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Zimbabwe's Film Festival Survives Country's Problems


In Harare, the organizers of the Zimbabwe International Film Festival have opened the 12th edition of the annual event. The organizers have a lot of hope for the future.

The theme for this year's festival is Reel Inclusion. Festival Director Nakai Matema says this reflects the mood in the country, after the formation of the national unity government.

"We are trying to celebrate the transition that the country is going through. It's all about the sharing of ideas, the forging of common vision of people coming from different areas and mindsets - different ideas and forging them together," said Matema. "It's also reflecting on what's happening in the country, the optimism, the positivity."

That positivity has not translated into increased funding from the traditional diplomatic missions, who cited the world economic crisis for cutting back on their support for the festival. But, on the upside, Matema says the corporate sector made some contributions, unlike last year. She attributes this to the dollarization of Zimbabwe's economy, which makes it easier to plan, unlike last year's festival, which happened during the worst of Zimbabwe's hyper-inflationary period. Also, countries such as Indonesia, which had not previously funded the festival, stepped up to help.

However, the funding difficulties caused the plan to screen short films by Zimbabweans to be scrapped. Matema explains that, by the time the money was released by the donor, it was too late to shoot short films of the quality expected. The screening of the short films has been the highlight of previous festivals.

Matema says the central bank's "borrowing" of money from foreign currency accounts, without asking permission, has not helped the festival's financial situation.

"I am always saying we only had $39,000 taken and people say 'what do you mean only,' because $39,000 is a lot of money," added Matema. "But I have heard of other people who've had about $1 million [taken]. But it is a substantial amount of money that we could have used for administration and it could have helped in getting things on time."

In addition to the screening of films from various countries, the festival has once again been a platform for the exchange of ideas, as workshops are organized where experienced filmmakers from abroad interact with their Zimbabwean counterparts. Patience Tawengwa trained in the United States and South Africa as a filmmaker. Her short films have won awards at previous festivals. She says the workshops are invaluable.

"It's an ever changing world and skills are changing, as technology changes, so it's very necessary to have these kinds workshops at ZIFF [the film festival] because technology is constantly changing and we need to keep upping our game and seeing what's going on in the world," said Tawengwa.

Zimbabwe hardly has a film industry, but both Matema and Tavengwa believe the foundation has been laid for one.


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