2010 – 2020 – TETE ELIZA

2010 – 2020 – TETE ELIZA

by Samakande Elizabeth and Dr K Chikonzo

Posted 30 June 2022

Picture Courtesy of Tete Eliza Picture collections

It has been customary, in Zimbabwean film circles, to regard Guerrilla Film/ Third Cinema approaches as the exclusive practice of ghetto filmmakers (Mukwara 2015; Tambandini 2018). There has been a binary construction of Zimbabwean filmmakers between those who regard themselves as elitists and those from the ghetto who are regarded as community filmmakers. Emerging evidence from the elitist canon indicates an abundance of evidence that bears testimony to the adoption and deployment of guerrilla and third cinema strategies of production, distribution, and marketing. In this vein, this study examines the symbiotic relationship between elitist film practice in Zimbabwe and guerrilla film approaches. The study also seeks to understand factors that explicate the turn towards Guerrilla film approaches by the so-called elitist filmmakers in Zimbabwe. A textual, contextual quantitative, and qualitative interpretive study, therefore, explores how ghetto film practice successfully developed a Guerrilla filmmaking approach which is proving to be Zimbabwe’s model of filmmaking outside the donor-driven model.

Sabhuku Vhara Zipi Community Based film productions – Picture Courtesy of nehandaradio.com

Key Words

Guerrilla Cinema, Third cinema, elitist, production, marketing, distribution, aesthetics, relocating, re-purposing, appropriated

Introduction

The historical tracing of the Zimbabwean film industry from 1980 shows four decades of eras that were not conducive enough to develop the Zimbabwean film industry. Due to the non-funding of film productions from 2010-2020 the industry has been producing low-quality films making some scholars debate the non-existence of the industry (Mboti 2014; Ureke 2016; Mukwara 2015; Kohlmann 2018). This paper has noticed a gradual shift by elitist film producers from Hollywood models to [1]guerrilla cinema, a model practiced by the so-called [2]ghetto producers and community-based producers Mukwara (2015). This has led the writers of the paper to interrogate the reasons why the elite film producers are now appropriating, re-purposing, and adopting the guerrilla model. Hence, the problem is that academic scholars have not yet tackled the reasons the elite film producers have adopted the guerrilla model from 2010 – 2020. The study will use both quantitative and qualitative interpretive paradigms designed as a multiple case study which is a mixed research design and procedure of acquiring data through two or more methods with different meta-theoretical assumptions to understand a research problem Moyo (2017), Creswell (2012).

The Zimbabwean film industry’s history is traced from Zimbabwe’s colonial to the post-2000 era (Mboti 2014; Hungwe 1991; 2005; Mukwara 2015; Ureke 2016; 2020; Thompson 2013). This will analyze elitist films and the prevalence of guerrilla film aesthetics in the so-called [3]elite film club using the selected films produced from 2010 to 2020; Lobola (2010), The Gentleman (2011), Escape (2016), Cook Off (2017), Tete B (2018), and The Letter (2019). The elitist club that used to be the beacon and hope of Hollywood’s production aesthetics in Zimbabwe is now adopting a guerrilla model which was formerly associated with ghetto and community-based films. The conceptualization of guerrilla aesthetics indicates the industry has created a consistent viable film and television industry outside Hollywood mainstream cinema.  Netflix has also proved to be an outstanding innovative – profitable management of the 4th industrial revolution Mauyakufa-Pradhan 2017. Thus, condemning informality will never benefit anything as the informal sector is a means of survival for many millions of people excluded from wage labor (Ramon Lobato, 2012:42) hence, the sector has informed the Hollywood model of production and elitist producers have made sense of guerrilla aesthetics. Film has the power to emotionally connect with viewers more than any other form of art. It connects societies from different communities through television and broadcasting services, Internet Protocol (IP), and Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD). Above all, those with the ability to decide and control what you see, hear, process, and perceive also have the power to control your mind Mungoshi (2017).

