Zanzibar International Film Festival 2016 is all about ‘This Journey of Ours’

The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), now in its 19th consecutive year, is a pioneer in the exposure of African film-making, and a gateway to the development of African film.

ZIFF is the longest-running film festival in East Africa. Festival director Martin Mhando says, “Beginning in 1998, ZIFF was born from the ashes of the collapsed film industry. In Tanzania all 54 cinemas in the country had collapsed between 1992 and 1996. ZIFF was the only way of keeping alive the embers of cinema culture.”

ZIFF combines film and music to share its platform with all art forms, and to create a relaxed and enjoyable carnival-like environment on the island. The vision of the festival is to motivate, inspire and empower. 8 full days of local and international discussion panels, workshops and networking develops filmmaking on the continent. Though innovations such as a special category Bongo Flava award for Swahili film the Tanzanian film industry has boomed and is possibly the second biggest producer of film on the continent after Nigeria.

Umar Turaki, a filmmaker from Nigeria said, “ZIFF is a champion of cinematic underdogs, providing a platform for the celebration of young artists and creating opportunities for mentoring. In this way, ZIFF is helping to lay the foundation for a whole generation of African storytellers to burst forth.”

South Africa is an important cog in the African film market. ““”South Africa will always be the beacon of excellence and pride for many Africans,” says Mhando. With its history as well as its growth it presents a market that is not available elsewhere on the continent. The amount of sales that African filmmakers have made to Mnet or the access to DSTV with its many ‘African Magics’, all these provide nodes of potential that other Africans on the continent can look up to and emulate.”

Ziff screens films from all over Africa and the diaspora and offers awards and prize money to the best films. Of the 490 submissions received from 32 countries, 80 were nominated, four of which were from South Africa.

Kalushi, directed by Mandla Dube, will open the ZIFF 2016 festival. The feature film that took eight years to realise tells the story of Solomon ‘Kalushi’ Mahlangu, an Umkhonto we Sizwe operative executed under the apartheid regime in 1979. Mhando continues, “South Africa is in a unique position to galvanize support from the entire continent. We have an opportunity to connect the dots with our counterparts in the Pan African world to give voice to a new African cinema that can compete with all of the best out there.”

Scene from Kalushi
Scene from Kalushi. (Supplied)

Previous winner of the Verona documentary award at ZIFF 2013, Lesotho-born Teboho Edkins presents his new documentary Coming of Age, focusing on the immediate environment in which the teenagers of Lesotho exist.

Teboho said, “Lesotho was never subjected to apartheid. The family structures are very healthy and carry the sense of identity and dignity of the Basotho. The issues the African teenagers face living in the very remote high mountains are the same as teenagers everywhere. Although poor, they live with a wonderful harmony and sense of wholeness within their communities, family and mountain landscape. This has a lot to do with Lesotho as a country and the identity of the Basotho.”

Zimbabwean-born Davison Mudzingwa’s latest film Lost Tongue is a story of a San tribe in the Kalahari who are losing their language. Having grown up in poverty, Davison expresses a deep compassion towards struggle.

He says, “These struggling communities embrace a profound sense of humanity and community. This forms the basis of how I perceive the African story. I believe in showcasing African wisdom and philosophy. My storytelling is dominated by African wisdom that solves the problems we have. I believe this is a much more effective way of presenting the African narrative and its power. In every problem, there is a solution. Every country has many histories that need to be told. It’s not enough to get just one side of the story. I believe in plurality. The more stories we have, the deeper the understanding of our continent.”

Jarryd Coetsee debuts with a film adaptation of the Can Themba play The Suit, a symbol of the impact of oppression on personal relationships. “The different film-making voices emerging in South Africa reflect a pan-African subversion and debunking of long-held stereotypes of African countries, particularly the dangerous stereotype of Africa as one big country, says Coetsee. Every African country is different, and each has its own enthralling and complex cultures and sub-cultures.”

The power of African stories to travel and inspire beyond the boundaries of the continent is a feature of ZIFF with a strong inclusion of ‘African diaspora’ film-makers. Karen Martinez’s film Dreams in Transit focuses on the journey of contemporary migrants. Martinez says the theme this year, This Journey of Ours, “is exactly what my film is about: the way we as contemporary migrants travel back and forth between places. And for those of us who do, where do we belong? Where do we call ‘home’? What is our identity?”

“It is important to promote stories that show Africans helping Africans and respect for tradition even during moments of tragedy,” says filmmaker Jonathan Stein, whose film Out of the Village tells a story of Ebola in Ghana.

Crowdfunding is a positive and empowering platform for filmmakers. The short film Leeches by Payal Sethi, telling the controversial story of one day brides in India and 2015 Sembene Ousmane award winner Ekwa Msangi’s new feature film Farewell Meu Amor, were both crowdfunded onto the big screen.

ZIFF is an important conduit for emerging filmmakers, a sentiment reiterated by Mhando when he states “In our diversity we find common destinies, shared histories and we celebrate what defines us as a group and as flowers of this rich garden of peoples. We see Africa in all its histories for we know stories told of and about Africa are stories that reflect the living experiences of many diverse peoples of the continent.”

Films and film-makers to look out for:

  • Umar Turaki – Nigeria, Salt
  • Marie Clementine Dusabejambo – Rwanda, A Place for Myself
  • Ekwa Msangi – Tanzania, Farewell Meu Amor
  • Daniel Manege – Tanzania, Safari ya Gwalu
  • Anthony Nti – Ghana, Boi
  • Dorothy Atabong – Ghana Sound of Tears
  • Ng’endo Mukii – Kenya, This Migrant Business
  • Younes Yousfi – Morocco, Let’s Rock
  • Teboho Edkins – South Africa, Coming of Age.

The festival runs from 9 -17 July 2016 in Stone Town, Zanzibar;

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Struan Douglas
Struan Douglas is a South African based African cultural writer, performer, presenter, activist and educator.

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