Tuesday, 17 March 2009

‘African films should challenge stereotypes’

BY Shaibu Husseini
RUMBI Katedza, the award -winning writer and filmmaker, who has lived in the USA, Japan, Italy, Canada, UK and Zimbabwe, was in Nigeria recently as a member of the Screening College of the 2009 edition of the African Movie Award (AMAA 2009). The lady, who has also worked as a radio presenter/producer on the popular former Zimbabwean station, Radio 3, has written a lot of articles, which have been featured in numerous magazines; and her fiction writing has been published in Women Writing Zimbabwe and the BTA/Anglo-Platinum Winners Collection. Over the years, Katedza has worked in production management on several film and video productions with companies from around the world. The soft spoken filmmaker was at a time Distribution Manager at Media for Development Trust, responsible for a the catalogue of over 200 films and later, she became Director of the Zimbabwe International Film Festival, before going out on her own as a producer and director of narrative and documentary content through her company, Mai Jai Films. In addition to co-producing and line producing projects, Katedza who is on the verge of launching zimbabwefilm.com, a comprehensive Zimbabwean film promotion website, has led Mai Jai Films to run successfully, Postcards from Zimbabwe, a children’s audio-visual and life-skills training project. She spoke with SHAIBU HUSSEINI on her career and visit to Nigeria…

Visit to Nigeria
I am here on the invitation of AMAA as a member of its 2009 College of Screeners, alongside some other members of the college from Ghana, Cameroun, Kenya and Nigeria.
This visit is my first proper stay in Nigeria (several years ago, I transited for a day). It has been quite an eye-opener to come and experience Lagos. I had wanted to come to Nigeria for many years now. Because I have been closed up in screenings since my arrival, I have not seen much of the city, but I intend to stay on for a couple of days, so, I can enjoy what it has to offer.

AMAA and living up to its billing as a continental award scheme
There is still a lot of work to be done to raise the profile of AMAA on the continent as a continental award scheme and to encourage filmmakers from different countries to submit their films. Peace (Anyiam-Fiberesima) and her team are working tirelessly to promote AMAA abroad and I admire that tremendously. Africa needs awards where it recognises its achievements and talents, so in time, I believe AMAA will be such an event.

Film making in Zimbabwe Zimbabwe has a very interesting history in film production. From independence in 1980, until the late 1990s, Zimbabwe played host to numerous film productions from Hollywood and beyond. We even had one of the only fully functional film laboratories in Africa. However, this has changed as we lost a lot of business to South Africa after they gained independence. We also lost many of our most gifted filmmakers and technicians to other countries. On one hand, this reduced the amount of production happening, but on the other hand, it encouraged Zimbabweans to take the initiative to make more of their own productions for local audiences. In recent years, digital short film production has enjoyed something of a renaissance in Zimbabwe. These films have served as valuable learning platforms for new talent, and ultimately, I believe, will contribute to the resuscitation of feature film production.

Nollywood has succeeded in creating a model for filmmaking that is unique and that works very well within the Nigerian market. The films are incredibly popular outside of Nigeria because we, as Africans, can relate to the characters and to the stories. The one thing that has to be constantly tackled is issue of technical quality, which can be addressed through increased training and exposure. As the market for Nigerian films grows, there will be increased demand for not just a good story, but a good quality film as well, so, this will raise the bar of Nollywood films, and ultimately encourage competition around the continent.

Government and the funding situation in Zimbabwe
Although government officials appear to understand the importance of film, there is very little support compared to before. Long-term sustainable structures for development, training, production, distribution and advocacy need to be set up collaboratively with government, filmmakers and stakeholders in the industry. This obviously would require a great deal of political will. Many of the active filmmakers in Zimbabwe work independently, seeking support from different sources to ensure survival of the industry.

The Zimbabwe International Film Festival
I loved running the festival. It provided me the opportunity to meet people from around the world and to host them in my country. “There is very little information about Zimbabwe in the international press, other than the challenges we are going through. There is so much more to our people and our nation. We have talented filmmakers, actors and animators, who are so passionate about what they do. Our cultural industries, though small, are vibrant, and I believe that there is no better time to collaborate with filmmakers, than when they are living in a place where history is in the making every day.” It was also very difficult running the festival. It was a nightmare to budget and plan in an environment where inflation was out of control and shortages of cash and petrol could affect your event. That said, the overwhelming support we would receive from local businesses, embassies and well-wishers allowed us to achieve great things in a seemingly impossible situation.

Children and gender based issues in African movies
I’m glad that there are several projects across the continent that are promoting training of young people in audio-visual production. I run a project for teens in Zimbabwe called Postcards from Zimbabwe, and that has allowed me to network with other filmmakers, who are involved in similar projects. Plus, there are youth-focused film festivals in Kenya and Egypt, and the Children’s Broadcasting Forum. All of these are a good step in the direction of hearing from young people about the Africa they want to live in. They are tomorrow’s leaders, so we really need to listen carefully to what they have to say. I am also glad to see not only more films with female protagonists that cover gender-based issues, but to see more women behind the camera, writing, producing and directing. These women inspire me a great deal. One thing I feel we need to do now is to challenge stereotypes about ourselves. Life is ever-changing, and our films should reflect that.

Currently on her plate
I’m currently developing a short film and a feature, as well as continuing my work with Postcards. I love to write, so, every opportunity I get, I write for magazines and write short stories. In the next few months, I’ll also be launching a new website, zimbabwefilm.com, which will highlight films made in Zimbabwe since 1980, and promote those involved in the industry today.

Gains of this trip to Nigeria
An address book full of new contacts. I’ve made a lot of good friends here!

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