FLOSS on the Big Screen
Documentary film maker David Madié is on an unusual mission in Africa.
He's following a young computer entrepreneur whose story, Madié
believes, shows a different face of what condescendingly has been
called the Dark Continent.
Based in Copenhagen, Madié runs his own company, Eighty Days
Productions, which takes its name from the novel by Jules Verne.
"The story was about this man who didn't know what he was doing, [who]
went out and then thought he wouldn't make his round-the-world trip
in 80 days.... I'm new to film-making, so I don't know what I'm
doing.... But I hope I'll make it anyway," says Madié, who previously
filmed in the mountains of Nepal.
Madié's current film is a character-driven film that focuses on some of the
people involved in the Free/Libre and Open Source communities.
"Therefore," Madié says, "as much as it's a film about FLOSS,
it's also a film about fighting for your beliefs. This film
will show the characters fighting for what they believe in.
This happens to be Open Source, which I think is also an
David Madié, filming at the Africa Source 2 Camp in Uganda,
January 2006. Photo Frederick Noronha.
The phrase FLOSS, sometimes called FOSS, is an inclusive
term designed to be neutral when referring to both free
software and open-source software. Today, the FLOSS movement has
become successful in building a wide range of alternative
computing tools, including operating systems. More than that,
it is the force behind a new way of creating and sharing not
only software but knowledge, information and education.
Why did Madié choose this unusual, perhaps unglamorous and certainly
technical subject for his next project? The film maker explains, "I
used to be in the IT sector. I once ran a joint-venture company in Uganda
and came to know [the country].... I was very ignorant about Africa, as
many Europeans are, and I was surprised by the skills and the talent and
all the modern science of a capital city like Kampala, that has skyscrapers
taller than what we have in Copenhagen."
In short, Madié's experiences in Uganda were an eye-opener, and now he wants to
share that information with people in many European countries who
don't know what contemporary Africa is like. He wants to expand the
audience's view of Africa beyond the images they see on
television, images from rural areas that show only hunger,
drought, war, AIDS and corruption .
"I want to make a film that shows the life of the young,
urban generation in the cities. In this way I can show people
[what] the reality of life is there. Because I think it's
damaging to a country like Uganda if people perceive it as a
place that is so far behind, when in fact there is a middle
class, when in fact the country is progressing. I hope this
film will make a lot of people say, 'Wow, we've never seen
such a film before'," says Madié.
The film's main focus is a character sketch of James Wire, whom
Madié believes is a role model in that he fights for his beliefs and is
very "internationally oriented". In Uganda, Wire runs a
firm called Linux Solutions in Africa and has been part of the East African
Centre for Open Source Software. From mentoring young techies
just out of their teens, to working on local translation
projects, Wire has done it all. He's also quick to help
spread FLOSS skills to other parts of the continent and has
been closely involved with a number of initiatives do so.
Of Wire, Madié says, "I think he is also a role model in the sense that he
combines doing business with doing social work. To him,
these things are not opposites; these are things that can
work together perfectly work. You can do business in a social
manner", says Madié.
Madié met James when he started the joint venture in Uganda
in 1999. Later, Madié started a Web development agency with
local partners. "It was also a social business; we made money
but we also started the Web industry business in Uganda. We
were by far the biggest Web firm in Uganda. In one month, we
hired 15 people, and there were no [other] Web agencies in the country
at the time. And then we started to work for the
multi-nationals, the donors and the big local companies. And
we trained people", he says.
When he started the venture in Uganda, Madié had been in the IT industry for five years.
"Nobody then had that experience (here). We put in our
systems, procedures. Our employees (from Europe) went to
Uganda and trained the local staff. While I was in the
business, I met James, who was not doing Web sites but server
stuff, which we didn't do", Madié recalls.
But life is full of changes, and Madié has since gone into
films. "I sold my company after nine years. I continued to
work there for three more years. Then, I felt it was time to
do something new. I thought I had always been too busy to
follow my more artistic inspirations, and by accident I came
into film making", he says.
In the film world, Madié is a self-taught professional. He took two years
to learn the trade, often attending short-term training
courses. Each project evolves his thoughts and approaches to film making
a bit more. He says, "When I started, I thought I was going to make the
kind of documentaries [that have] talking heads on the screen. I soon
realised that the interesting stories are about the
characters. I'm surprised how much of the work is related to
understanding the people you are focusing on. But that makes
it even more interesting, especially if you can capture the
essence of a character in a particular situation.
It also came as a surprise to Madié to learn how difficult
it is for documentary film-makers to raise money for their
films. "We are definitely running on a low-budget, and we
have to put in hours ourselves where we don't get paid. This
means that only those who actually make films are those who
really want to make them. You can say it's those documentary
film-makers who really fight for their beliefs that get
through. Maybe that's why I'm so fascinated by James;
because we have some of the same blood in one sense."
Madié has been tracking James Wire on and off for a couple of
years. He says, "I've been filming on three
occasions so far, and we expect another three. We'll have 60
hours of footage when we're done here. We're going to end up
with around a hundred hours and will reduce that to 52
minutes. Only 1% of everything we do is going to be
in the film. That's the only way to get an interesting
Madié is aware that two other films have been made about Free/Libre
and Open Source Software, Revolution OS
and The Code. He says his documentary will be a
very different film: "First of all, because it's
filmed out of Africa, with Africans. I frankly think this is
one of the places where [Free/Libre and] Open Source is most
relevant, due to many factors. But also it's different because it
shows Africa and its capabilities in a different light."
As for when Madié's documentary on FLOSS in Africa will be released, he
says, "It's always hard to say with a documentary. But I guess it will
be released in Spring 2007. And it will go to documentary festivals, I
hope, all over the world." He sees this as an "international story, with
an international subject", as Free/Libre and Open Source Software
is on the agenda in many countries.
Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist in Goa, India.