The Sunday Mail
ZIMBABWE has a fascinating history.
From documented historical evidence to folklore — the story of how the country has evolved is laden with interesting characters and events that are centuries deep.
While Hollywood filmmakers have made a killing exploiting historical stories, the same cannot be said for local content producers.
While there are many blockbuster films that are based on the Roman Empire or Trojan conquests, very little has been done to try and capture events around the Rozvi Empire or the Ndebele Kingdom.
The 1996 war film, “Flame”, is a perfect example of how such movies can be gold. The production went on to be a major success, winning many international awards.
Besides Chimurenga themed stories, there are many other unexplored territories that would make for interesting viewing if they were to be turned into film.
But, as much as such movies would be both exciting and educational, creating a compelling period piece is no walk in the park.
Recently released war film, “Chinhoyi 7”, should be applauded for trying to take people back to a pre-independent Zimbabwe and showing the sacrifices that were made for freedom, but they failed to hit the target.
Despite being highly financed, “Chinhoyi 7” has come under fire from critics, with many highlighting that they failed to recreate the visuals representative of the era they were portraying.
Historical movies score more points with the audience if they manage to recreate authentic settings of the period they are trying to depict. Elements that include set designs, locations, costumes, etiquette and language that resonate with a particular era being explored are some of the few things that need attention if the film is to be convincing.
Mega film studios across the globe invest heavily in creating historical sets that might simply be used for a single scene and become useless afterwards, yet it is totally worth it.
For the filming of “Titanic”, the creators spent millions of dollars to construct a full-scale replica of the vessel, with its 1912 setting which was placed in a tank that had millions of litres of water.
At the present moment, local producers have to make do with natural environs as they do not have the capacity to build their own sets from scratch, which is one of the major obstacles for successfully filming period pieces.
The Sunday Mail Society spoke to several filmmakers who shared their views on the issue of making period films.
Award-winning filmmaker, Nick Zemura said while there might be interest in creating such films, the demands that come with such ventures are discouraging.
“There are numerous scripts that I have already written but the challenge now is transforming them into film because at the moment, the local industry is prohibitive in many ways,” said Zemura.
“Imagine if I was to recreate a scene of the famous ‘Battle of the Shangani’ between Ndebele warriors and British soldiers, it would mean I might need about 100 white actors and maybe 300 African actors.
“I would need horses, costumes, and replicas of weapons that were used during that time like spears or the maxim guns, wagons and many other props in order to recreate authentic visuals.
“The cost of putting together that single scene is huge, which is why most local filmmakers will not go for it because of the small budgets that we usually work with,” said Zemura.
He said while it is possible to shoot the films as there are many locations that can be used effectively, the red tape was yet another boundary difficult to cross.
Said Zemura: “If you go downtown in Harare, there are many buildings that are very old and would make for perfect settings for a 1975 film, but then it will mean you would need to close a whole street for maybe a week to prepare for the scene.
“You would have to look for vintage cars from that era, along with their number plates and everyone in that scene must also look the part. Getting permission to pull off such a fit from the authorities is not just the only obstacle as you will also have to convince several businesses to put their operations on hold.”
USA-based actor, Tongayi Chirisa, who has acted in numerous internationally acclaimed period films, including “Mr Bones 2: Back from the Past” and “Crusoe”, said it was just a matter of time before more local filmmakers start telling historical stories.
“I believe the Zimbabwean film industry is a sleeping giant and I am glad that the conversation of making more films that tell our story is becoming more prevalent,” said Chirisa.
“Major film countries have always been telling stories of their history, for example, in the USA we know of the battles between cowboys and Indians. In England we are well versed with their kings and famous knights,” said Chirisa.
He added that there is a need for competent writers willing to do extensive research on certain subjects so as to create authentic stories that will in turn attract investment in the industry.