When I met Nanavi in 2003 in this tiny traditional remote village, with adobe houses and thatched roofs in the countryside of Benin, West Africa, I couldn’t imagine that we would become part of each other’s lives, probably forever. That’s what I love about being a documentary filmmaker: the ties you can build with your “character” can be stronger than you can imagine.
Nanavi was a shy little girl with sparkling eyes and a big smile. She must have been 7 years old, more or less. Although she didn’t speak a word of French, we could communicate easily, and following her first steps in school, witnessing her enthusiasm and spirit was a promise of fascinating years to come.
When I went back to the village in 2006, for the second shoot, things had changed dramatically. Her beloved father had died and Nanavi, her mother and her siblings were experiencing incredible hardship. Nanavi had strong ties with her dad and she was devastated by her loss. We admired Nanavi’s determination to continue going to school, to respect her father’s will.
I continued filming her every three years or so. Each time we saw each other after years of absence, it was as if reconnecting with a family member. Our ties grew stronger.
When I filmed her in 2015, Nanavi who was 20 or 21 years old, had moved to a large city, far from her village. She just had a baby and had chosen to study photography as an apprentice at a photo studio. I was so moved to realize that we shared the same passion, images!
She seems very happy with her baby and her partner. She speaks French very well and we can now have long conversations in French together.
She calls me very often just to check on me and give me news. She grew to be a very ambitious and determined person: she recently asked me if I could get her a laptop so she could edit her photos and eventually open her own photo studio. She asked me to pass the message around to friends of the project, which I did. I just heard that some friends of mine are on their way to Benin and are bringing with them a brand new laptop to give to Nanavi. Who knows where this laptop is going to lead her and what will be the next developments in her life. But I know for sure, to my great excitement, she will keep me posted along the way.
Click here to read more field notes from the producers.