Yellow Card - A powerful tool for change

International agencies interested in the sexual health of youth in Africa have invested in the making of Yellow Card because they recognise it is a powerful tool for change.

The full-length feature film is a sequel to a much smaller film about teenage pregnancy, Consequences, which was shot in 1988 and has been seen, mainly on video, by millions of people across Africa.

A 55 minute film shot on 16 mm, Consequences was Media For Development's first film in Africa. Consequences pioneered the way for MFD's revolutionary distribution network and set the formula for using commercial cinema format to reach youths in Africa on issues of sexuality.

Over a decade ago Pathfinder International, which had its base in Kenya, was MFD's principal investing partner in Consequences. The film was an innovation in Pathfinder's outreach to policy makers, parents, educators, community leaders and youth.

Since then, Pathfinder's role in bringing reproductive health options to Africa's youth, has been complicated substantially by the advent of HIV/AIDS and persistent poverty. Elizabeth Lule, who took over as Pathfinder vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa in 1992, has extended Pathfinder's reproductive health programmes into new African territories. The scope and scale of Pathfinder's activities has multiplied. With all of this, Ms Lule recognised "the need to update the movie".

Yellow Card, was in the making. In 1998, after flighting the idea of an "update", numerous agencies were eager to support the project. A small film for half a million American dollars was intended, but huge donor interest trebled the budget inside of six months.

The United Kingdom Department For International Development (DFID), USAID, supported by REDSO/ESA, and Ford Foundation all chipped in with grant money. About half the investment of US$1.5 million was set aside for research and development and production. The other half was for post production and distribution.

Built into the budget was an editing capability for MFD through the introduction of state-of-the-art Avid digital editing suite. The suite was used to edit Yellow Card and will be an invaluable bottom-line investment for future MFD productions.

Yellow Card was shot in English but the up-front budget also included vernacular dubs in Shona and Ndebele for Zimbabwe and French and Swahili dubs to reach ever-expanding audiences.

As executive producer of the Yellow Card project, Pathfinder's Elizabeth Lule, has pushed African cinema into the arena of combating HIV infection, abuse, abortion and unwanted pregnancy. Her fundraising efforts largely secured the making of a 90 minute feature film which not only had commercial potential but, critically, would be used as a talking point for teenagers faced with life-choices. The whole investment package also included the making of a support video and texts "used throughout the region," says Lule, " to trigger discussion on sexuality."

As Neil Miller at DFID, one of the instigator's of the British agency's involvement in Yellow Card, says: "The era of edutainment is here and Media For Development exemplifies this. It is clear they are a committed team of true professionals producing high quality work which not only tells a story, it also sells a message."

Miller also supported MFD in the making of Everyone's Child, a film about children orphaned by AIDS, and is clearly excited about the effect that Yellow Card will have. "The innovative approach of producing a training package with the film significantly increases its value and allows it to be used in many situations to promote discussion and encourage debate. This is a powerful tool for change," he said.