Vaillante: Leveraging long-format storytelling to inspire change

Vaillante is Rooftop’s award-winning 3-part miniseries and first dive into long-format storytelling specifically designed to be watched for entertainment…

It’s been screened at festivals worldwide and has also been broadcast on Canal plus. Towards the end of 2022, a feature film version will be screened in cinemas across West Africa.

But how did we get here?

Let’s rewind…

How it all began

Jeff Goldblum waves a burning red flare to lure away the T-Rex. Viggo Mortensen throws a flaming torch to chase away a Ringwraith. Ethan Hawke stands on a school desk to bid farewell to his favourite teacher….

These iconic scenes from some of our all-time favourite films are etched into our brains and probably influence the way we visualise ideals such as sacrifice, bravery, and seizing the moment! Films have the incredible ability to leave viewers with lasting impressions… so how do we use that for good?

This is the thought that intrigued us around 2017. It was triggered by a desire to reach new, highly engaged audiences with content that genuinely can impact behaviours. Today, the volume of video content on social media makes it tough for your message to stand out, and tougher still to engage audiences on an emotional level, given that the videos are generally one to two minutes long.

This is where the longer formats of television and film offer something that short social media content doesn’t. Its content can be extremely engaging and stay with audiences for years, but in addition, the plot and setting of the story can leave audiences with a detailed understanding of nuanced and complex concepts. Think of how a film can teach the world about the hypothetical mechanics of a dream within a dream within a dream. If only Christopher Nolan made films set in a high school chemistry lab… how helpful that would have been.

Okay, point made. But how do we apply this to something that really matters? Here’s where UNICEF comes in.

Rooftop creates a lot of video content for UNICEF on some of the most devastating issues that impact children.

One of these issues is child marriage; a complex practice that often robs young girls of their physical health, mental health and education.

650 million girls around the world are married before their 18th birthdays… 115 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Having worked on four child marriage videos before, we understood the challenges of communicating the full extent of why this is happening, how it impacts the girls (and communities), and what audiences should be doing about it. So when UNICEF requested a long-format, edutainment-driven story on the topic of child marriage, we jumped at the opportunity.

How we did it

Rooftop has developed a reputation for closely collaborating with its clients, resulting in work that can express the full extent of the client’s knowledge on the topic. This project was no different. Working with UNICEF offices in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and New York, we set about writing a fictional story, inspired by real-life scenarios and culturally relevant to its target audience – West Africa. The script was then translated into French, the language in which the series would be filmed.

The production crew, comprising mostly of full-time Rooftop team members, began a challenging pre-production period.

The challenge of shooting a series set in West Africa in South Africa was one thing, but doing it all in 2021 whilst in and out of COVID-19 lockdowns was another thing altogether. Through tremendous effort, and despite global travel bans, we were able to find a strong cast of French actors, many of whom had little to no prior acting experience.

The 24-day shoot was split between Gqberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) and Steytlerville in the Eastern Cape and went off as smoothly as anyone could have hoped. Cast and crew alike were exhausted by the end of it, but energised by the experience of working on something that was both so creatively challenging and thematically significant.

The following months saw an extension of Rooftop’s expertise as all of the post-production, including editing, sound design, colour grading, and music composition was all handled in-house.

Furthermore, Rooftop created an English dubbed version to expand the potential audience. This saw many of the original, bi-lingual cast as well as some professional voice actors to Rooftop’s sound studio.

The results

The completed three-part miniseries is a powerful story that has been met with exceptionally positive reviews from audiences and critics alike.

In December 2021, Vaillante had its world premiere at the prestigious FESPACO film festival in Burkina Faso. This was followed shortly after by national premieres at cinemas in New York, South Africa and Niger.

Since its release late in 2021, it has been screened at nine film festivals around the world, racking up multiple award nominations, including winning “best cinematography” at the African Film Festival.

In March 2022, the series was broadcast on Canal Plus, a major television broadcaster in French-speaking Africa. Even now, eight months after its release, Vaillante is gearing up for a theatrical release through the Canal Olympia cinema chain, and it is also closing in on worldwide streaming opportunities.

The longevity of its shelf life alone is worth considering when weighing up the impact of Vaillante.

Numbers-wise, Vaillante racked up an impressive 60 million social media impressions between its launch in December and broadcast in March.

But its true impact is much harder to measure.

  • Did it succeed in influencing behaviour?
  • Was it a positive contribution to a conversation about a complicated topic?

In the coming months, we will be working with UNICEF and Creative Culture to conduct focus groups to try to answer these questions. For now, though, our hope is that this story at least starts conversations that might not have happened.

As the lead character, Sali, says; “We can’t move past these concerns until we talk about it”. And at the end of the day, we are proud that we were able to support UNICEF its goal to amplify the conversation.

Watch the rest of the Vaillante episodes and read our case study on the project here.

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