When Arwen Kidd (BJH ’07) decided to head to Sierra Leone with her newly-minted journalism degree to make a movie, nearly everyone tried to talk her out of it. Journalism professor Sue Newhook did not, however,
“I had other people telling me I shouldn’t be doing it, or ‘Maybe you can do it later,’” Kidd remembers, as she talks about the creation of Freetown: Coming of Age. “She said, ‘Why not do it now?’”
It wasn’t a very traditional post-college gig. But Kidd was never a very traditional student. In her last year of school, Kidd did her honours thesis on post-Communist media in Romania, where she had spent the summer. And between her second and third years, Kidd did her mandatory journalism internship two years early so that she could chase stories for three months in Accra, Ghana.
“I really loved it; I had never been to Africa,” she says. “I remember thinking about the vibrancy of life on the street.” The trip gave Kidd the taste of being a working journalist in a foreign country, and she couldn’t wait to return. So as Kidd finished up the last year of her degree, she started talking with friends she had met in Ghana and at King’s. Their plan: develop and independently fund a documentary about youth in the capital of a nation recently wracked by 11 years of civil war.
“I was really lucky to be able to get the support to do that first film,” she says. “It’s not like it was a roaring success, but it was a great experience.”
With the independent documentary under her belt, Kidd was poised to embark on a global career: she has since worked in West Africa, India, and Eastern Europe. The biggest challenge, she says, is navigating the complex world of independent production.
“It’s not always an easy or short road to get a film you’re passionate about funded,” she says. “The biggest challenge has been figuring out how to do the films I want.”
Despite the obstacles, Kidd keeps uncovering compelling characters and stories. When she met Morris, a seventeen-year-old boy who lived near the airport in Monrovia, Liberia, she knew she had to create a film about his life. A year later, when she was finishing the documentary film program at Prague Film School, she returned to Liberia to make Morris the star of her final project.
“He’s just this kid who really sticks out,” she explains. “He loves talking to strangers and finding out about different countries.” Morris, the airport shoeshine boy, hopes to one day visit all the countries in the world. The film, Smell No Taste, much like Freetown: Coming of Age, unearths the difficulty of growing up in the wake of severe conflict.
When Kidd isn’t finding new platforms for her own work, she’s using her skills to give other organizations a voice. Kidd makes films for non-governmental organizations throughout West Africa. “Often, I’m highlighting people helped by their projects,” she explains. “It can be great fun: I get to see how these projects are making an impact on the lives of people.”
Her most recent endeavour? Completing a 10-part film series for UN Women. The first six films highlight various UN projects, especially efforts to improve literacy and numeracy skills in Liberia, where seven out of 10 women have never studied in a classroom. “A lot of these women have markets and are trying to sell things, and they don’t know how to count the change they’re given,” Kidd says. “Just learning the basics makes a major difference in their lives.”
Kidd may have become comfortable in Liberia, but that doesn’t mean she’s giving up on global travel. This autumn she will pursue a master’s degree in Global Media and Transnational Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, England.
The bold young filmmaker is just getting started. She credits at least part of her success to the flexibility she found at King’s. “I could follow my dreams; I could do bigger projects,” she says. “There was no reason I shouldn’t try.”