In the past, different filmmakers have lamented over local producers’ treatment as street vendors and ceased submitting content to the national broadcasting service Mauyakufa (2020). The so-called elitist producers seem to be between and betwixt neo- Hollywood and guerrilla cinema and have appropriated, and re-purposed guerrilla aesthetics to create an elitist version of guerrilla cinema in Zimbabwe that is producing homegrown content. Regardless of the industry’s experience of various challenges such as unclear government strategies, laws, and policies and the absence of production managers to coordinate and direct the operations of the film organizations, several films have been produced by the so-called elitist producers. The elitist producers have used this unique phenomenon as they imbue the guerrilla model in their practice.

The revamping of the film industry by these elitist producers is now reshaping the country’s policy-making, academic research, industrial building, and film practitioners’ sustenance. The film production business affects or is affected by production or operations that is operations and sales are intertwined Mauyakufa- Pradhan (2017) and hence the study will examine the manifestations and influence of guerrilla aesthetics in the film production stages and processes. An analysis of the adoption of guerrilla aesthetics by the elite club of film producers indicates positive growth in the development of the film industry in Zimbabwe as it will inform policymakers, researchers, industry, and film practitioners.

Background

Zimbabwe’s film industry is classified at four decades intervals; 1980 – 1990 (government partial funding), 1990 – 2000 (donor funding), 2000 – 2010 (Zimbabwean crisis), and 2010 – 2020 (Alternative Cinema). The industry has succumbed to vigorous criticism Mukwara (2015) because of incompetence due to the misconception of comparing it with mainstream cinema such as Hollywood and South Africa. The focus has only been on production trends and the aesthetic quality of films. The guerrilla model referred to as an ‘Alternative Cinema’ by Mukwara is significant to the Zimbabwean film industry’s history as it contributes to global cinematic movements and national appeals and between 2010- 2020 the elite film producers have harnessed the model to revamp the Zimbabwean film industry. In the face of the 4th industrial revolution, it is vital to comprehend the continuity of different film movements that have risen from Zimbabwe since independence which is greatly influenced by globalization. The guerrilla movement helps to enrich the indigenous culture in diversifying globalization and foreign domination. In Africa, the film has taken over the traditional oral means of story-telling as a result, African filmmakers using the Third Cinema paradigm aspire to harness the new technologies of film and localize them towards the expression of local cultures Ureke (2016). Film narratives have become the oral culture, hence an upsurge of scholarship in film. Zimbabwe is also catching up on the film scholarship as evidenced by the growing body of scholars dealing with themes and histories of films produced in Zimbabwe. This is traced in various works by (Hungwe 1991; Vambe, Chikonzo, and Khan, 2007; Mhiripiri 2010; Thompson, 2013; Mboti 2014). The other body of inquisitive scholars has also analyzed the growth of film through production, marketing, and distribution lens (Ureke,2016; Mauyakufa- Pradhan 2017; 2018; 2020; Mukwara, 2015; Tambandini, 2018).

The Zimbabwean film industry seems to be in shambles Tambandini (2018), Mboti (2016), and Mukwara (2015) argue about the existence of a film industry in Zimbabwe. This follows the discourse of the failure of several locally made films to make profitable returns and thereby the industry seems to lack economic significance.  A look at Joe Njagu’s productions is backed by scholarly reports because of the successful outcome of films such as Lobola, Escape, and Cook-Off among others. Njagu represents a successful film marketing and distribution model that is biased towards the guerrilla model. The Zimbabwean film producers stand to learn a lot from the strategies and channels utilized by his production company Tambandini (2018).

