There is a critical need for stories about Africa to be told by and from the perspective of African people. To address this, National Geographic Explorers Noel Kok and Pragna Parsotam-Kok co-founded Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF) and collaborated with the National Geographic Society to develop Africa Refocused to create a space for African storytellers to own and drive the narrative about the need to protect the continent’s natural habitats and wildlife. Since NEWF’s founding in 2017, Kok and Parsotam-Kok have built a community of talented storytellers from across Africa—referred to as NEWF Fellows—who participate in professional development workshops—called NEWF Labs—which cover a range of highly specialized skills such as dive certification, cinematography, editing, music composition, post-production, and science communication.
In addition to these labs, NEWF offers training, mentorship, connections, and industry experience needed to advance their projects and careers. NEWF’s ultimate mission is to remove barriers to entry and foster a culture of equity for African storytellers. When an emerging storyteller joins NEWF, they not only build expertise but they become part of a community of changemakers—a family of influential and impactful scientists, conservationists, composers, and filmmakers who are refocusing the narrative of the continent. To date, there are 137 Fellows from 26 countries—from Morocco to South Africa, from Nigeria to Tanzania, and beyond—who are paving the way for present and future generations to ensure that African nature and wildlife stories are increasingly told by, and prominently feature, a diverse network of African storytellers.
Get to know 10 of our NEWF Fellows:
Jamila Janna,📍 South Africa
Marine biologist Jamila Janna is a master’s candidate at Stellenbosch University researching fish biodiversity. She is also a part-time communication’s officer, blog writer, and mentor at #SeaTheBiggerPicture. She graduated from University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2018 with a degree in marine biology. Her background is in stable isotopes, estuarine and coastal ecology, filmmaking, science communication, and marine activism. In 2019, she was selected as a NEWF Fellow and directed the film Hluleka, which presents solutions on a more inclusive future in marine conservations. Hluleka was awarded the Best Enviro and Wildlife Film award at the Simon Mabhunu Sabela KZN Television and Film Awards in 2022 and now, Janna is working on a second film with NEWF that will celebrate and preserve knowledge on fish traps in Africa.
Jesse Manuel, 📍Angola
Jesse Manuel is a professional photographer from Angola. In 2022, he documented a canoe exploration of the Lungwebungu River from its source in Angola to the border with Zambia for the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (Into The Okavango). He also worked on the production of a photo book about the province of Namibe. In 2021, he documented the impact of COVID-19 on informal trade in Angola for the United Nations Development Programme and was named to Bantumen’s Powerlist 100. Manuel produced a video about Baía dos Tigres, in Namibe, for a program called “Wonderful Places,” which premiered in June 2021 on Amazon Prime and HBO. In 2019, the international organization (RED) named Manuel as one of 13 Africa-based photographers to follow on Instagram. He has received several awards for his photography––including the national prize for FotoRali 2014––and his photography has been featured in a number of exhibitions.
Labdi Ommes, 📍Kenya
Labdi Ommes is a Kenyan singer-songwriter and orutu (an African single-stringed fiddle) instrumentalist. Her vision is to popularize African music culture, sounds, and indigenous instruments to reintroduce them to the world. She is currently the only female orutu player in East Africa, as it was taught only to men in the past. Ommes experiments with indigenous Kenyan genres such as taarab, ohangla, mwomboko, and benga. She has performed at local and international festivals and concerts including the Oslo Afro Arts Festival, Bergen International Music Festival, Noise on the Nile, Nyege Nyege-Uganda, and GMA Addis Ababa. Ommes was selected to be part of the NEWF Compose Yourself Lab in Durban, South Africa. She and other NEWF composers have performed at the NEWF Summit, Jackson Wild, and the National Geographic Storytellers Summit. She hopes to continue sharing her talents with the world and to keep inspiring young women to pursue every form of expression within the context of traditional African instrumentation.
Malcolm Rainers, 📍South Africa
Malcolm Rainers is a filmmaker who is fortunate to have been able to do work in other parts of the world, but most notably on the African continent where he finds greater meaning to the work he creates. Rainers has a bachelor’s degree in cinematography and has been creating films and videos since 2013. He has been running his own company since 2017, helping impact-driven organizations to illustrate their missions through video content. As of 2019, he has been working with organizations like Greenpeace to create documentary films that shine a light on pressing environmental and social issues. At the end of 2022, he had the opportunity to work on a three-week wildlife shoot with Silverback Films which he considers the cornerstone of his wildlife career. It’s his dream to build companies that strengthen South Africa, to produce independent films at leisure, and to keep an open mind with his art in an ever-changing world.
Mariette van der Walt, 📍South Africa
Born with a love for the natural world, Mariette van der Walt spent her childhood exploring the great outdoors, watching David Attenborough shows, and reading her dad’s National Geographic magazines. She went on to study zoology and earned a doctorate in the study of bats, gaining a greater understanding of these fascinating creatures and their crucial role in their ecosystems in the process. Continuing this work as a postdoctoral fellow, she passionately advocated for their conservation through her research. This led her to join NEWF’s Wild Science Media Lab as a 2022 Fellow, where she rediscovered her creative side and learned how to turn science into exciting stories. Along with five other scientists, she produced a short film about lead poisoning in crocodiles in St. Lucia. Since then, she has quit her postdoctoral work to pursue freelance opportunities and has since served as a production assistant for National Geographic Society and Red Nature Films, learning valuable industry skills and reveling in her freedom.
