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Cinema – Visions of Zanzibar

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At the end of June, Zanzibar welcomed once again its own film festival, the ZIFF. The 14th edition of the festival, themed Season of Visions, presented a vast selection of films, documentaries, short stories, cartoons and experimental movies. The large participation of emerging film makers underlines how the ZIFF has become an important rendezvous for African directors and producers who want to showcase their work in Africa. The presence of many inter-active workshops allows young African artists a place where to meet and share. This edition of the festival focused on documentaries. Among the experts called to give talks and workshops, the best has been Nick Bloomfield, a well known master of investigative journalism. His Biggie and Tupac has been received enthusiastically by the public, which show how documentaries can be engaging and educative at the same time. Bloomfield gave a series of workshop on creative documentary. Paul Miller, a producer, and Donall McCusker, co-producer of The Hurt Locker, introduced participants to the process of transformation that takes creative ideas and transforms them into films. They also spoke about the challenges of filming in remote locations. Danny Scheschter, with many prizes won for his more than 50 productions, offered a series of forums on cinema and tourism.

In 2010 ZIFF introduced the Bongo Forum Film, a day dedicated to Swahili production. The Bongo Forum allows local film makers to meet colleagues from the international scene. The result of the initiative has been an increase in local production. Maisha Lab conducted a master class on script writing. Other workshops focused on HD filming, journalism reporting, and the respect of the environment. The literally forum tackled the issues of albinism in Africa.

The 71 films presented at Zanzibar may be classified within three themes: those dealing with politics and leadership, those focused on women and relationships, and films about human marginalization. The Rugged Priest by Bob Nyanja (Kenya, 2010) is based on the life of Fr Anthony Kaiser, a missionary who spent his life on the side of the poorest and against the corrupt political class of Kenya. The film tells how Fr Kaiser endeavoured to find truth and justice on behalf of the people he represented. His martyrdom did nothing else than raising more prophets and martyrs ready to follow the same ideals of truth and justice. The film won the Golden Dhow, and it was also selected for the Verona Award, the prize assigned by the Verona Africa Film Festival at Zanzibar. The Silver Dhow went to Togetherness Supreme (Kenya, 2010) by Nathan Collett. This documentary explores the post election violence erupted in Kenya in 2007. The director was able to explore the drama of ethnic tensions and express the popular will for peace and coexistence, expressed by the relationship between Kamau and Othieno, the two main actors representing people from different ethnic background.

Womenís issues remain an important theme in Africaís films. A good Catholic girl (Uganda, 2011) by Matt Bish relates the love between a Catholic boy and a young Muslim girl born within a culture of intolerance. The arranged marriage forced upon the girl does not follow the logic of love, and will end tragically. The film asks for tolerance and respect of differences. In A country for my daughter (South Africa, 2011), Lucile Blankenberg presents the revelations of women who suffered rape. Rape is a widespread social issue in South Africa, and it involves people of all classes, races and status. The justice system is slow to pursue the perpetrators.

The jury selected also a number of films highlighting stories of outstanding men and women. Famboul Tok (USA, 2011) by Sara Terry talks about the challenges of reconciliation and of rebuilding a society in Sierra Leone after years of conflicts. The amnesty has freed many people, but did not prevent their sense of guilt to resurface. The traditional rite to confess publicly oneís deeds before a bonfire becomes a redemptive experience where to feel forgiveness. An elder says ‘there is no bad forest where to throw away a bad child’, summing up the need to face guilt and work for reintegration within society. An approach far from the lengthy, expensive and impersonal experience of international tribunals.

Forgotten gold (South Africa, 2010) by Makela Pululu is a story of love which gives meaning to life. It is the story of Ndaye Mulamba, a Congolese football player forgotten by his own country after contributing to the success of the national team at the 1974 Cup of Africa. After a short break in the spotlight, Maleba ended up in South Africa where he did all kind of menial jobs to survive. It is in South Africa that Mulamba finds once again love and appreciation, showing that home is where one’s heart is. Once again, Zanzibar showcased a cinema centred on the human being, on their lives and dignity.

Fabrizio Colombo

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