The Zanzibar International Film Festival marked two decades last weekend and the occasion was celebrated with the premier of T-Junction, as the opening film.
Produced by Kijiweni Production and directed by Amil Shivji, T-Junction is an example of how far Tanzania’s film industry has come and illustrates the merging of independent film with mainstream bongo movies.
Former president Jakaya M. Kikwete, who was the guest of honour, was honoured with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution towards the creative arts and for pushing the festival’s visibility in the past 20 years.
In his speech, he congratulated the organisers and former festival chief executive Martin Mhando and founding board members Fatma Alloo and Hassan Mitawi for establishing an international platform respected by film industry stakeholders in Africa and beyond.
Kikwete also called on local filmmakers to take advantage of the opportunities presented in this year’s ZIFF film school programme, which saw a dismal number of Tanzanians apply despite it being free.
The programme however attracted several filmmakers from all over the continent.
Mr Kikwete said, “I watch a lot of Bongo movies but some of them have such bad sound you can hardly hear the dialogue. If we want to compete feature at platforms like Cannes or even Ouagadougou’s Pan-African Film Festival, our filmakers have to take all training opportunies available.”
Mr Shivji explained that the challenges Kijiweni Production faces are not just financial.
“When I started, I was naive. I thought I’ll just arrange for auditions and that the big, small and professionals actor would all troop in. Then I learned the hard way.
"The actors were afraid of negative press in case they did not get cast. They don’t show up for open auditions to safeguard their status, character and persona from the media.”
He further explained the challenges of integrating the two worlds of Bongo movies — which are done using street- smart etiquette — with independent films.
This forced Kijiwe Production to cast amateurs as the two lead characters — Theyo had no experience whatsoever.
The two, Hawa Ally-Fatima and Magdalena Christopher-Maria, were cast alongside veteran Bongo movie actors Cojack Chilo-Iddi and Tin White-Shabani.
One of the winning aspects of T-Junction is the presentation, which depicts the harsh life of street merchants.
The motion picture exploits the interracial relationship between two Tanzanians, one of Indian descent and the other of African descent, and how years of economic divide have set them in different social classes.
Mr Shivji’s films are well known for exploring class struggles in the rapidly evolving Tanzanian urban landscape.
The other film that was premiered at this year’s festival was the dramatised documentary Son of Sinbad: A call of Zanzibar. As a documentary, the film didn’t use any professional actors in its dramatised clips.
“We were looking for people on the streets, who were willing to take part. Most of them had never been in front of a camera,” said Friedrich Kluetshc, the director. The film explores the maritime history of Zanzibar and its connection to Oman going back to the 1840s.
One of the producers, Said Odeithi commented how Mafoudh et Mafouth, a Zanzibari who plays the role of Sultan Said Sayyed, was an example of hidden talent that this documentary unearthed.