Mboti (2014) navigates the state of affairs in Zimbabwe’s film industry. He cites an orphaned film industry after the exit of donor funding. The industry, synonymous with Africa’s cinema, is a work in progress as it is constantly adapting to the social, political, and economic environment in the search for a sustainable model of growth. Since the dawn of independence in 1980, the industry has been in a prolonged uphill search to find itself by way of decolonizing the colonial cinema (ibid). As of 2010 the traditionally minority activity of filmmaking that seemed to be meant for the elitist and talented tenth has been opened to broader participation. Unlike Mboti’s conclusion that the future of the Zimbabwean film industry remains unknown because of non-funding and poor distribution, the industry has survived through the adoption of Kiya-Kiya and guerrilla models by the club of elite film producers. This further supports concepts of Zollywood, Zimbavision, and Zimbowood which are influenced by a continual public debate on how to identify the industry through nomenclature just like Nollywood, Bollywood, and Hollywood Rwafa (2013). The naming of the industry through a re-organization of new models, themes, and perspectives resonates with the push for a name for the industry. There is a gap in how to identify the strategies of naming the industry as filmmakers are struggling to produce film aesthetics.

A [4]re-location into the aesthetics of Zimbabwean films confirms that the revolutionary model has been adopted by the so-called elitist film producers. The innovative inventions by ghetto and community guerrilla practitioners are visible in the production processes and stages of marketing and distribution techniques. Njagu’s films were built from initial productions. Escape was built on the revenue of Lobola. Njagu can be bracketed into the elite film producers club in Zimbabwe and has successfully appropriated and repurposed the guerrilla aesthetics. Hence, his club has created an elitist guerrilla cinema version.

The cinematic fact and the film services industry on production contexts in Zimbabwe between 1980 – 2016 show that films such as King Solomon’s Mines, Everyone’s Child, Tanyaradzwa, and Sinners‘ different socio-economic production contexts influenced the film services, aesthetics norms, and themes of narratives. Ureke (2016) likewise the film corpus from the period 2010-2020. The Zimbabwean film industry has transformed from being a formal enterprise with clearly specialized roles to that which is ‘constituted as a shadow economy’, has no clear structures, and does not depend on specialized film services (ibid). Regardless of the industry’s use of the ‘guesswork’ model for filmmaking, it shows guerrilla cinema is of convenience as it is borne out of the arduous circumstances filmmakers and other enterprises operate under in Zimbabwe. Though the films produced in this setup may be of poor aesthetic quality yet they are borne out of a truly homegrown artistic endeavor. They are trashy but autistic narratives, Mukwara (2015).

In 1980 Zimbabwe inherited a colonial blueprint film industry that was synonymous with colonial didactic propaganda purposes. The colonial film industry’s mandate was to extend Western ideology in the justification of Southern Africa’s colonial rule Ureke (2016). At independence, the government tried to use cinema to market the country and invited foreign filmmakers to use Zimbabwe’s friend location Thompson (2013). The international filmmakers responded positively that saw the American Canon group producing King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quarterman, and the Lost City of Gold and Cry Freedom. 

Picture Courtesy of Excalibur media

Picture Courtesy of  ebay.com

The government failed to get much revenue from these films but it laid a foundation for the development of the film industry and facilitated the development of state of art laboratories Ureke (2016). From 1990 to 2000 there was a continent-wide phenomenon that was influenced by International Monetary Fund and World Bank-sponsored Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). The government adopted economic liberalizing by reducing government expenditure on services.  Economic SAPs left a trail of hardships as they were massive job cuts and reduction of social service provision (ibid). Life became unbearable and political tensions erupted that led to the formation of labor unions such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (Raftopoulos 2004, Ndlovu Gatsheni 2003, Ureke 2016 and eventually the formation of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change in 1990. The war veterans also started lobbying for the redistribution of land. This was also acerbated by the HIV/Aids pandemic and, because the SAPs discouraged public expenditure in favor of privatization and market liberalization, the film sector which had support from many other industries was affected. This also coincided with the flop of Cry Freedom which the government had invested about US$5 million Ureke (2016)

Between 2000 and 2008 Zimbabwe suffered countless economic, social, and political hardships as a result of universally contested causes. The period was dubbed the ‘Zimbabwean Crisis’ (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2003; Raftopoulos and Phimister, 2004). The crisis was an entanglement of political, economic, social, humanitarian, and ideological challenges Ureke (2016). The 2010 to 2020 era saw new political shifts such as the Government of National Unity of 2009, and it ushered in some socio-economic stability (Mukwara 2015; Ureke 2016) that gave birth to a multi-currency regime that saw the arresting of hyperinflation. The coalition lasted until 2013 when ZANU PF won the controversial elections and regained the mandate to govern the country single handily Ureke (2016). Within this era, an indication of the film industry’s resurrection was imminent because of the dawn of the short film genre (Mhiripiri 2010; Thompson 2013). This was over and above the proliferation of small individual video production enterprises, formal training schools, and the mushrooming of video films street vending Ureke (2016).

