Breaking Boundaries, Expanding Horizons

By Rumbi Katedza

breaking-boundaries-expanding-horizons-1.jpgAward night

The Zimbabwe International Film Festival


Zimbabwe is currently experiencing trying times, with the spotlight on the nation for political reasons. In spite of all the negative press, there is a nascent film industry driven by several dedicated individuals. Local filmmakers are finding new and creative ways to produce films that tell their stories in their own ways.

Soon after independence in 1980, Zimbabwe was visited by droves of producers who found it to be an ideal shooting location. Thousands of people were trained and employed on films and television shows such as Cry Freedom, A World Apart, A Far Off Place, White Hunter, Black Heart, Soldier, Soldier and Under the Sun, to name just a few. During that period, a handful of local productions like Neria, Flame and Jit were also made. However, the local industry was largely donor driven and funded.

In recent years, such funding has been scant and foreign crews have opted for locations in South Africa and Kenya instead. No major film has been shot in Zimbabwe since Raoul Peck directed the bio-epic Lumumba in 2000. This, however, has not discouraged those in the local film industry who believe in its potential.

breaking-boundaries-expanding-horizons-2.jpgRelaxing at ZIFF

Set up as a non-profit operation in recent years, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival Trust (ZIFFT) works tirelessly to promote and revitalise the Zimbabwean industry through regular screenings in township areas, training workshops and refresher courses for local filmmakers and production through the ever-growing Short Film Project.

In an effort to reach new audiences and demographics, The 6th Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) opened last summer for the first time with an outdoor concert as well as the gala screening (Academy Award-winning Nowhere in Africa). Since 1998, for two weeks every September, a small nucleus of film enthusiasts has staged this important event. 1998 saw 19 films screened at two venues in the suburbs of Harare.

In comparison, through new partnerships and strategic alliances with companies like DHL (who couriered in many of the films at no cost), ZIFF 2003 was able to screen 75 films across nine venues in the capital, as well as in Chitungwiza and Bulawayo. An estimated 14,000 viewers watched films from 31 different countries and, for the first time, Senegal, Algeria, Cuba, South Korea and Burkina Faso were represented. 24 features vied for coveted stone sculpture awards in eight categories. Mani Ratnam’s colourful Indian feature A Peck on the Cheek took the award for best picture.

The flagship premiere event at this year’s festival was the premiere of the official Zimbabwean entry, The Legend of the Sky Kingdom. This animated feature, about three children who make a daring escape from the horrible Underground City in search of the legendary Sky Kingdom, takes an original approach to animation, with characters made out of junk (old tea cups, sparkplugs and bottle brushes). The film brings the art form, Junkmation™ into life. With many firsts at this year’s festival, ZIFF is well on its way to becoming an institution recognised for supporting and encouraging innovative and radical new ideas in African filmmaking.

Film Forum


From humble and tentative beginnings, the Film Forum has established itself as an indispensable component of the event, supporting the Trust’s overall aim of regenerating indigenous film production, through facilitating important dialogues between aspiring/established local filmmakers and international filmmakers. The Forum serves to stimulate the local industry to reach larger global markets while at the same time acting as a watchdog challenging quality and content.

breaking-boundaries-expanding-horizons-3.jpgAward ceremony

This year’s Forum included professional Master Classes, outreach screenings, panel discussions and Q&A sessions. Visiting filmmakers included Richard Stuart Perkins (USA), William Raban (UK), who gave a lecture on visual direction and interpretation, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and music video director Jonathan Timm (both South Africa), the latter giving the first master class, on the use of sound and music in film.

The Forum also visited Warren Park township where Raban and Perkins presented short films to a crowd gathered for the free show, while Hakeem Kae-Kazim presented his film God Is African at the Young Africa Skills Centre in Chitungwiza.

Significantly, there was an open discussion between filmmakers and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). This gave filmmakers an opportunity to discuss the way forward with the broadcaster’s Chief Executive Officer; a very necessary step in the light of the government’s call for 75% local content on television and radio.

Documentary Competition


2003 marked the inaugural year for both the Documentary category and the offering of an award for best Documentary, which went to Portia Rankoane from South Africa for her poignant A Red Ribbon Around My House. 28 documentaries were screened from countries including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho, Angola, Tanzania and South Africa. Many of these countries were represented for the first time.

The documentary section also saw the development of several new partnerships. Most significant was the participation of Southern Africa Communications for Development (SACOD), an organisation of independent producers that was key in securing documentaries for the festival through its various members in southern Africa. Regional producers often complain that they have no avenues to showcase their films, but ZIFF is providing new opportunities for African filmmakers to screen and discuss their work.

hakeem-and-rumbi.jpgHakeem and Rumbi

Local organisations such as SafAIDS and the National AIDS Council also came on board to support ZIFF’s initiative to bus in youth groups from disadvantaged communities to watch the films. Each day, at least 300 young people came to various venues in this way.

Short Film Project


The Short Film Project (SFP) is a ZIFFT initiative, dedicated since 2001 to the development, production and exhibition of short films by aspiring and established Zimbabwean filmmakers. Overcoming great odds, dictated by the sometimes overwhelming constraints of the prevailing political, economic and social situation, the SFP produced four short films, one documentary, five music videos/profiles and two festival infomercials, in addition to preliminary shooting on a documentary for next year’s project.

Most significant for the SFP was that national broadcaster ZBC showed clear interest and support for the SFP and its titles. This was as a result of the deal brokered between the ZIFF Trust and ZBC, entailing supply of cost-free content in exchange for free publicity for the Trust and its programmes.

Since then, the ZBC has consistently screened SFP films to millions of viewers around the country. In another show of confidence, the Alliance Francaise pledged their commitment both to cover the costs of adding French subtitles to SFP films and to distribute them to centres around Francophone Africa.

The inaugural best short film award was scooped by writer Nocks Chatiza and director Marian Kunonga for Zvinhu Zvacho Izvi. The team was also awarded a million Zimbabwe dollars from ZIFFT in addition to automatic admission into next year’s SFP. In the weeks since, other festivals around the world have been keen to access to these innovative films.

breaking-boundaries-expanding-horizons-3.jpg.jpgOn location

The involvement of older established filmmakers and sufficient representation of women participants remain elusive targets but, with growing success and awareness, it is hoped that these issues will be effectively addressed. In the words of SFP alumnus Tawanda Gunda, “the Short Film Project has nurtured young talent in Zimbabwe. It gives actors, directors, set-dressers and writers a chance to showcase their talents. The future of the Zimbabwe film industry lies in the work of today.”

And, such feelings were not just held by local film makers. Visiting director Richard Stuart Perkins probably put it best when he said, “these shorts were for me the most exciting moment of the festival. The work that these filmmakers are doing is thrilling. That they are making compelling cinema without the infrastructure of a film school or thriving film-making community made the quality of the work displayed all the more exciting.”

Outlook


Against major odds, including fuel and hard cash shortages as well as 500% inflation, making budgeting a constant frustration as prices increased sometimes on a weekly basis, ZIFF 2003 elicited accolades from thrilled audiences, stakeholders, local and international filmmakers. ZIFFT is currently raising funds to build a film centre (to include a library, screening room and editing facilities). It will be an institution that will long outlive its present challenges and bear witness to the development of a vibrant and viable film culture in Zimbabwe.


Rumbi Katedza is ZIFF Coordinator (zimfilmfest@zol.co.zw). Thanks to William Raban.