To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
16 Oct 2015 14:42
Zollywood in action: Limited budgets mean that many Zambian filmmakers use their homes and ?neighbourhoods as locations.
Red-carpet premieres have become more frequent in Zambia and crowds now flock to cinemas to watch new local films.
Previously, most Zambians preferred to stay at home in front
of their TV sets to going out to see a movie at a cinema. Sustained advertising through print, radio and TV has become
a trend whenever a new movie is about to be released.
And unlike before, local
movies are now shown alongside foreign movies in cinemas in the capital,
And there is increasing demand for Zambian content from big
industry players such as South Africa’s M-Net, through its new channel Zambezi
“Zambia is virgin soil that seeks cultivation,” says
filmmaker Jessie Chisi. “It has an attractive natural landscape suitable for
developing the film industry and this can be used to attract both local and
Mulenga Kapwepwe, chairperson of Zambia’s National Arts
Council, says the country’s film industry is still in its infancy, but that big
strides have been made in the recent past.
“We still have a long way to go. The absence of a
national film and broadcasting policy has hindered the development of the
sector since there has been no clear direction in terms of financing,
regulation, protectionism and censorship,” she says.
A successful playwright herself, Kapwepwe is happy that
Zambians have begun to appreciate the industry by turning out in good numbers
every time there is a premiere of a new local film.
Zambia’s emerging filmmakers, constrained by limited
budgets, often use their homes and neighbourhoods as locations, and cast family
members, neighbours and friends as actors. A few local directors are managing to transcend the
difficulties of making films in the Southern African country, which has a
population of more than 13-million.
Chenda, the latest film from Owas Mwape, a director in his
30s who has been making films for about 10 years, has recently been bought by
M-Net for its Zambezi Magic channel. The film’s mix of suspense and
passion saw it play to full houses in
Lusaka for most of its two-week run.
It tells the story of Chenda, a proud housewife whose dreams
of a happy family life are ruined after her husband’s infidelity with a komboni
(township) girl. She then falls for a handsome friend of her husband’s who
comes to stay with the family. Mwape is one of the few Zambian filmmakers able to make a
film at least every year.
A scene from Henry Joe Sakala’s ?latest film.
“I had to draw deep into the experiences of family and
friends in order ... to bring out strong characters in as few locations as
possible,” Mwape says. “This experience highlights the issue of [the] lack of
There are no proper editing studios in the country, says
Henry Joe Sakala, an actor and filmmaker. “Most productions are produced with
shoestring budgets, so the editing is done in homes on desktop computers, some
even on laptops. It’s definitely cheaper.”
But, as Sakala admits, the lack of high-end editing and
sound equipment can result in less than professional quality. In an ideal world, says Sakala, there would be specialists
working on different aspects of the film.
He says the packaging of films is generally good and
inexpensive, but there are no dedicated film distributors in Zambia. Super Shine Investments, which is well
known for distributing music, has recently started distributing films but local
filmmakers often distribute the films themselves.
The sale of a DVD, for example, is done by individual film
producers on the streets, selling at about $2 a copy. The introduction of the
country’s anti-piracy policy has not helped much because enforcement is weak.
There are cheap DVDs being sold on every street corner of the country. Much of
the piracy is done in Lusaka’s notorious Matero township, which is well known
for producing counterfeit products.
Sakala says that to keep costs down locations and cast are
kept to a minimum. He shot his film When the Curtain Falls mostly in one
location — the Lusaka Playhouse — with a cast of 10. “Brothers, one of the TV
series I wrote, was filmed in one place — a lodge — we had two homes, a bar,
[and] a police station, all at one site. This reduces the costs of
transport,” says Sakala.
With Chenda, Mwape decided to cast his net wider and bring
in award-winning Malawian actress and Africa Movie Academy awards nominee Flora
“A few years from now, I envision Zambian movies including
international actors from all over Africa. The movie industry is in its infancy
but the Zambian story is being told,” Mwape says.
What is the Zambian story? Film producer and actor Mingeli
Palata describes it in one way as a story of how more than 73 different tribes
have lived together peacefully in the country for more than half a century.
“I suppose it’s not accurate to crystallise a particular
subject or theme as the Zambian story, seeing as everyone sees it from their
perspective. Zambia is many things to a lot of people and each experience is
unique,” says Palata, whose TV series Maliposa was nominated for the Africa
Magic Viewers’ Choice awards.
Not until Zambia has a national film policy, says Kapwepwe
of the National Arts Council, will it be possible to quantify the industry
because at present it is fragmented.
“Currently the industry is growing but still needs a lot of
support. One major thing that we need is a film school,” says Sakala.
He adds that film funding could be undertaken through the
setting up of a film commission, which could disburse the funds to production
houses that submit good scripts and proposals.
“The government should take up the chain of cinemas that
they used to run before setting up cinema facilities in the townships community
centres. These would be the places where local films can be shown.”
Create Account | Lost Your Password?