THIS week Independentxtra reporter Itai Mushekwe (IM) spoke to the country´s leading filmmaker, Tsitsi Dangarembga (TD) on a wide range of issues pertaining to her profession and her impression about the Zimbabwe film industry in general.
all the professions in the world, why did you choose to become a filmmaker and notably a novelist of repute.
TD: I call what I do a vocation. I had started out studying other disciplines but before I finished university, writing and narrative (story telling) claimed me.
IM: I understand you trained in Germany, at which institute were you trained and for how long? What can you say was the most important thing you learnt?
TD: I trained at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin, where I received a Masters degree in filmmaking. It took me seven years. The structure of the course is several set years, and then time to make a graduation film. It took me a long time to graduate as I battled to raise funds for my graduation film. That didn’t work. In the end I graduated with a script
IM: Most filmmakers in Zimbabwe are under-achievers yet to date you are arguably the best and most accomplished filmmaker, where do you derive your inspiration and what’s your secret for success?
TD: I do not know where my creativity comes from although I feel very blessed to have it and think it must be God-given. Creativity is only one part of the story though. I am determined and disciplined where my work is concerned. One of my friends recently described me as being more than perservering and said I was “dogged”. That might not sound very nice, but one does not have an option if she wants to realise a vision.
I also put a lot of thought into my work. I have studied film and keep up my reading when I have access to literature. People in Zimbabwe generally underestimate the intellectual input that is necessary to produce a good narrative. One of my film instructors at film school, a Hungarian by the name of Bela Tarr told us to read and read and keep on reading. One also needs an intellectual climate where one can discuss and be challenged by colleagues. Again, there is not much space for that in our country where very few people can afford to buy a book and you are only likely to find adventure stories and cheap romances when you enter a book shop. Searching for one’s stimulation is an important process in the intellectually-dry environment we live in.
IM: As a female director what challenges have you faced insofar as your work is concerned and where do you see your work in five years’ time?
TD: I hate going into this question of the challenges faced as a female Zimbabwean director. If one were to tell the truth it would sound like one long litany of suffering. Luckily, as my friend says, I have been “dogged” and so I have been able to continue. In such an environment, the little support that one does get can be stretched to go a long way. It is painful and tough, but it is possible.
IM: I know you have directed and produced numerous hit films, which of these can you say is the best? And briefly list the books you have released to date.
TD: The best film I have made is, without a doubt Kare Kare Zvako. It is truly ground-breaking in terms of genre and narrative voice. Books are She No Longer Weeps, a play, and the well-known Nervous Conditions. The Book of Not, a sequel to Nervous Conditions, will be available in a couple of weeks’ time.
IM: Have you made any significant inroads with regards to your latest film project about queues?
TD: The significant progress I have made is that we, that is the people involved in the project, now have a tremendous, ground-breaking script. We were able to craft the script to its present standard with funding from the Zimbabwe Culture Fund. The people who wrote the script (one or two episodes each because it is an episode feature film) are myself, Tawanda Gunda, John Rubeni and Knox Chatiza. We need 400 000 euros to produce the film to international standard, and in spite of numerous applications we have not raised a cent. It is really strange that in spite of Kare Kare Zvako being two years old and the obvious excellence of the product, I still cannot find any funding for my productions.
IM: Briefly what is the film Q-ING all about and are there no political connotations contained therein?
TD: Q-ING is an episode feature film. This means it is a full-length feature concerned with a central theme told in the form of episodes. There are four characters: Boniface Tofireyi, a miller who obviosuly needs diesel for his mill; Pangi, a youth trying to find a life and a girl; Zuze, a hospital mortuary attendant and Simba, a man with a pregnant wife and a demanding mistress.
The absence of fuel impacts on all their lives in one way or another. In finding solutions to these problems, the protagonists grow as individuals, see some of their weaknesses and turn attention to overcoming these weaknesses.
It is a comedy because people like to laugh and I liked the challenge of finding things to laugh about in the grim situations the fuel problems cause. It is a tribute to the resilience of the Zimbabwean people although there is also a call to us to look to ourselves for solutions. It is also a musical because I think our song and dance are cultural products unique to Zimbabwe that we should package for international distribution in order to benefit from them. Do you see anything political in that?
IM: What can be done to improve Zimbabwe’s film industry and do we have the potential to square up with competitive film industries in Africa such as Nigeria and South Africa?
TD: What needs to be done to improve our industry is planning. We have to decide what we want in terms of a film industry; plan for it in an informed way, and then put the plan into action to make it happen.
It is my observation that there are very few people in the country who are informed about the film industry. People tend to think that if you turn on the camera and get a picture you can make a film. Nobody is thinking seriously about the place of culture and narrative, including motion-picture narrative, in the construction of a nation.
Even many of our critics are not as well-informed as one might want them to be. Short films — all genres of television video features — are all lumped up together as films. The specific features of motion picture narrative are rarely referred to in analysis, with many going no further than summarising the plot. In such a situation of general ignorance, it is very difficult to see how our industry can progress. Planners and people in positions of influence need to realise that the skills of the motion picture profession have to be respected and perfected if our industry is going to move.
It is interesting that you mention Nigeria and South Africa, two opposite poles of the industry, with Nigeria producing a lot of low-budget material and South Africa making higher quality productions.
I think the best approach would be to produce a range of products from low-budget television as the Nigerians do, to well-produced television and film as South Africa and many other nations do.