Film lovers in Zimbabwe will this year have something to smile about when two Christian films are released by a Harare-based organisation called Devine Grace Media. I had an opportunity to speak to the organisation's founder, Tatenda Frank Chirunga , who revealed that his organisation was working on producing two Christian films by the end of March this year.
Tell me about yourself and how you started taking an interest in the arts?
I'm 21 years old and I come from a Christian family of three. I am currently a student at Chinhoyi University of Technology. I took an interest in the arts since I was at kindergarten. I was involved in acting and singing during my days as a primary school pupil. I enjoyed playwriting and acting during my time in high school.
What are the titles of your Christian films your organisation is working on?
We are working on two films. The first one, "As We Forgive", is a 13-drama episode and the other one is called "Tears of a Single Mother". If all goes well we are hoping that one of the two films should be out by end of March this year.
Why did you choose to make Christian films?
I have always been involved in acting from crèche up until university where I am right now. Initially, I planned to do secular films but this changed when I was baptised in 2010.
I was inspired mostly by Matthew 5:16 which says, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in Heaven". After I was baptised I meditated on this scripture and chose to use my talents for God.
The fact that there are no Christian films in Zimbabwe inspired me as well. We encourage people to avoid secular entertainment but we fail to give them Christian films that help keep them away from such secular entertainment. Watching Christian films like "Fireproof", "Facing Giants" and "Letters to God" among others also inspired me.
Where did you find your actors and what criteria did you use in selecting these actors?
We held auditions together with my friend and partner Talent Chakamanga and other friends like Margaret and Tafadzwa. We looked at the ability of a person to convince the audience as a character in any given situation and their ability to follow instrumentals and stage direction.
We were not concerned about personal behaviour or characters because that would appear as if we were looking for perfect people when we ourselves are not perfect. Some of our actors came from our acting club at Chinhoyi University Arts School.
Funding is one of the major problems affecting Zimbabwe's film industry. How are you managing?
True, funding is a challenge in Zimbabwe's film industry. We have not attracted any sponsors at the moment but we will appreciate if any offer to support us. As an organisation, we also produce commercials for companies and we are hoping to use the profits there to fund our film projects.
With problems related to poor funding and film piracy do you think there is any hope of Zimbabwe's film industry growing?
Absolutely there is hope especially if Government can be more involved in arts and filmmaking. Arts have a potential to contribute meaningfully to our economy through creating employment. Hollywood has the equipment and funding but I believe they have run out of stories but in Zimbabwe we have plenty of stories to tell. I believe there is hope, especially in the area of Christian films.
How do you plan to deal with film piracy?
Piracy is painful. It has destroyed showbiz in Zimbabwe. At first we will sell our DVDs for a dollar each. With time we will set up shops in every location where our DVDs will be sold for a dollar directly to our market. That will discourage pirates who sell pirated copies for that same price.
Who are your target audience? Are you targeting baptised Christians, kids or people in general?
We are targeting people in general especially non-believers. For kids, we are going to produce a teen comedy called "Last April's Holiday".
What are you hoping to achieve after the completion of your film projects?
We are hoping that more people will be converted to Christ and then monetary returns will follow afterwards.
On the film "As We Forgive" we are hoping to encourage people to embrace the principle of forgiveness. On "Tears of a Single Mother" we are encouraging people to love and respect single mothers as they are and avoid judging or sidelining them in our society.
Are we to expect more films from your organisation in the future?
Definitely more films are coming from Devine Grace Media. We have tasked ourselves to release 12 films this year. I know this is something most filmmakers will consider as impossible. I am also planning to start a Christian Youth Talk Show with a friend of mine named Petronella Chindito to be screened on television soon.