Theoretical Framework

The study uses the guerrilla paradigm that is derived from the Third Cinema concepts by Solanas- Getino (1976) and Said’s (1978) theory of hybridity. Third cinema is a set of strategies developed in the manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ Getino-Solanas (1976). The manifesto called for the decolonization of culture through a counter cinema Hayward (2001). As the ideas underlying Third Cinema gains exposure in Sub-Saharan Africa it becomes a cinema of emancipation through resisting imperialism and oppression. It articulates the codes of an essentially First World technology into indigenous aesthetics and mythologies (Russel 1998; Ureke  2020: Mukwara 2015). The Zimbabwean video filmmakers’ practices across the filmmaking value chain depict the guerrilla mode when they ‘negotiate’, appropriate’ and contaminate and violate mainstream conventional filmmaking modes Mukwara (2015).

The philosophy behind Third Cinema is that a director can be the cameraman, photographer, or writer at different phases of the production Ureke (2016), that is the wearing of several hats. Guerrilla ideology is driven by passion with whatever means at hand Mark Hill (2000). Zimbabwean scholars are now realizing this unique form of paradigm that is now being adopted by elite film producers. The paradigm shift is now transcending guerrilla and Hollywood to become an elitist guerrilla cinema version. The revolutionary guerrilla model in Zimbabwe emanated from productions by Sabhuku Vhara zipi, Fidelis, VaMayaya, Go Chanaiwa Go, and Zim dance hall video artists among many others. The guerrilla trajectory of film production commenced at the moment when film producers sensed the need to produce by any means necessary. 

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The reason for heated debates on the absence of the film industry is the First World Cinema has greatly distorted images of Third World people. Just as the guerrilla model is a cinematic movement born out of a hybridity mode of production as seen in the concepts of Hybridity by Said (1978) and Solanas- Getino (1976) Third Cinema theories, the elitist guerrilla adoption has developed an elitist cinema that informs Third Cinema’s development. There is evidence of symbiotic resemblances of the adopted model by the so-called elitist and professional producers. The Guerrilla cinematic movement has constructed a throbbing, living reality that recaptures reality in any of its expressions in Zimbabwe. The existence of any revolutionary cinema is unachievable without the persistent, constant, and methodical exercise of practice, search, and experimentation. There is a need for new filmmakers to commit and take chances on the unknown and even leap into space, exposing the filmmaker to failure just like a guerrilla who travels on paths that he opens with machete blows Solanas-Getino (1976). The ability to go beyond the norm of the familiar amidst constant danger serves to discover, and invent film forms and structures that envision a reality that resides in a collective people such as the elitist guerrilla movement which accepts the guerrilla model as a lifesaver for the film industry. The feature films under study try to draw, “the search for production methods and a style appropriate to the economic conditions and political circumstances of the Third World” (ibid) by re-inventing the wheel of revolutionary concepts.

The production of feature films under this study from the 4th decade of the Zimbabwean film industry history from 2010 to 2020 indicates that rather than a mediated Hollywood view the guerrilla model allows the films to speak for the Third World film industry through its films. The film producers from the elite club become agencies of Third cinema. The reason for heated debates on the absence of the film industry is the First World Cinema has greatly distorted images of Third World people that people are now socialized to think that the Hollywood model is the alpha and omega whereas Zimbabwe has its sui generis industry.

