Zanzibar Film Festival lives up to the hype

Saturday July 31 2021

A Burundian troupe performing at the Zanzibar Film Festival. PHOTO | COURTESY


The just concluded annual Zanzibar International Film Festival at the Old Fort Amphitheatre in Stone Town lived up to its billing and had more women-led entries and films, which made up for last year’s canceled event.

Both Tanzania and Kenya bagged a number of awards at the festival held from July 21-25.

Nyara, a debut feature film from Wanene Entertainment, won an award. The crime thriller is about Rehema, the daughter of rich businessman Adam Mbena, who is kidnapped by an infamous gang of criminals. Adam is extorted and has only 24 hours to pay the ransom or lose his only daughter.

Binti, which was also the opening film and is a Swahili-made film made by women, from a woman’s viewpoint, bagged "the Best Feature film" title .

Zanzibar Film Festival.

Some of the winners at the Zanzibar Film Festival. PHOTO | COURTESY

The film was directed by Seko Shamte and produced by Black Unicorn Studio, a Tanzanian production company co-owned by two sisters, Angela and Allinda Ruhinda. Binti explores a contemporary view of womanhood, a searing introspection into the sometimes painful world that a woman could find herself in.


There was no doubt that Binti was the ideal film to open one of the largest East African cultural festivals.

The Zanzibar International Film Festival sought to push for more space for women in the film, music, and visual arts industry.

The Sembene Ousmane special awards went to Tanzania’s Mozizi, a short animation film by Kijiweni productions, and Kenya’s If Object Could Speak films.

Kenyan actor Melvin Alusa was crowned the Best Actor in a feature film through his role in Mission To Rescue, which was screened at the festival. The film revolves around the real-life story of a French woman who was kidnapped by the Al-Shabaab, and how Kenya's Special Operations Forces rescued her.

Softie, a movie about Boniface Mwangi’s activism, won Best Documentary. The film has been nominated in several international awards including the Peabody Award.

The Zanzibar International Film Festival is one of East Africa’s largest cultural festivals. Also known as Festival of the Dhow Countries, the festival aims to develop and promote film and other cultural industries as catalysts for the region’s social and economic growth. Launched on July 21, the 24th edition of the festival featured other activities like dhow races, music performances and women football matches.

The 'Binti' production team.

The 'Binti' production team bagged the Best Feature Film award at the festival. PHOTO | COURTESY

Festivities started everyday around noon, with music and dancing outside Ngome Kongwe, at the opening garden Forodhan.

The Zanzibar International Film Festival enabled both local and international revellers to come together to embrace and share their culture and heritage through film, music, visual arts and more despite the global pandemic.

The theme of this year's festival was "Sharing our heritage." The Zanzibar International Film Festival is one of the highlights of the island’s cultural calendar.

There were films from more than 30 countries. Local films made up the majority of screenings. There were nine from Kenya and six from South Africa.

In order to adhere to Covid-19 protocols, there were two cinema venues, one at the Old Fort and the other at Mambo club. This year, audiences were treated to more documentaries and movie screening held in open-air venues.

Each year, every festival has a different focus, with local and international film screenings, panel discussions, workshops and musical performances.