The Zanzibar International Film Festival (Ziff), now in its 19th consecutive edition, is a pioneer in the exposure of African film-making, and a gateway to the development of East African film. The longest-running film festival in East Africa, Ziff has played a crucial role in the revival of cinema in the region.
Festival director Martin Mhando says: “Beginning in 1998, Ziff was born from the ashes of the collapsed film industry. In Tanzania all 54 cinemas in the country had collapsed between 1992 and 1996.
“Ziff was the only way of keeping alive the embers of cinema culture and it was the only event on the island that people could congregate and enjoy a night out.”
The tropical island of Zanzibar teems with excitement and opportunity every July, as locals and visitors enjoy 10 days of screening of the best of pan-African film-making, in a relaxed carnival-like environment of live music, dance, DJs and performances.
But Ziff is not only about glamour and celebration; it’s also about motivation, inspiration and empowerment.
Eight days of local and international discussion panels, workshops and a networking space for young and upcoming film-makers to compare notes and gather strength from experienced professionals have developed film-making on the continent, and in particular the region. The 2013 Oscar winner for best supporting actress, Lupita Nyongo, had her training in festival management at Ziff in 2006 and 2007.
“Ziff is a champion of cinematic underdogs, providing a platform for the celebration of young artists and creating opportunities for mentoring. Ziff is helping to lay the foundation for a whole generation of African storytellers,” said Umar Turaki, a film-maker from Nigeria.
The creation of a special category of award, Bongo Flava, was a spark for the Swahili film market to improve and attain an excellence that would satisfy the needs of a larger entertainment base. Film-maker Freddy Feruzi said: “Bongo means Tanzania, specifically Dar es Salaam and also Brain, as one who wants to live in Dar es Salaam has to use more brain. Bongo Flava is Tanzanian Taste.”
- Salt, by Umar Turaki, Nigeria
- A Place for Myself, by Marie Clementine Dusabejambo, Rwanda
- Farewell Meu Amor, by Ekwa Msangi, Tanzania
- Safari ya Gwalu, by Daniel Manege, Tanzania
- Boi, by Anthony Nti, Ghana
- Sound of Tears, by Dorothy Atabong, Ghana
- This Migrant Business, by Ng’endo Mukii, Kenya
- Let’s Rock, by Younes Yousfi, Morocco
- Coming of Age, by Teboho Edkins, South Africa
Tanzania is now the second biggest producer of film on the continent. Ekwa Msangi, the winner of the 2015 Sembene Ousmane award, said: “Tanzania has a lot to share with the continent and the world at large, and the strongest way to show ourselves and others our thoughts, is through the arts.”
East Africa features strongly in this year’s Ziff selection with five Kenyan films, three Ugandan and two Rwandan.ss
Animator, mixed-media artist and experimental film-maker Ng’endo Mukii said: “Ziff creates an intimate and welcoming environment to share and celebrate our film-making. I have found a space that has allowed me to continue to experiment and grow my work and also commercialise it.”
The power of African stories to travel and inspire beyond the continent is another feature of Ziff with a strong inclusion of African diaspora film-makers.
The documentary Waiting for B, by Sãu Paulo film-maker Paulo Cesar Toledo, observes the commonalities between West African and South American people. Paulo says: “Many of the characters are on a journey to embrace their own African heritage. Some have struggled with their African features. Others are proud members of West African-Brazilian religion Umbanda.”
Out of the Village, by American film-maker Jonathan Stein, tells a story of Ebola in Ghana.
South African feature film Kalushi, directed by Mandla Dube, will open Ziff 2016. It tells the story of Solomon Mahlangu, a freedom fighter executed during apartheid. Dube expresses the power of showcasing such a “history from the other side”, with the metaphor: “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Ziff brings to Zanzibar over $15 million worth of business in the art and culture and tourism sectors.
Ziff will take place from July 9 to 17 in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Workshops include a cinematography one run by Barry Bravermann and an animation workshop, enhancing skills of young Tanzanian artists, facilitated by Ziff and the Goethe Institute of Dar es Salaam.