Chosen alongside 12 other virtual reality (VR) films from all over the world, the documentary by a Nigerian filmmaker on the missing Chibok girls took home the best virtual reality story at the festival’s closing ceremony on Saturday night.
Directed by Joel Kachi Benson, the film tells the story of the 276 female students who were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram from their dormitory in the Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno state.
Hence, the VR documentary which “deals with the aftermath of the kidnappings, and explores topical global issues of gender rights and the right to education.”
Accepting the award, Benson said: “With this VR film, all I wanted to do was to take the world to the women of Chibok, who five years after their daughters had been kidnapped, are still living with the incredible pain of their absence. I felt it was wrong for us to forget or even doubt and move on.”
Daughters of Chibok was the only VR documentary from the continent at the world's oldest film festival. Other countries competing in this category included France, China, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Italy, Taiwan and Israel.
The film’s director, who runs a virtual reality film studios called VR360 in Lagos, Nigeria later shared his excitement with CNN.
In his words, “When my name was announced as the winner and I walked up on stage, it was the most surreal thing ever! Almost like an out of body experience. But I knew this was an opportunity to remind the world that Chibok is still here and the story doesn’t have an ending yet. And so we must not forget.”
A mother never forgets
A major focus of the documentary is Yana Galang, whose daughter Rifkatu is one of the missing Chibok girls. While the rest of the world may have moved on, the 51-year-old mother refuses to lose hope as she continues to wash and fold her daughter's clothes every single month.
“Rifkatu my daughter, for five years I have wept and waited, praying for you to return. I will not stop praying for you. I will never stop, and I know that one day my prayers will be answered,” she says in the documentary.
Benson, who is also listed as the editor and writer of the film’s screenplay, explains why he chose to tell Galang’s story.
“In January 2019, five years after the kidnap, I made my first trip to Chibok and I met Yana, woman leader and mother of Rifkatu Galang, one of the missing girls. Like many others, Yana can’t move on — she still washes her daughter’s clothes and packs them in a small bag, waiting for her return. Many mothers in Chibok feel the world has moved on and forgotten about them, their pain and grief. I hope this film reminds us that Chibok is still here, 112 girls are still missing. The greatest tragedy will be when we choose to forget," his director statement read.
The 38-year-old, who decided to make this film about the missing girls out of curiosity, also explained why he decided to use VR to tell this particular story.
“I have always felt like my experiences in the northeast were not fully captured. But the moment I wore a VR headset for the first time, I knew I had found a way to engross people in my stories,” he also said.
He hopes this documentary will remind people of the Chibok mothers still waiting for their daughters’ return and help provide modern farming tools for the women in Galang’s community whose source of income — farming — has been severely by the prolonged attacks by Boko Haram.
“I know it will never replace a missing child, but it will make a hard life just a little easier,” he told CNN.
This is Benson’s second VR film. The first, ‘Ín Bakassi’ came out in 2018. The short film told the story of children living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in the northeast region.