EACH year comes with its own ups and downs. Such characterised the film and theatre sectors which, despite the challenges, thrived in 2019.

The death of artistes who played pivotal roles in the two sectors and unrelenting economic crisis characterised the down part.

Emerging new players and the premiering of new productions locally and internationally marked the up side of the year whose curtain is about to come down in a few days.

Deaths robs creative talents

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The film and theatre sectors were left poorer following the untimely passing on of national hero and music superstar Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi in January, novelist Charles Mungoshi in February playwright Stephen Chifunyise in August and Bibiana Mapuranga who played Mai Abhibho in the TV series Mawoko Matema.

Tuku’s role in film is evidently seen in a 1993 production Neria, in which he played Jethro and did the film’s soundtrack Neria, which has remained one of the most celebrated Zimbabwean songs.

Chifunyise played a critical role in the formation of the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatres, marking the introduction of theatre for development in Zimbabwe.

Mungoshi also took part in some of the local Zimbabwean drama series in the late 1990s and played a role in a local drama Ndabvezera, which was produced by Aaron Chiundura Moyo.

ZIFF fails to take off

The collapsing economy saw one of the platforms for locals to showcase their films, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) failing to open the 21st fiesta affecting the premiere of Maroro, a film by South Africa-based producer Brian Kugara of Guruuswa Productions.

Despite the annual ZIFF having failed to take off this year, the other festivals held this year included the inaugural International Theatre Festival, another new festival Mashonaland Central Short Film Festival, Mitambo International Theatre Festival, International Images Film Festival and the European Union Film Festival.

As the year progressed, filmmakers were also robbed of the opportunity to showcase their films in Ster Kinekor cinemas after the organisation pegged its fees in United States dollars or an amount equivalent to the local currency.

“US$535 is so much money. We are a struggling industry. If I get charged that amount to premiere my film how much then will I charge for entry to profit? As a result we have opted for cheaper venues. If you, however, have links they charge you differently from the rest,” said one filmmaker who spoke on conditions of anonymity.

The inflated fees have seen the filmmakers opting for cheaper venues such as Theatre in the Park, Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre and the State Lottery House.

New productions premiered

Despite setbacks, film and theatre did not sink into oblivion. Over 20 theatre productions and 10 films premiered this year.

Theatre productions include Song of the Sacred Mountain, Nzara, Harsh Realities, Bongile We Are, Last of the Suns, There Is a Field, Away from Home, Parliament of Animals, Inside Out, A Discussion with the Late Robert Mugabe and Idai: Till Death Do Us Apart. Song of the Sacred Mountain by Polish-American artist Klara Wojtkowska that premiered at the Alliance Francaise revived ceremony theatre.

Of the nine films that premiered, four are features and the other are television series. The features are Weekend Special, Lord of Kush, Boundaries Within, Chapungu, and 5th Anniversary, while the TV series are Chipo, Shungu DzeMoyo, African American, Simbimbino and Marbles
It’s quite sad that none of the television series made its way to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s television station ZTV, DStv’s Zambezi Magic or any other channels.

The Extra-terrestrial by Tatenda Katsande, scheduled to debut at Bulawayo City Hall on September 21, could not see the light of the day as a result of what the producer termed “sabotage due to tribalism”.

The aforementioned productions did well in reflecting the political and socioeconomic environment prevailing in the country with plays playing that role to a greater extent. What is, however, not pleasing is that some productions did not go on tour to be watched by a large population.

This was probably due to financial constraints since many donors withdrew their support from local productions.

Off artists arrests

While this year seemed to be a year in which artists could freely express themselves, freedom of expression was compromised when four players in the industries producer and director Tendai Maduwa co-writer Kudakwashe Bwititi and Theatre in the Park managers Daves Guzha and Peter Churu were arrested for allegedly contravening provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act after premiering, Lord of Kush at Theatre in the Park without the greenlight from the Censorship Board. The four since July have not received their verdict.

“Lack of freedom of expression” leaves Mirazvo Productions co-producer Nick Zemura arguing that film is one of the fraternity that is not yet open for business.

“We are still working, but against the odds. Film is one sector in which Zimbabwe is not yet open for business. Artistes do not even need to be given anything before you give them the freedom to express themselves,” he said.

“It took me two days to get permits to start a production in New York, but in Zimbabwe, you need clearance from 11 entities if you really want to work without getting arrested. Such should be addressed for the industry to grow.”

The year 2019 was not all that gloomy, in addition to releasing of productions there are activities that took place that kept film and theatre moving such as the opening of Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre, where a number of plays premiered.

The opening of the Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre came along with the premiere of Inside Out, an emotional play centred on the January 2019 protests, which were characterised by looting of shops and killing of civilians following President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to hike fuel prices by over 150%.

Trading microphones for films and plays

This year has seen some musicians trading their microphones for roles in films and plays. Four music stars, Hope Masike, Gemma Griffiths, Tahle weDzinza, Bryn K and a plethora of exceptional dancers featured in a musical theatre, Bongile We Are that debuted at Reps Theatre in Harare.

