15 November 2012

Zambia: Lessons From Lusaka Film Festival

FILMS are watched by people for different reasons. For example, a favourite actor or genre are among the reasons people flock to cinemas.

However, from October 19 to 27,Lusaka residents were given an opportunity to watch films for a reason -to think.

So in this quest, I attended the Cinema Mondial Tour, a film festival which showcases films and documentaries from Africa, the Middle East and China.

The festival, jointly funded by the Hubert Bals Fund and the Jan Vrijman Fund, had various participating partners in Africa including Cameroon, Burundi, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe among others.

In 2012, Zambia had the good fortune of having a Lusaka International Film Festival (LIFF) hosted by Fresh View Cinemas and organised by a cheerful and talented film maker by the name of Charity Maruta.

For Maruta, the main mission of the festival is to bring extraordinary films to Lusaka.

"Gone are the days of folk tales oral history films help to tell our history because the world is changing and that is how we get information these days," says Maruta.

She added that the West already has information thus they are a step ahead yet it is disappointing that very few indigenous Zambians or Africans watched the films.

"As Africans we don't get information from books and films enough and sometimes as Africans we are too happy with the status quo," says Maruta.

The film festival screened a total of 24 movies, but it was hard to watch all of them.

However, the ones I attended were profoundly intense and life-changing.

Zambia has in the past few years seen a large number of Chinese migrant workers but "Last Train Home" shows the life of migrant workers within China.

Many Chinese migrate from their villages in the countryside to Hong Kong and other big cities; the only time they can go home is during the Chinese New Year.

The film tracks a couple that left the country side 20 years ago in hope of earning a good income in the city.

But they have to fight for space on overcrowded trains.

After their daughter also runs away to work in the city, they have to contend with their life decisions so that she can return to school and not have to spend the rest of her life in a factory.

They do not succeed she ends up working in a club but the film shows that globally poverty is a cycle which needs hard work to break.

Ellen Sirleaf Johnson is an icon of Liberia and a Nobel peace prize recipient and "The Iron Ladies of Liberia" shows why Liberia is a success story now.

The movie follows a fearless Johnson's reign from her swearing-in ceremony to her 100 days in office.

The mark of a true leader is in their honesty, their self sacrifice and integrity and she is a tough woman but lacks the arrogance that many male leaders possess.

"I would rather be honest with the people even if they do not like it because they deserve honesty; after all they have been through." Johnson says after she addresses a rioting crowd

I like many women of my generation hold certain veneration for Miriam "Mama Africa" Makeba, a woman who lived her life for Africa.

The Film "Mama Africa" directed by Mika Kaurismaki and produced by Rainer Lolmel showcases Mama Miriam in all her glory from the time she started singing.

It shows her personal and political battles from her exile by the then apartheid regime in South Africa, the death of her daughter Bongi, her tumble from America and her eventual settling in Guinea.

Makeba's life was colorful from her four marriages, her ethereal beauty but above all striking presence; everyone interviewed in the movie loved her even her ex-husbands had nothing but pure adoration for her.

South Africa was the only African country to sponsor a film and of course South African Ambassador to Zambia Moses Chikane graced the film with his presence.

"We sponsored the film because culture forms an important ingredient of society; when you have something that brings people together, it means you are selling pride, Makeba is a special person to not only me but South Africa as a whole."

"She was a voice for the voiceless , an icon to people who were in exile she connected us to people outside the country; she was a storyteller, a legend who depicted the way people lived; their excitement, pain and pleasure." Ambassador Chikane said.

After the movie, he explained that though the movie portrayed Makeba, much had been left out but the lesson for musicians to learn from Makeba is that art is not only about heritage but also an indicator of time and moments of society.

His words ring true because music is a form of healing and Makeba, who was a Sangoma like her mother and grandmother, healed people through her music.

On a sad note we watched "murder in Kinshasa" a film that analyses the conspiracy theories behind the murder of former Congolese President Laurent Desire Kabila, who died at the hands of his bodyguard.

The movie directed by Marlene Rabaud and Arnaud Zajtman and produced by Michel Noll, Chien-Loup Entre and Sebastian Delloye is told through accounts by key witnesses and people who were accused of Kabila's killing.

It is a gritty film which had the audience rooting for the men who in some cases were truly falsely accused; a common occurrence in Africa where politics and hunger for power take center stage over justice.

I am not a fan of having foreigners tell our history because very often they are skewed but Zambia: Good Copper, Bad Copper takes the cake for a documentary that is so accurate it had many in tears.

The documentary produced by YAMI 2 (in France) and directed by Audrey Gallet and Alice Odiot shows Mufulira a town ravaged by the mines, pollution and pillaging of raw materials by Glencore mines (for whom the term rogue employer was coined) owners of Mopani Copper Mines.

Glencore mines own subsidiaries around the world and it has been accused of countless times evading taxes, pollution and other heinous crimes.

At the center of the film is Saviour Mwamba the Executive Director of Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) who has taken over the extraordinary effort of mobilising the locals so that they can fight back and help erase some of the effects.

Anyone who has grown up on the Copperbelt can attest to the pollution of sulphur dioxide emissions locally known as "senta" which has continued to affect the residents.

The last day was probably the icing on the cake "Pray the Devil back to Hell" a film about Liberia and how the women movement helped end the war.

The Muslim and Christian women banded together and managed through sitting at a field in the sun in and the rain to get Charles Taylor and the warring rebel groups to go for the peace talks in Ghana.

They followed the delegation to Ghana and when they noticed nothing was moving barricaded the doors and windows and threatened to strip (a curse in Africa) forcing the delegates to talk.

After Taylor was ousted they pushed and voted Ellen Sirleaf Johnson into power, directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail E. Disney.

The film features the narration of Leymah Gbowee, who along with President Johnson won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011.

The question asked to some of the women who refused to protest together with other faiths on account of different religion was; Can a bullet tell the difference between a Christian and Moslem?" a question that we all ought to remember.

The state of being an African woman knows no race, color or religion we all face the same adversities but if women stood up and shouted more perhaps some of the world's evils may be less.

The major regret was perhaps not seeing all the films, however, it was an insight and truly memorable festival with lessons aplenty for those willing to learn.

Fresh View Cinemas Marketing Manager, Craig Lungu said people need to enjoy more films such as the ones shown at the festival so that they can look back and appreciate Africa's heritage.

"In the west it is a big deal so at Fresh view we are starting out and this is a properly hosted festival according to International standards and we intend to showcase more theatre and works.

"If Africa does not tell its own stories, who will do it for us," Lungu said.

Perhaps it is a question local films makers need to answer, especially that some of them were absent at the festival.

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