Nancy Iraba, 📍Tanzania
Nancy Iraba is a marine scientist, researcher, and science communicator from Tanzania. In 2017, she launched the Aquatic Resources Education Program, which has educated more than 1,500 students in six primary and secondary schools about the importance of marine conservation practices. She has been recognized as the 2017 Hidden Eco-Heroine Award recipient by the Republic of Korea for her work with young people, and as a 2019 Upcoming Woman in Marine Sciences. She consistently keeps local communities at the center of her work—like in 2018 when she organized Tanzania’s first World Cleanup Day with more than a thousand participants who helped remove 809 tons of plastic—and advocates for others to do the same. In 2021, Iraba participated in the NEWF Divemaster Lab and achieved her divemasters certificate. Now, Iraba represents Africa as a Global Ocean News Ambassador and runs the Ocean Literacy Initiative she founded. Iraba hopes that, by raising awareness and making science accessible, we can achieve an ocean-literate society with zero marine pollution.
Nathan Rice, 📍South Africa
Nathan Rice is a filmmaker from KwaZulu-Natal who has passionately been making films since the age of 12. Rice achieved a bachelor’s in film directing and screenwriting from AFDA Durban in 2015 where his graduation film, Homeless, was shortlisted for the Student Academy Awards. Nathan has gone on to work on multiple fiction and environmental films, achieving the NEWF Africa rising star award in 2021. He participated in the Wildlife Cinematography Lab and was trained on RED camera systems and has received cinematography work filming for National Geographic Society, SABC, and other independent productions, including the award-winning “Ulwandle Lushile.”
Peter Ndung’u, 📍Kenya
Peter Ndung’u is an award winning photographer and filmmaker from Nairobi, Kenya, with a passion for documenting nature, wildlife, and people’s stories. He has worked across Africa for seven years to document these stories. He has also been featured on global platforms and publications such as Apple, CNN, National Geographic and QZ in addition to being exhibited on several occasions. Ndung’u works as a cinematographer, has done the industry training REDucation, was a shortlisted candidate for the BBC Home Junior Camera Operator role, and is currently working with National Geographic Society’s Impact Story Lab to develop a film in Kenya. He was a Jackson Wild 2021 Fellow, 2022 NEWF Summit Fellow, and an African Conservation Voices Fellow. His work focuses largely on travel and documentary content which he often showcases on his online platforms and his website. His goal is to create awareness about nature, the environment, wildlife and culture while encouraging people to actively get involved in conserving the beauty that Africa has to offer.
Samson Moyo, 📍Zambia
Samson Moyo is a passionate young Zambian wildlife cinematographer based in the Luangwa Valley. What started out as just a dream at an early age has developed into a daily reality. Moyo has had the privilege of working on a range of films in Africa for international broadcasters and production companies, including the BBC, National Geographic, Walt Disney, Natural History New Zealand, Iniosante, Wildstar, and Love Nature. Moyo is also the founder of his own production company Mosam Media. His short documentary, “Reformed,” has been nominated at Jackson Wild, broadcast on South African national television, and showcased with a live score at the 2023 National Geographic Storytellers Summit. Samson is determined to grow his skillset and contribute creatively to more productions and the local economy.
Tembisa Jordaan, 📍South Africa
Tembisa Jordaan is a marine scientist and the Biodiversity Stewardship and Biodiversity Economy Acting Manager, at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. She is passionate about sectoral transformation in the biodiversity space, and the improvement of conservation models to be more people oriented to improve lives. In 2019, she was featured in “Our Oceans,” a 3-part marine conservation documentary commissioned by Off the Fence, which won the N.E.W. Film pitch competition at the NEWF Congress to create a short documentary about the lives of marine traditional fishers in KwaZulu-Natal. Her short film, “Ulwandle Lushile,” is a result of the work she did for many years in marine resource management with KZN coastal communities. So far, “Ulwandle Lushile” has been entered into 76 film festivals around the world, has been selected for nine, and is a finalist in three. She recently received The Storytelling MicroGrant 2022 from The Social Change Agency to implement a post production impact campaign for “Ulwandle Lushile” to empower the KwaSokhulu community and create a platform for them to vocalize their concerns to mobilize change. Apart from being a scientist and filmmaker, Jordaan is also an avid cook and she proved her cooking abilities by achieving a top 5 spot in “MasterChef South Africa” season 4 competition earlier this year. She received her Master of Science degree in marine biology from Rhodes University.
Learn more about Africa Refocused and NEWF, and join us in supporting these incredible storytellers. Together, there is no limit to the impact we can achieve by refocusing the narrative of African storytelling.
About Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF)
NEWF is a platform in Africa for filmmakers, conservationists and scientists to engage, network and contribute through storytelling towards a shared vision of protecting the earths’ natural assets for future generations. NEWF started out as an annual Congress in 2017 and has grown to become an all year round capacity building, impact and outreach organization building a connected network of Africans advocating for the protection of the continent’s natural habitats and wildlife through visual storytelling. NEWF’s vision is that the stories of Africa that celebrate and advocate for the protection of her natural history are told by a connected network of visual storytellers organically led by indigenous African voices. NEWF’s mission is to remove the barriers to entry and build capacity in order to enable access, support inclusion and foster a culture of equity for African nature, environment and wildlife visual storytellers.