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African filmmakers commissioned by US giant Netflix

by Admire Kudita

ZIMBABWEAN content creator Godwin Jabangwe (pictured) recently hit the international headlines when he inked a reported six-figure deal with Netflix to produce an animated musical film titled Tunga, courtesy of bidding war at an auction event brokered by an organisation called Verve.

Jabangwe is part of Impact 1, a programme conceived and run by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard ostensibly to usher new creative voices into the film and television sector via projects. The holder of a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, Jabangwe is represented by Lit Entertainment Group and Jackoway Austen Tyerman.

Tunga is an animation film steeped in Shona mythology. It is about a young African girl, Tunga, who ventures out to a mythical lost city in a bid to save her village from drought. She is accompanied on her epic journey by a wooden figurine, Zuze. This figurine magically transforms into a honey badger.

Netflix acquired its first original movie in September 2018 with Genevieve Nnaji’s Lion Heart for a reported US$3,5 million, according to film industry sources. Netflix has refused to deny or confirm the amount in what could develop into a watershed season for African film producers who work with scant financial resources. But Jabangwe and Nnaji are not alone as two other productions, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind from Malawi and television series Queen Sono from South Africa which underline Netflix’s pledge to commission original African series.

In an interview with Variety , Netflix’s director of international original films, Funa Maduka, weighed in on Netflix’s flirtation with African filmmakers which is showing signs of becoming a fully-fledged relationship: “Africa is birthplace to one of the oldest storytelling traditions in the world. It also has a rich cinematic history. The talent is here and we want to present ourselves as an option as they choose the best path to connect their stories with audiences.”

Another African filmmaker, Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni, produced an evocative satire of Zambian cultural practices in her film I Am Not a Witch, which garnered much attention at Cannes Festival in 2017. The film has since won a BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British writer, director or producer. It has English, Chewa, Bemba and Tonga languages. It has grossed US$152 960 at the box office. Netflix purchased it for distribution on its platform.

True to the words of Erik Barmack, Netflix vice-president of international originals, speaking at the Content London conference in 2017, Netflix is causing waves on the African film landscape. Quoted by Variety, “There is going to come a time when half of the top 10 most-watched shows on Netflix in a given year are going to come from outside of the United States,” Erik Barmack said.

Netflix is on offer in all 54 African countries.

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