Out of Africa
Fairhaven College alumnus Jordan Riber (’04) has been on a long journey from Zimbabwe to Tanzania to Fairhaven back to Tanzania back to Bellingham, collecting stories and telling them in the way his parents taught him—on film. “My mother edited on a Steenbeck in the living room when I was a kid.” Growing up with film in his veins and Africa as his home made him a compassionate and resourceful storyteller. Riber applied to Western after his sister had started. “We had cousins who went to Western, and it seemed like a good place for me.”
After Western, Riber returned to Africa. He trained his crew locally and cast his films with local talent. The result are lush films, rich in texture and color, beautifully crafted and simultaneously socially conscious and deeply personal.
“My films are frequently about public health, HIV, gender rights, anti-corruption for two reasons—these are issues I care about, and these were things I could get funded.” Riber’s work inspired and mentored locals in filmmaking and acting, creating a culture of film. "There are a handful of Tanzanian filmmakers who embraced our approach to telling local stories, which was a lot more based in everyday reality than most popular Tanzanian films are.”
Working in feature film and television, Riber navigated funding and distribution in Africa. “The film board was very supportive, but distributing a film in Tanzania is tricky. “Distributors send DVDs to movie theaters and small homemade theaters in the villages. They show local films, soccer matches, all kinds of things.”
Economic unrest has flared in Tanzania, and Riber and his wife, Debora recently decided to move back to Bellingham with their two children. Despite leaving his crew and actors in Africa, Riber believes his stories are still relevant in the U.S. “My stories are universal with traditional narratives.” And, as he’s proven in the past, he can always go back.
His film “Bahasha,” which tackles some of the corruption in Tanzania, is screening at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Toronto Black Film Festival in early February.