him and other non-actors was very intense… it is important to help the actors to enter the emotional area of the character but more important to help them find their way out again. Most of our cast and extras weren‘t actors but they invested a lot of themselves and their personal experiences in the movie and I am very grateful for this. It also took a lot of courage to be part of a project with this topic.

Bakhad Abdirahman and Faysal Ahmed also starred in the Movie Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks. They also supported the project and flew in from America to help us make this happen.

When and where can we expect to see ‘Wate Wote’?

So far you can only see it on Film Festivals…

What are your influences as a filmmaker?

I spend my youth in school theatre – I became a costume tailor and I studied acting and singing in Vienna – So my influences are not only from movies and filmmakers….

My biggest influence is the art of authenticity and how people can ‘create’ it. I love experiencing new perspectives through art… I want to experience Art and Films with all my senses and I try to create something, that touches people on different levels – makes them smell, feel, hear, see and taste… and in the best case open up new perspectives…

So my biggest influence seems to be every Art project that inspires me by being truthful or creating true emotions

What advice would you give any up-and-coming filmmakers, trying to crack the industry?

The Cliché 🙂 Be yourself. Be truthful. Always work on being the best you and the best servant for each story you want to tell…

You recently won the Student Academy Award – what does it mean to you?

Winning was an amazing and surreal experience. The Academy organized a spectacular week for us – we got to meet so many amazing and talented people – talked to and heard advice from people who are living this job and passion for several decades… we learned a lot. It was just great.

But I can speak for my whole team when I say that we are not making movies for Juries or awards – but for human beings…

And: The Student Academy Award is what it is. A great door opener in several ways. Our short film and the true story behind it will reach way more people now – which is just great. And due to the attention we are getting right now, it seems like our chance to work in this job we love so much is higher now.

It was a privilege for me to be standing there and receiving this amazing award. But I was not standing there for myself.

WE were standing there as a Kenyan-German team for the people who were part of the true event – who stood and stand up for each other and who face situations like this in various forms on a daily basis – and set such an inspirational and powerful example.

What is the next step for you? Do you have any other films in production?

Currently I am working on one feature film project and already thinking about another that also seems to be quite secure. I hope that the next step for me will always be finding a story that wants to be told and touches me so much that I want to give everything I can to help it come to life and find an audience….


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Interviewed By:

Adam Snowden
Company Founder & Managing Director

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