What’s gone wrong with our film industry?

Ratidzo Mambo stars in Yellow Card, one of the last meaningful local film productions
Ratidzo Mambo stars in Yellow Card, one of the last meaningful local film productions

The Zimbabwe film industry has over the years shown to have great aptitude, creativity, vision and leadership as evidenced by the successful movies that have been produced locally.
However, the industry seems to have taken a plunge as the well-being and fortunes of the finest local actors is nothing to write home about.
Quite a number of successful local actors have nothing to show for their fame while their counterparts in other African countries bask in glory and are rated amongst the rich in their societies. So, what is wrong with the local film industry?

Whenever Zimbabweans talk about the greatest films ever made in the country, on many occasions they refer to films produced in the 90s.
This decade produced ‘‘Jit’’ (1990), ‘‘Neria’’ (1992), ‘‘More Time’’ (1993), ‘‘Everyone’s Child’’ (1996), ‘‘Flame’’ (1996) and ‘‘Yellow Card’’ (2000), which are probably some of Zimbabwe’s highest-grossing movies of all time.

But seldom is the mention of movies from 2000 onwards and if they do, it is usually with a lot of criticism. The major reason being that movies are no longer made in the same manner as they used to.

Many reasons have been cited on why the industry is no longer producing high-quality movies most of which lack international appeal.

The first problem is quality of the film making, starting off with the story itself. The stories are not very interesting. The scripts are badly written. One of the obvious reasons for this is that film-makers are reluctant to invest in quality scriptwriting.

Though the country has brilliant script writers in the likes of Rumbi Katedza, Tawanda Gunda, Francis Zvoma, among others, most of the script writers are pathetic.

Zimbabwe has institutions such as African Script Development Fund, the now defunct Vision Valley Film, Television and Video Institute, Unesco Film and Video Training Project and Zimbabwe Film and Television School of Southern Africa (ZIFTESSA). Why can’t film-makers make use of them?

The reluctance to invest in quality spills into the actual production.
The Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Professor Jonathan Moyo, speaking at the ZIFTESSA inaugural graduation ceremony, implored that a dedicated school of film-making will harness the vast potential the country has in the arts industry.

“We, as a country, have started a very important journey that Zimbabwe needs not only a film and television school issuing diplomas, but, maybe, it also needs a university,” he said.

“There’s no example in the world of any country that has properly developed its film industry or sector without having proper institutions of higher learning in the field – there’s not a single example.”

Most of the 1990’s movies generally had better funding, a lot which came from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
However, the recent movies are being produced on lower budgets – with the private sector being accused of neglecting the arts industry.
Several artistes have expressed disappointment in the way the private sector is deliberately ignoring the arts and instead sponsoring other sectors stalling growth and development of different art genres.

Edmore Ndlovu, a writer and producer, said: “Our films are better than Nigerian films in terms of quality and story lines, but it’s unfortunate that our industry is poor. In the local industry there is no injection from anywhere else, except the producers’ pockets.”

The NGO funding meant that the films were required to deliver strong social messages, particularly about HIV, children’s and women’s rights. As a result, most of the productions tended to be highly moving films.

Zollywood movies have moved on from this era and have ventured into less weighty themes such as romantic love. Some have even tried Hollywood-style action films.

Therefore, they are different from the 1990’s films in a way.
Film enthusiast Jacqueline Ndove concurred that the local industry is good at recycling talent and harping on the usual themes while lacking quality writers and serious advertisers.

On the other hand, Prof Moyo is of the view that local film-makers have to uphold African values in their productions in order to articulate the true Zimbabwean story to the world. “We don’t think that to be a good film-maker you have to borrow values from Bollywood or Hollywood.

“The only thing you can borrow there are movie-making techniques.”
Could the film-makers be losing the plot in their themes?

Some of the movies being produced highlight some of the negatives within Zollywood films which later turns them into drama sketches. Without taking anything away from any film production, some scenes are unrealistic and carelessly break the real-life happenings.
Some films’ subsequent ending is just too rushed and leaves the viewer hanging. Also it is worthwhile to give little more thought to some of the story lines. Some of them are intriguing, but many of them are still amateurish.

Language Use
Local actors burn up a lot of energy trying to properly pronounce English words thus taking away from the actual acting. Zollywood may do better by getting actors/actresses who are more comfortable with English, or at least mix it with local languages, just like many people do in real life.

Interestingly, Zimbabweans generally have better English accents than most Africans; however, Nollywood still does better than Zimbabweans in that respect.

Is it because their actors are comfortable even with their particularly thick accents? And this in turn allows them to apply more of their effort to body language and less to pronunciation. Better acting is needed and film-makers need to make better decision about choice of language in films.

While the sound in most movies seems to be better, more still needs to be done. However, the music choices in the movies are good.

Times without number many filmmakers cry foul because of piracy which seems to be the cancer affecting the film industry. Most pirated DVDs are sold at US$1 all over the country.

Upon realising that they cannot beat piracy, film makers have since employed the ‘‘if you can’t beat them, join them’’ rule. They are also selling a movie DVD for $1.

Could the film-makers be taking after the Nollywood model? In Nollywood, there is independent film making, independent distribution and there is no middleman.

Making cheap movies for the DVD market is viable for Nollywood because Nigeria has a large population, with the potential for the realisation of substantial sales, even with piracy to contend with. But the same cannot work for Zimbabwe.

With today’s technology, the actual shooting and post-production is smooth. So why are local films badly produced? Poor sound and cinematography, absurd special effects, repulsive locations, appalling subtitles, are some of the bad attributes of local productions.

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  • Taponeswa Heyi-Nyathi

    Thank you so much the information really helped but subtitles also need to be used so as to improve the quality of films