Book calls for action before environmental apocalypse

Dr Marc Rigaudis during the launch of his book ‘Usoni’. 

Dr Marc Rigaudis during the launch of his book ‘Usoni’. 

Photo credit: Thomas Rajula | Nation Media Group

Dr Marc Rigaudis, the creative director at Jiwe Studios and author, thought he would retire in Japan.

But, having spent many years there filming, he got a call from former United States International University-Africa vice-chancellor Dr Freida Brown and Prof Matthew Buyu who wanted a vibrant film production programme at the institution. 

Starting his lecturer’s job in 2012, his first cohort of students included D&R Studios founder Eugene Mbugua, MMTD Throwdown Production Limited digital production manager Barbara Karuana and Ugandan screenwriter and director Joel Tugaineyo.

Dr Rigaudis’ recent book Usoni (Swahili word for future) is a fictional concept about a woman and her daughter trying to make it across the ocean back to Africa after Europe becomes uninhabitable due to the effects of global warming 50 years from now. 

It was officially launched last year but the former film tutor registered the concept in Los Angeles more than a decade ago.

When he saw the eagerness of that first class of students when he mentioned it to them, he commissioned them to create a 24-minute short in the most professional way possible. The students came up with the title after Dr Rigaudis described that the concept was about facing an uncertain future.

Without a budget, he took 22 students to Diani where they shot the first scene in the book after creating a script. Contrary to what is now the norm, migration from the south of the Mediterranean Sea to the north, a woman is frantically trying to cross back to Africa because the sun has stopped shining north. 

Film funding

He took the finished product to Cannes Film Festival as a student project, and then put it on YouTube in 2013. It had 40, 000 views in two weeks.

“CNN, BBC, and a German television station interviewed me about how could Africa be the land of hope. One guy said ‘This is so obscene. It’s impossible to seek refuge in Africa. And if such a catastrophe happened, we would know what to do,” remembers Dr Rigaudis, saying the fact that it was also produced by African students irked those from the northern hemisphere.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get funding to produce the entire film.

Dr Rigaudis is adamant that he’s neither a scientist nor a politician. His book was just to rouse people into being involved in taking care of the environment before something drastic happens as a result; a prediction that seems to be coming true. While he was in France last year, he experienced unprecedented hurricanes and high temperatures.

“Places that would have 32 degrees on a hot summer day were now having temperatures of up to 45. We are also having an uncharacteristic drought and flooding too,” he says.

Three years ago, he published a French version of Usoni but the concept remains the same. Ophelia, the protagonist, is an African woman trying to escape Paris with her daughter and trying to make her way to her home country since the weather has become very perilous for its inhabitants.

Dr Rigaudis started out as a photographer before ending up in writing. He wrote his first book in 1990. Ito San was a story about bullying, which was rampant in Japan at the time leading to many suicides among teens. He even produced a short film to go with it.

“Just like my first book, I usually have something I want to talk about, fight against. Usoni was initially a science fiction story but it’s become the current situation, unfortunately. It’s intolerable what we’ve been doing to our environment,” adds Dr Rigaudis, who also filmed the late Dr Wangari Maathai when she made a visit to Japan after winning her Nobel Peace Prize.

Symbolic title

During the launch on November 23 last year, chief guest and former presidential candidate David Mwaure Waihiga commended Dr Rigaudis for choosing a symbolic title that would resonate with Swahili speakers.

“What Marc has done with Ophelia, the symbolic saviour of the book, is to provoke the readers to ask themselves what they can individually do to save our environment,” said the senior counsel.

Mwaure added that “the negative effects of climate change shall confront all humans, irrespective of the continent they’re in, and where would we even be able to go if that time comes?”

The book is published by Arba Publications Limited. Dr Rigaudis was adamant that he didn’t want to self-publish and was impressed that Martin Karanja, Arba’s director, had three assessors go through it first before taking on the publishing. 

He says they all felt that the book’s message was powerful enough for it to even become a set book in schools. The book underlines the message about Africa ‘paying for the sins’ of countries in the northern hemisphere.

“When you pay for your book to be published here in Kenya, many times the editors don’t go through the manuscript and don’t give as much criticism as required,” Dr Rigaudis says, adding that he wanted the book to feel African-owned.

Theatre arts and drama therapy expert Dr Zippora Agatha Okoth also endorsed the importance of entertaining books like Usoni in tackling important issues in society. “It’s a beautiful surprise! Seeing all the images that the book brings out, we need to read this so we have that clear perspective of Africa in its beautiful, raw form.”

Dr Rigaudis’ key message is that there is hope, even though it doesn’t look like it will come from the leadership in the world. 

MAAPEN, an NGO whose aim is to support the Maasai community through education and cultural integration with other communities, has also expressed interest in working with Dr Rigaudis to come up with a digital centre that will help Maa youth learn skills to create film, video games and other types of digital media. 

He is also planning to lecture students from different universities on the book’s content as well as, under the 100 Film Project, train underprivileged youth in digital media for a shot at a career.

There is a video game of the same being created by Mark Musau as Dr Rigaudis and his team work on the film version. The Swahili translation of the book is also underway so that many more East Africans can easily understand it. In April, Dr Rigaudis will give a presentation in Arusha at the Alliance Francaise as part of that effort.

The book is available at bookstores in Nairobi for Sh1,200. A kindle version is available on Amazon.