23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Local Film Industry in ICU

The local film industry is "clinically" dead.

And that is the best way to describe an industry that was once an epitome of the big screen business in sub-Saharan Africa from the late 1980s right down to the turn of the century. It is now hard to believe during that time Zimbabwean-made films competed fairly on the local and international box office circuit.

After braving to watch the recently made local movies on ZBC over the festive season, I was left with an egg on my face after showering praises on what Zimbabwe had to offer after a few friends who had visited us from the other side of the border clearly indicated that our film industry was mediocre.

They were all critical of the acting, the sound, lighting and general screenplay or storyline in movies such as Munya Chidzonga's The Gentleman and Von Tavaziva's Simbimbino.

This is when I then thought that earlier movies such as Neria, Jit, More Time, Yellow Card, Flame and the rest produced in those glorious years were far better than what we see today.

What has happened then, one might ask?

A visit to the offices of the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) in Milton Park, Harare bares the total scenario - a derelict building, doors all locked and there is no one to talk to expect the caretaker. The last time ZIFF had an activity was in 2011 when it hosted an aborted international film festival.

Actress and filmmaker, Marian Kunonga, of the movie Flame, describes the situation as pathetic. She believes the local film industry is in a quandary as the new players have very little experience in the industry and lack proper training and know-how. She also blames the brain drain of experienced personnel from the industry over the past decade and the advent of new technology for the demise of the industry.

"Our industry is not growing because people are opting for cheap stuff and Nigerian movies. The budget for any good movie is quite high and the production costs can determine where one is going to market it. Surely, if you sell a movie for US$1 on the street, it just shows that everything used, from the script to the actors, props and equipment were sub-standard," says Kunonga.

She says Zimbabwe's film industry needs to learn from the South African experience where a lot of planning and budget is put in place before any serious feature film, documentary or music video can be made for commercial purposes.

"As a country we are not learning from what our neighbour is doing when we switch on to SABC or DSTV to watch Isidingo, Generations, Leon Schuster's productions and all the other movies and soapies produced in South Africa. There is clear difference between movies made in Nigeria and those made in South Africa," she says.

She also believes training on site with experienced mentors or going for formal education as with the local or external film training schools can help to ease the glitch in the industry.

On the other hand, Kunonga urges government, the corporate world and other funders to consider the industry in their financial planning.

Sharing Kunonga's sentiments is the renowned arts and culture exponent, Stephen Chifunyise, who strongly believes government needs to come up with a clear policy on the film industry for it to have a meaningful impact on the country's development. Chifunyise is advocating for the setting up of a film fund or film commission that would help the industry to develop.

"There have been two separate meetings where, dialogue with government, facilitated by the Zimbabwe Film Makers' Guild were held with the Minister of Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu and Permanent Secretary, George Charamba were held.

"The calls for setting up a national film fund and a film commission were made on both occasions but it seems there is still no national position on the state of the industry up to now," says Chifunyise.

While the industry has its own fair share of problems arising from structural representation over the years through the Zimbabwe Film and Television Workers' Union(ZIFTAWU) and others, Chifunyise says the bigger problem lies in the industry itself over it failure to hold the government accountable for its survival.

"Absence of policy of the film industry is our biggest challenge. Government and the ministries concerned should take cultural industries, film included, as meaningful contributors to national development. Everything else will follow," he adds.

Howevevr, Zimbabwe's relevance on the international scene is still felt through individual efforts by film makers such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, through her International Images Film Festival (IIFF) and notable names such as Rumbi Katedza, Steve Chigorimbo, Godwin Mawuru, Albert Chimedza, Susan Hains, John Riber and many others who left at the height of Zimbabwe's economic downfall and are scattered all over the world.

Unless policies on the protection of the industry are in place, these talents will be lost in the Diaspora and all hopes of turning Zimbabwe's film industry into a "Zollywood" could be a pipedream.

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