What remains of the 15th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF)? Certainly an experience of cinema and culture one cannot forget. As every year, directors, artists but also development projects operators shared ideas and visions for an increasingly democratic continent, peaceful and at the service of the last and of which the cinema every year becomes an ambassador.
This year much time was devoted to local productions: films produced in Tanzania, but also from Zanzibar, as the evocative Shams Bhanji’s Zamora. ZIFF organized a conference to reflect on the possibilities of the film industry in Tanzania, focusing the attention on the prospect of producing locally and opening the doors of Zanzibar to production houses and directors so that the island might become a location for major production.
But living in Zanzibar is expensive and the region has not yet studios and the technology to meet producers’ need. A big contrast with neighbouring Kenya, where the national film commission has been working for years to professionalise the sector. This is the recurring dream of Mahmoud Thabit Kombo, former Ministry of Culture of Zanzibar and the chairman of Ziff, who has to deal with directors and artists without funds and mechanisms of production growth, but still too tied to the Nollywood model (Nigeria) and far from the production levels of expensive Western cinema
The Director of the Panafrican Film Festival of Los Angeles, Ayuko Babu, and actor Mario Van Peebles – son of the mythical “African American” actor and director Melvin Van Peebles – were the main guests at ZIFF this year. While the new African cinema tends to be influenced by world cinema, the overseas brothers are asking African colleagues to return to the roots of their culture. Babu urged African filmmakers to make films that speak of culture and African values. African film makers responded with the work of Kenyan director Andrew Kaggia. His short animated film Wageuzi: battle 2012 shows political contenders in the upcoming elections Kenyan become the Transformers: a metaphor for chameleon attitudes of presidential candidates. Kaggia’s work demonstrates how the new African cinema affirms his desire to escape from the stereotypical image of a classical Africa from the village.
Mario Van Peebles’s comments were more interesting. He encouraged local productions that would represent an Africa “beautiful, positive and proud”. Mario unveiled his latest film We the Party, a personal journey – intelligent and inspiring – in the world of American teenagers who are the models of many young African teenagers.
An important novelty at ZIFF was the partnership with Zuku, the African pay TV which broadcasts movies, sports, and general entertainment, and which launched its movie channel in Swahili during this 15th ZIFF. Zuku will be the main platform for the distribution of almost 100 films produced yearly in Tanzania in Swahili (called bongo movies). The pay-tv pledged its support to ZIFF for the next 10 years with a fund of US$ 100,000 p.a.
What separates bongo movies from their rival Nigerian productions is the desire to create films that have universal breath. STEPS, the company that produces the bongo movies in Dar es Salaam, accepted an invitation to the Verona African Film Festival to “create workshops with our local directors so that the level of film production has an increasingly international level, and be renewed by the creative point of view, bringing the cinema of Tanzania to be recognized outside national borders”.
South Africa took the lion’s share of this year ZIFF’s prizes. Ndaada Ka Ngwane’s film Uhlanga, The mark won all the most prestigious awards. Ka Ngwane is an innovating director who uses a new style and photography to offer a dramatic story, deep and highly spiritual at the same time. It is the story of a young boy that helplessly witnesses his father’s death; burnt alive by villagers who accused him and his family of being branded by witchcraft and curse. The young protagonist and the two sisters go through an ordeal of abuse, violence and fight against the prejudice that will flow into a final redemption.
Also from South Africa is the best documentary: the beautiful Mama Africa by Mika Kaurismaki. It is the story and incredible testimony of Miriam Makeba who will end his life on stage in Castel Volturno, Italy. The documentary is a musical tale of great social and human commitment. Notable is also Mocassins by Denis Kimathi. A pair of moccasins, a gift from his father, becomes the obsession of an African child, who risks friendship and acceptance because of this object of desire. It is a small and humble metaphor of our relationship with material goods. ZIFF 2012 ended with the desire to see the local industry grow and bring Tanzania to the fore in international festivals.