After the failure of modelled modes as depicted in the four decades of Zimbabwean films, the guerrilla model is proving to be successful and the traditionally monopolistic, minority and elitist film activities are now open to new production movements that are necessitated by the dawn of technology and innovation. Guerrilla cinema takes credit for the role played by other African film industries in shaping their industries. The Nigerian film industry, or ‘Nollywood’, has had an impact in Zimbabwe in more ways than one. The films produced between 2010-2020 have proved that the elitist guerrilla practitioners have created unique guerrilla approaches that place them beyond Hollywood and community-based productions. An emphasis on indigenous African filmmaking in Ghana and Nigeria has become a phenomenon that is reversing the paradox of Africans viewing themselves from alien perspectives. Learning from Nollywood, the Zimbabwean film industry has had to drive its progress in the form of already-formed grassroots initiatives and informal networks. The networks were created out of necessity due to the limited financial resources at the government’s disposal, neglect of film and other cultural industries in favor of agriculture and mining, and the lack of reliable institutional support Kohlmann (2018)

The symbiotic relationship between guerrilla cinema and elitist film practice: 2010 – 2020 film productions

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The elitist producers have appropriated and re-purposed guerrilla film aesthetics by using some production processes of guerrilla cinema at different stages.

Story Development

Use of low-budget scripts such as home-grown collective stories of resistance (The Letter and The Gentleman).

Picture Courtesy of Newzimbabwe.com

Cook-Off written by Tomas Litimil Brickhill is a story of struggle, defiance, and resilience (Guardian 2020) it also reflects on the strength and defiance of the Zimbabwean people and their hope, and optimism for the future just like any guerrilla fighter. (Zimbabwean .com). The film Cook-Off is about a struggling mother who finds love during a cooking competition. It is experimentation with genre change from the usual Zimbabwean narrative. (Ngwenya 2021) as a tale of hope that mirrors the production challenges amid power cuts and financial constraints, the film becomes hope for the revival of the film industry (Vickers 2020). It is also synonymous with elite guerrilla cinema which adopts a guerrilla model of liberation and resistance practice in response to local dynamics and politics of exclusion and poverty.

Lobola is about culture consciousness and at the development stage writers are personally burdened with developing unique scripts that resonate with stories of the suppressed, repressed, or silenced voices of poverty and lack.

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The collective narratives are embedded with amazing stories that change people’s perspectives. The Letter, based on true unfortunate events of 2015 that saw over 20 000 workers being laid off without benefits through a supreme court’s ruling evokes psychological emotions in both the management and workers (www.honayi.com). The protagonist Simon’s retirement dreams are shattered when he is given a letter of layoff just before retiring. The film is a story of survival and how a cornered man will do whatever it takes to protect his family.  The top management is put under psychological strain and they become the devil’s advocate. The workers are strained as well and contest the psychological effect the labor law judgment had on the Zimbabwean worker in 2015. The typical stories in the films The Letter and The Gentleman are also guerrilla oriented as they resonate well with the wishes of the collective. The stories of resistance are not owned by one person they are homegrown and a source of the people’s heritage. The Gentleman is a story of a young man under a moral dilemma, forced to decide between saving a dying pregnant wife or going against his beliefs. The films transcend ‘soup’ films perceptions as they are collectively based. Tete B’s film resonates well with the operation to restore a legacy that saw things shaken on the political scene. Detective Mbada has to solve a case of an assumed steamy liaison between Tete B and his wife. A mysterious text message by Tete B puts four friends Sandifolo, Chidzonga, Njagu, and Doc Vikela into a spiraled friendship test.  At the development, stage writers have to write and develop the stories without financial assistance bearing in mind that the strength and success of any film industry come from, the “culture and beliefs of the country from where the stories are being told” Mungoshi (2017).

Pre-Production

The use of D.I.Y (do it yourself) by producers when assembling crew members in all the films. Scouting for a good readily available location is seen in The Letter which had some scenes shot at Patience Musa’s house (Chihambakwe 2019). Scouting is also enabled by moving from the private school of production to incorporating local and international partnerships. Recruitment of local talent as stars, cast, and crew helps to market local talent globally. The Letter had massive stars that included Emmanuel Mbirimi (Neria), Pryd Mpofu (Wenera) Sarah Mpofu (Makorokoza) among many others and the film credits its success to a good cast, no shortcuts, no nepotism, and the incorporation of Henry BJ Phiri a Zambian actor (ibid).

