16 July 2017

Tanzania: Key Lessons That Zanzibar's Film Festival Offers

Photo: ZIFF
Zanzibar Film Festival.

It is a show time again in Zanzibar and film goers are enjoying the best for one whole week as film makers parade their goods to the lookers in such a way that the Stone Town has become a very lively place to be.

Now to many Tanzanians who have a dime to spare for their holiday the Stone Town is a place to be in July while it has been noted also that to foreigners July is time to be in Zanzibar to enjoy the sun, the sand and the films.

It has been noted that in the 20 years of the Zanzibar International Film Festivals (ZIFF) there have been "many returnees" because the event, one of the best on African calendar, has been well organised being spiced with music and many side activities including important dialogues like one held this year at the Forodhani Parks titled "Culture, tolerance and the rise of fundamentalism in Zanzibar" to which I had the privilege of being one of the discussants.

Other side activities in time have been children panorama, workshops on many aspects of film making but also engaging well known and best established film makers to pass their knowledge to the local film enthusiasts and now the result has started to be seen.

Two decades on, now many local film makers are coming up like a pack of lions attacking the film making and producing sector. Last year 6 local films were made and entered a special category competition to which a production known as DalaDala directed by Salum Stika was declared victorious.

This year, there are 8 entries for the category some of the films produced by Prof Martin Mhando, a very well-known film maker and director of ZIFF for several seasons. His best work has been Maangamizi which won best film award years before he became ZIFF head.

The increase in local film production has been boosted by the new kid on the block in area of culture in the form of organisation known as Emerson for Zanzibar Foundation, an entity conceived by an American hotelier Emerson Skeens who settled in Zanzibar and dedicated his time in film music and arts. He was key to the formation of ZIFF, The Zanzibar Dhow Academy as well as the Busara Foundation which stages an annual music festival every February and now one of the best in the African calendar.

Art, music and culture are not only important to a country but are integral part of the same. There is a Kiswahili saying which goes Asie na utamaduni ni mtumwa - one who has no culture is a slave, it is through those media that culture is not only strengthened but also passed on from one generation to the next but also introduced and respected out of the borders.

But also with the advent of tourism now, culture is very important selling point. We have noted how February and July have made Zanzibar tourism best destination, and when business owners smile to their last teeth and the government which depends, by over 80 per cent, on tourism is really happy.

However, much as the private sector has done, there is needed an equal reaction from the government in order to encourage these efforts which double as economy but also culture by making close engagement to realise even better fruits in the form of booting-up the economy but also making a resolve of protecting Zanzibar culture.

To me it is really a pity that years on after film festival, Zanzibar, which has attractive locations, has not interested many big productions from Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood. It has not set up conditions for a film industry to grow and settle in, and that is what is dearly needed, and everything shall open up for a better Zanzibar which has very good selling point.

Mr Saleh is a lawyer, journalist, author, political commentator, media consultant and poet. He is also the Member of Parliament for Malindi in Zanzibar

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