PROJECT :: Supporting Conservation Efforts

In late 2009, the Great Apes Film Initiative was struggling in its efforts to bring conservation education to communities located on the edge of the Mgahinga national park, Uganda. It was a victim of its own success, all too often turning people away from screenings due to overcrowding, with some children having to walk more than 20 miles back to their homes without seeing a single image of the mountain gorillas that live unseen alongside them. What was needed, founder and director Madeleine Westwood saw, was an affordable, sustainable and eco-friendly way of bringing film to even the smallest of villages. More importantly, removing the dependency on the plug socket and inadequate village buildings.

The solution? The Pedal-Powered Cinema Project.

The technology? The Pedal-powered Field Cinema

The technology is relatively straight forward, the back wheel of a stationary bike turns a permanent magnet motor (or generator), which then powers the projector and sound system. About a minutes worth of energy is stored in an Ultra Capacitor to allow a change of cyclists. Even by pedal-powered cinema standards, the screenings taking place across east Africa are simple affairs, with just one or two children’s mountain bikes hooked up to the system and a single guitar amp providing the sound. This means that the whole cinema can be set up and dismantled in a matter of minutes. Moreover, it’s lightweight enough to carry up to most hilltop villages, yet sufficiently robust to withstand the bumps and potholes of a typical road in rural Uganda. The carbon footprint and running costs are minimal.

It’s not simply a matter of the bikes being cheaper or greener to run than a petrol generator. If you hook up a petrol-powered generator in a school in Kisoro district to screen a film on gorillas and most of the school’s pupils will show up, but do the same using pedal-power and their teachers, parents and grandparents, as well as local officials will come along as well. And they’ll all queue up for a turn on the bikes. There’s simply something communal about the pedal-powered cinema.

Since the project launched less than 12 months ago, around 43,000 children, as well as several thousand adults, have attended a screening in Uganda. For many, this will have been the first time they have seen images of gorillas, despite the fact they live right alongside the national park set up to protect the great apes. According to GAFI, the screenings are not just popular, but they are effective too, not least in teaching people about the plight of the gorillas and their natural habitat.

This simple technology has the potential to transform conservation outreach, as well as public health, agricultural training and many other initiatives that use film as an educational tool, right across the developing world.

We currently have pedal-powered field cinemas in use in Uganda (Ape conservation), Sumatra (Orangutan conservation), Tanzania (Forest Preservation) and DR Congo (Ape Conservation). We would love to put the system to use with more projects and in more countries, so please get in touch if you are interested in purchasing one or learning more.

(Note: on this page we have referenced text taken from The Guardian blog post written by David Hewitt)


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