Picture Courtesy of creative loop

The adoption of guerrilla tactics has seen elite film producers contracting regional stars in the films, The Gentleman had Presley Chweheyegae from South Africa of the Tsotsi fame and The Letter Henry Phiri from Zambia. The in-betweenness of elite production saw Cook-Off signing up casting crews with deferred contracts as the producers knew the importance of legal issues.

The use of massive collaborations is seen in The Letter and Escape when Joe Njagu Films partnered with Creative Natives, Zimpapers Television Network, Media Metrix, and, in addition, on Escape CMG International Media Group came aboard. Tete B film is a Gango production that is a collaboration of elitist film producers (zimbojam. com,2018). A Gango film was produced to harness local content. The film a dark comedy thriller with a lot of adult humour was inspired by the need to jump-start the local film sector Zimbojam.com (2018). The film shows that film producers are now daring as seen by the formation of the Gango Production which wishes to produce a film every month (ibid).  Such partnerships enable films to be shot in a short space of time and hopefully, they are sustainable. The Letter only took eight days to shoot.  Despite numerous scholars, Mboti (2014), and Culture Fund (2009) highlighting the absence of the film industry, the guerrilla model as used by elitist producers has adopted the DIY system to cover the gap. In the absence of clear policies, Njagu and Piotrowska co-produced Escape, which saw production shooting being done in Harare and UK.

Production

Using a low budget to produce films shows how elitist producers have repurposed and appropriated guerrilla methods of production. Cook Off’s budget was $8 000 and the production road was totally guerrilla due to the budget constraints. Guerrilla aesthetic as an ideological expression of aspirations in both form and content has proved that the burden of carrying untold stories is unbearable hence, elitist producers are now telling the Zimbabwean story by any means necessary just like the ghetto filmmakers. The writer-director Brickhill had to utilize personal relationships by engaging studio owners and hiring equipment without making an immediate payment. He also managed to acquire freely licensed music from local musicians. At any given stage of the production process, people do not just decide to become guerrilla producers instead, it is a response to lack. The Guerrilla and Third Cinema concepts prove poverty does not stop people from getting creative, instead poverty is an inspiration to creativity as it is designed in the realm of poverty. It motivates creativeness. This gap enables the producers to respect and cherish the industry. This is contextualized by elitist producers when adopting the lens of viewing lack as a tool to soldier on just as the ghetto and community filmmakers do. Mungoshi (2017) notes that “the only people who can turn around a situation and shift an ugly state of affairs into a glorious one are people with a vision, who are not driven by money but rather by passion and a hunger to fulfill a destiny”  and the elitist producers club have re-purposed this ideology for sustaining the feature film industry. Cook-Off was produced in a challenging context. Just like the story of a struggling single mother who finds love and good fortune in a TV cooking show contest, the story is hope as it mirrors the production of the film under harsh conditions.

Post-Production

The marketing concept of pitching films was utilized when Zoe Flood pitched for Cook-Off to the media. This enabled the film to acquire international recognition. The events that led to the second Zimbabwean Republic were also effective for the film’s publicity (Guardian 2020). A lot of hard work was put into publicizing the film because normally Hollywood films have big budgets for marketing. Netflix came onto the scene and changed the game by allowing fair play for filmmakers globally and Zimbabwe added its voice to storytelling Ngwenya (2021). The use of international agents to monetize and maximize profits such as CMG and Netflix were effective for Cook-Off and Escape. Cook-Off managed to break boundaries, shatter stereotypes, made history, and laid the foundation for film legacy in Zimbabwe. The “underdog movie’ as its commonly referred to, has found itself on streaming titan Netflix and consequently became the first Zimbabwean movie to be picked up by Netflix” Kaedi Africa (2020). The post-production period is crucial to producers working in a society that does not see monetary value in homegrown aesthetics. Most countries in developing countries such as Zimbabwe have been following a film distribution process paradigm developed by Hollywood and countries like Nigeria, have now adopted the use of international agents to monetize and maximize profits from films instead of being exploited by pirates Mauyakufa-Pradhan (2018) and the adoption of this method is fruitful.

