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Short Film ‘Watu Wote’ is Harrowing Glimpse into the Power of Solidarity

Watu Wote is a 2017 short film about a group of travellers on a bus in Kenya who must come together in the face of terror.

You’re probably aware than certain countries in Africa are in decidedly devastating states of upheaval, and while these tragedies barely get attention in the Western news, they continue to be some of the most distressing situations on the planet. Eastern Africa in particular has been suffering greatly, with wars in Somalia creating an international crisis as refugees flee for survival. In Ethiopia and Kenya, bordering countries of Somalia, also, a militant jihadist fundamentalist group called Al-Shabaab is waging a violent campaign against the “enemies of Islam”, doing so for more than a decade. The United States has been militarily involved with Somalia in some respects, including operating drone strikes to curb their influence in 2014, however the group, which was once aligned with Al-Qaeda, remains active and powerful, responsible for the Westgate shopping mall attack and the 14 October 2017 Mogadishu bombings.

Like any geopolitical conflict of such scale, it can be sometimes hard to put a face on the horrors committed in this part of the world and what life is like on the ground where people just trying to get by. A few filmmakers are attempting to do so, in hopes of illuminating the hard truth of what many consider a daily way of life. One such filmmaker is Katja Bentrah, whose short film Watu Wote (English: All of Us) makes for a powerful statement on the crisis, revealing that while religious persecution and conflict might be the catalyst for why these groups remain in action, the people under their thumb are not always willing to believe their methods are just, bonding in ways that prove humanity is always stronger when united under sympathy than anger.

In the 18-minute story, we follow a Christian woman named Jua (Adelyne Wairimu) chartering a bus on a long journey, later learning she is visiting a relative. The bus is boarded by mostly Muslims, and she is initially uncomfortable with them, and for reasons that becomes painfully clear at a stop on the trip when she has words with one of the Muslim men, whose pregnant wife is seated beside her. The bus, which is meant to have a police escort, is left without one, and sure enough, on an isolated stretch of road, they are ambushed by heavily-armed Al-Shabaab gunmen, who are hunting Christians. They deboard the passengers and huddle them in the sand and make violent demands, leading to a moment of true inspiration.

Watu Wote is mostly a dialogue-free film and even without the few that there are, visually tells a harrowing story, one that is based on a real event in December 2015. It is a slice of life in these traumatic times that, even in its brief runtime, paints a vivid picture of what it means to exist in the cities and countries of Eastern Africa. It’s a very confining and concerning ordeal for Jua, who navigates narrow, crowded streets pulsing with tension. All around her are people with guns, mini battles for control erupting seemingly everywhere. She eventually is crammed onto the bus loaded with passengers, sitting resolutely and silent. She carries well-earned, deep-seated vitriol for the Al-Shabaab, which bleeds into Muslim distrust all around, and Bentrah subtly shifts Jua to become the symbolic face of the world entire, where many are tainted by the actions of a few. It’s a state of mind that is ripe for change.

The takeaway of all this is truly what gives Watu Wote its power, stripping away the borders of what defines the religiosity of these people to expose what truly binds us: our humanity. A moving and eye-opening experience, the award-winning short, which is being considered for a live-action short film Oscar, should raise awareness and interest in more stories of the people behind the news.

Short Film ‘Watu Wote’ is Harrowing Glimpse into the Power of Solidarity

Director(s): Katja Benrath

Actor(s): Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Abdiwali Farrah

Genre: Short Film, Drama

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