The year has also seen Seke Mutema hitmaker Noel Marerwa bouncing back in theatre with Harsh Realities, first staged at St John’s Cultural Centre in September.

Talented Afro-pop songbird, Thamsanqa “Tammy” Moyo, also broadened her wings by landing a role in Sydney Taivavashe’s feature film Gonarezhou.

Cape Town-based afro-jazz musician Simbarashe Saini’s seven-year-old son, Kevin also landed a role in an American movie, Run With the Wolves.
Nigerian actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim torches a storm

The choice of renowned Nigerian actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim to play the character of the late President Robert Mugabe in the movie, The Hero, torched a storm among local filmmakers and among social media users during the course of the year.

The discussion triggered by the film produced by United States-based producer, Ofime Rodgers exposed the local industry’s unpreparedness to tell Zimbabwean stories. Despite that locals were featured in the film it also uncovered foreign producers’ lack of faith in local talent. There is, therefore, need to boost confidence in the film industry.

Zim films screened at international festivals

Quite a number of films were this year screened on the international platforms compared to the previous year. Melgin Tafirenyika’s Are We Strangers and 5th Anniversary were screened at Afro-Chinese Arts and Folklore Festival in Egypt. Daniel Lasker’s short film The Man played at Hollywood Silver Screen Festival in United States, Igi Matope’s Goodman at the Montgomery International Film Festival in Unites States and Brian Kugara’s Cry for Help was screened at uMgungundlovu Film Festival in South Africa.

Four films made it to Zambia’s Sotambe Documentary Film and Arts Festival in September. These are journalist Hopewell Ching’ono’s State of Mind and Binga teacher Kalulu Mumpande’s Mwenzule Uupya. Tafirenyika’s 5th Anniversary and Kugara’s Forgiveness.

Mirazvo Productions and Rain Media’s Kushata KweMoyo did not only showcase at the annual Lake International PanAfrican Film Festival (LIPFF) in Kenya, but got a triple award nomination – Best Actress, Best Feature Film and Best Editor, which the producer Shem Zemura described as a greatest achievement.

Kudos to Zimbabwe International Film Festival Trust

The Zimbabwe International Film Festival Trust should be commended for kick starting the Narrative from Zimbabwe project aimed at archiving the country’s culture and heritage on a website for use by artistes in preaching the Zimbabwean story and for the benefit of everyone else.

Off artistes triumphs

United Kingdom-based actor and singer John Pfumojena landed a role in the National Theatre-produced Peter Pan play adapted from an iconic Peter Pan. Playwright Thandiwe Mawungwa was selected to represent the country at the Ojai Playwrights Conference (OPC) held in California, US.

Another notable 2019 development is the grooming of actors by renowned filmmaker Manuel Matsinye who after launching Marbles in May and introduced acting classes at Life Long College in Harare.

The classes benefited both theatre and film and have seen the grooming of — comedienne Tyra “Madam Boss” Chikocho, Monile Murape, Shahmaine Mukutirwa, Hazel Chingwaru, Anesu Matibvu, Mathias Kureva, Munashe Tapfumanei Chitsiga, Joseph Marikano, Wellington Billiat, Mitchelle Sanyanga, Arthur Kupakuwana, Mapfumo Katsaya, Lorraine Mushati, Catherine Vingirai, Lovemore Medzani and Gloria Zengeya.

All the actors have featured in various films and plays such as Marbles Season Two, Estate Blues, Inside Out, Away from Home, Toxic, Harvest of Thorns, Born Again, Pero, Nzara, The Divorce and Chapungu.

Although 2019 had been tough because of the difficult economy, players in theatre and film did not hang boots. In the face of criticism, emerging filmmakers soldiered on. The likes of Nechironga renewed their energy when his production with Down Rains Entertainment, Shungu Dzemoyo was alleged to be a half-baked production.
There were other productions that did not adhere to basic rules governing filmmaking, but this and did not demoralise emerging thespians. Instead criticism gave them an opportunity to learn and aim higher.

What is in stock for 2020
There are many productions that are likely to premiere next year, hopefully they will attract a wide audience.

These include Mirazvo Productions and Rain Media’s Thicker and Kudzamara Rufu, Joe Njagu’s Mirage, Matsinye’s Enigma, Munashe Chitsiga’s Let’s Plot a Wedding, an animation Patriotic Force and Kugara’s Murindagomo and The Legend of the Magical Pot.

The artists’ struggle against odds is proof of their commitment to save the industries from collapsing, reviving and growing it. It’s an appeal to the corporate world and government to support the sectors as this in turn would benefit the nation’s economy. It’s high time trust was bestowed on the sectors as full support consequently means the booming of the economy.

The arts sector and arts industry at large need to be supported financially and technically. Hopefully 2020 will be a great year for the industry players.