BlackFacts Details

How grassroots video is building film industry in Zimbabwe

guest column :Oswelled Ureke THERE is a general perception that there is no film industry to talk about in Zimbabwe. This argument is mostly based on comparisons with other well-resourced film economies, such as Hollywood, or even South Africa’s. Based on my study of the Zimbabwean film industry, I disagree with this view. Zimbabwe does have a film industry, but perhaps, not one that meets everyone’s expectations and certainly not one that can be comparable to Hollywood’s formal value chain. Zimbabwe, like many other developing countries, faces political and economic challenges and the film industry’s problems are compounded by a lack of either governmental or corporate support, which has led media scholar Nyasha Mboti to observe that the sector is “orphaned”. There are, nevertheless, efforts at the grassroots, of various informally-constituted cottage industries producing video-film products. These include video-films shot in as little as a week, on very low to zero budgets and by remarkably lean crews (who may also feature as the acting talent). These efforts should be celebrated as indications of enthusiasm, creative genius and sheer endeavour that auger well for the future of an industry (by any definition). Making it work In a recent paper, I argue that making a film in most developing countries is mégotage, as observed by the “father of African cinema”, Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. The mégotage metaphor means that producing a film in such contexts is a desperate endeavour, akin to scrounging around for cigarette butts. It is such a grit and grunt, huff and puff affair, to the extent that even a 10-minute short film has to be admired. Evidence on the ground shows that the mégotage sometimes pays off. Zimbabweans are known for their resilience and ability to make things work when faced with what seems to be a dead end. A large portion of the country’s economy is characterised by such resilient efforts, as anthropologist Jeremy Jones observes. Zimbabwe’s film industry appears to thrive under very difficult circumstances. Recent video-films like Kushata Kwemoyo, Escape, Chinhoyi 7 and lately, the Netflix hit Cook Off, all made during the so-called Zimbabwean crisis (stretching from around 2000 to date) showcase the filmmaking talent and cinematographic capabilities abundant in the country. It’s what once led film scholar Frank Ukadike, in his book Black African Cinema, to remark that Zimbabwe was Africa’s Hollywood. Ukadike made his remark more than 20 years ago. It was based on the film-friendliness that Zimbabwe exhibited back then. At the time, many Hollywood companies, including the Cannon Group who were popular for blockbusters like Missing In Action and Cyborg featuring stars like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, used Zimbabwe as a filmmaking location because of its splendid scenery, efficient financial systems and durable infrastructure. Famous faces such as Sharon Stone (in King Solomon’s Mines) and Denzel Washington (in Cry Freedom) graced the country as cast in the movies. At the same time

Literature Facts