Marketing is a business system of sourcing and maintaining customers Tambandini (2018) and the guerrilla marketing and distribution strategy used on Lobola and Escape was through road shows, newspaper vendors, and street selling. Effective film marketing is fundamental for the success of any film (ibid). Star marketing and distribution of Escape contributed to the advertising of the film as actors and actresses used social media to sell the film. Lobola’s stars used street marketing as well. A vibrant ‘Kiya Kiya Ureke (2016) marketing strategy that also incorporates any means necessary methods to distribute the products were used for these films. Lobola DVDs were sold in Harare streets alongside Sabhuku Vhara Zipi and Go Chanaiwa Go products. The method was effective as the revenue of Lobola enabled Njagu to produce the next film Escape Tambandini (2018).  Lobola was Njagu’s debut feature film which paved way for a new chapter of independent filmmaking in Zimbabwe. It had a very low budget, few professionals on set, and was not shot for the film Mungoshi (2017). It received good viewership but was failing to bring revenue back hence street marketing amidst piracy that hinders growth and, development of the industry. Dikito (2016)

The premiering of Cook-Off in 2020 on Netflix was a debut that the producer Joe Njagu hoped the film would propel the country’s film industry to greater global heights (www.arabnews.com). Since Zimbabwe is known for economic and political crisis headlines, the premiering on Netflix sought to project a different image of resilience. The mandate of the film is to globally showcase the contrary side of Zimbabwe as people also fall in love, eat nice food, and have interesting social narratives (ibid). Cook-Off befits opportunities for Zimbabwe to introduce its film content globally and producers to acquire better budgets for further productions (ibid). For decades, the industry has been operating without proper national film policy and laws to guide the distribution processes and, guidance on engaging legal international agencies and acquiring copyrights deals. The new technological advancement in the film industry has opened up new avenues to distribute films such as Video on Demand (VOD), Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) such as Netflix, and other multiple distribution channels which have challenged the traditional forms of media distribution. This is a challenge for government and the film industry bodies to formulate policies that adhere to the new technological advancements Mauyakufa-Pradhan (2018).

Challenges faced in production stages: the case of Escape

After the premiering of Escape, the audience had several critical comments on; the producers’ experimentation with the global trending sex film genre, boring unclear storyline, the writer’s failure to intimately tell the story using the Zimbabwean lens, incorporation of alien issues, and the overuse of the drone. Newspaper articles such as ‘Escape film scenes cause stir’ and ‘Much Ado about Nothing in Escape ‘ by Zimoyo- Matanhire (2016) reveal the commotion the film caused due to explicit sexual scenes. Escape is a film about a man of mixed race, Charles who sets on a journey to find his father and encounters mysterious situations on his journey. The critics blame the script written by Dr. Agrieszka Piotrowska regarding it as having a boring and unclear storyline (ibid). The writer Piotrowska being an outsider failed to intimately express the search for identity using a Zimbabwean homegrown lens. The explicit scenes were viewed as a way of experimenting with some common international traits.

Agrieszka Piotrowska and Joe Njagu – Picture courtesy of ethiobeauty.com

However, no one has gone far as to produce such a film due to a conservative culture that deems sex topics taboo zimbojam.com (2016). Regardless of such criticism the producers were applauded for their tremendous effort in making such a film in Zimbabwe and especially in the absence of donor and government funding. Escape also had a good market in Bulawayo as about 10 000 copies were sold there through road shows Ndlovu (2016). It was applauded for good cinematography as seen by the brilliantly composed pictures and balanced creativity. The technicality and sound aspects were also applauded regardless of the incorporation of alien issues in the script and the overuse of the drone Zimoyo-Matanhire (2016).  Armed to the teeth worked for producers of Escape and this proved that such home-grown film production methods should be supported as they are there to safeguard our heritage and interrogate our culture and values. The film is the most profitable film by Njagu and this is due to collective production tactics by the producers and actors.

