After six years at the helm of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), Martin Mhando moves on. Mhando is a Tanzanian filmmaker. He has directed feature films and documentaries. His Maangamizi has won a number of awards and was selected to represent Tanzania at the Oscar in 2002 for the Best Foreign Film. He is also co-editor of the Journal of African Cinemas and Associate Professor in Media Studies at Murdoch University, Australia.
What are the challenges posed by organizing ZIFF?
There are innumerable challenges, however the biggest is financial. Having to raise a substantial amount of money each year makes a living hell for the Festival Director and the administration team, including the Board of Directors. Sponsors and Donors do not wish to consider funding for at least three years, which would help in managing programming and assuring quality but always insist on single-year funding followed by three months of post festival evaluation and another six months of discussions for the next festival’s funding. Worse still the same donors or sponsors would come and fund you very late and still expect the final product to be of top quality. A festival director’s job criteria includes capacity to beg and to never get angry with donors or sponsors.
The other challenge is government interference. For example, we still have to show all our films to the Zanzibar Censorship Board, while children are able to access pornography at will. We have argued that since this is a festival and not a commercial venture and films are shown only once or twice at most, there is no need to have the films censored.
Another insidious challenge is the expectations that some people have of how a festival should be. There are those who think all festivals have to look and feel like Cannes or Venice. We laugh at those because clearly they do not understand the cultural base of “festivals” in general. Festivals are a global driving force behind the circulation of ideas and the sense of identity.
How do you asses Zanzibar’s own response to the Festival?
ZIFF also suffers from one specific problem that is typically Zanzibari. We do not have cinemas. There is no single theatre in Zanzibar and therefore we have to show films in hotel rooms and museum halls. Of course we have the magnificent amphitheatre of the Old Fort where 1,500 people congregate each evening to watch films for the 10 festival evenings. However, during the daytime we have to use small venues that do not inhere the cinema experience.
What would you suggest to the new director?
I believe we need to go back to the financing side and note that local sponsorship is often what drives festivals, as the festival provides a platform for the congregation of huge numbers of likeminded people and advertisers can reach these artistically prone audiences with their messages. At ZIFF we are now concentrating on enlarging our local sponsorship base because we recognise that they are the best guarantee of our sustainability. From the days of 100 per cent dependence on foreign donor support ZIFF is now only 25 per cent dependent on foreign funds! However, donors do not seem to like this - because they do not praise us for that but continue to fund other organisations that have not shown our social and commercial acumen!