Conclusion

Guerrilla Cinema is a revolutionary paradigm that is born out of the history of Zimbabwean film, and an alternative model has been adopted by the elite producers to develop and sustain the film industry. The reason for elitist film producers’ shifts from conventional filmmaking models to guerrilla is visible in the film production history of 2010 – 2020.  Specific identified methods of how the elitist appropriated and re-purposed guerrilla aesthetics are guided by what guerrilla practitioners have already done. The elite producers who used to be the beacon and hope of the Hollywood production model have made a turn towards guerrilla aesthetics which was associated with ghetto filmmakers. In the end, they have created an elitist version of guerrilla cinema, neither Hollywood nor guerrilla but elitist in nature. An exploration of this unique phenomenon where elitist filmmakers imbue guerrilla aesthetics in their practice reveals how they have repurposed and appropriated guerrilla cinema in developmental and production stages thereby, contributing to the monetization of the Zimbabwean film industry. The benefits of adopting the guerrilla model then provide recommendations to film producers and film stakeholders.

Picture courtesy of tete eliza picture collections

Films

Njagu, J. 2010. Lobola. The Decent Arthouse, Fireside Stories, Mighty Movies, and Ivory Pictures

_____________ 2011. The Gentleman. The Decent Arthouse and Ivory Pictures

Njagu, J…… 2018. Tete B. The Gango Production

Njagu, J. Guzha, D. 2019. The Letter. Joe Njagu Films and Creative Natives

Brickhill, T.L. Njagu, J. 2017. Cook-Off. Mufambanidzo Films

Patrowska . A Njagu J . 2016. Escape. Joe Njagu Films and Thinking Films

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[1] Guerrilla cinema is a form of tactics adopted by small groups of people against an established system” Mark Hill (2000)

[2] Ghetto film producers are filmmakers from the high density communities and their narratives are produced using any means necessary practices.

[3] Elite film producers – Neo Hollywood filmmakers who seem to use conventional film practices.

[4] Relocating is shifting into a new position or paradigm.

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Author: dakwaelizabethsamakande

Brief Profile
Elizabeth Samakande (aka Tete Eliza) is an upcoming script writer, film producer and film study researcher from Zimbabwe. She started as a story writer in 2014 and her love for film turned into filmmaking. A creative script writer with a passion for imaginative arts and mythical stories. Elizabeth Samakande is an energetic creative person with energy to produce and develop Zimbabwe’s film industry. She has keen interest in African story writing. A self-motivated university graduate with research interests in African literature, African American literature, Caribbean literature, African Futurism, Afrofuturism Aesthetics, Decoloniality, Creative literature, film and media. Has a strong mental acumen and with the ability to work unsupervised. Can work under pressure to meet deadlines.

Elizabeth is also currently a PhD student candidate with the Midland State University Zimbabwe. She holds a Master of Arts in English and Bachelor of Arts Honours in English from the University of Zimbabwe. She started script writing in 2019 with a pilot project she is working on at the moment.

She is a member of the Zimbabwe Film Industry Development Platform (ZFIDP) since 2019 and is the current ZFIDP Executive Committee secretary. Also, a member of Pan African film association, Azania Filmmakers Association Zimbabwe (AFA Zimbabwe) since 2021. Elizabeth is currently working on two projects that are still at story development stage; Mystical Nyanga and The Prince of Ngoniland. She is co- writing Mystical Nyanga with Mr Ezekiel Mutasa (Zimbabwe) and The Prince of Ngoniland is a collaboration with C.J Ndlovu (South Africa). Congratulations to Tete Eliza as she was recently (2022) accepted into the eQuality Impact Film Development Program.
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Author: Jonathan Jenkins