The curtain has come down on the Zimbabwe International Film Festival, held last week in Harare. While the country's deepening economic problems had an impact on the event, they could not stand in its way.
The organizers of the eighth edition of the annual festival never doubted that it would happen, despite the myriad of problems they faced. Festival director Rumbi Katedza says the biggest hurdle was finding the money.
"It is a hyper-inflationary situation right now in Zimbabwe so the budgets that we made last year or in January have no bearing on what's happening today," she explained. "They have probably doubled and quadrupled since then and you have to keep your cash flows in check from one day to the next."
Though ultimately the organizers had to downsize some of the festival programs, Ms. Katedza paid tribute to the donor community and Zimbabwean corporate sector support for being able to get the 10-day event together.
One of the programs adversely affected is the very popular Short Film Project, which gives aspiring Zimbabwean filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their talents. This year, one of the short films was sacrificed. Nakai Matema, who produces the short films, says this was done to avoid compromising the quality of the product.
"We usually try and aim for five, but this year we did four and that goes back to what I was saying earlier about how I had enough money and the budget to do all my five films and then in the space of three weeks the [Zimbabwe] dollar devalued," said Ms. Matema.
Ms. Matema says she invites scripts that deal with contemporary Zimbabwean issues, but many local filmmakers tend to stay with topics that have been well received in the past, such as HIV-AIDS and gender issues. The most popular feature films made in Zimbabwe dealt with some of those topics.
In addition to money problems, there is also the issue of self-censorship. Filmmakers say privately that, much as they would like to deal with contentious issues, they worry about the possibility of repercussions from the authorities. So they say they play it safe and stick to non-confrontational stories.
But two of the short films this year tentatively broke the mold. In one, the actors briefly mentioned the recent demolition by the government of thousands of homes, in what officials said was a slum-clearance project. In the other, there were scenes showing rubble of demolished homes in the background. Some members of the audience loudly whispered "tsunami, tsunami" during these scenes. Tsunami is the word many Zimbabweans use to describe the government's demolition campaign, which has been condemned by human rights groups.
The director of the winning entry in the Short Film Project category Brighton Tazarirwa said, although those who put up the money for the project did not interfere with the content, making a film in Zimbabwe can be a major challenge.
"The geography that we are working in is not flexible at all; it does not respect film making as a profession," he said. "Holding a camera is almost as bad as holding a gun in a public place, there are all these security issues put in place that make it almost impossible for you to operate freely without having to check with authorities every fifteen minutes or so. You really want to concentrate and be relaxed whilst you are making a film."
Festival director Ms. Katedza says, despite the problems facing Zimbabwe, the festival must not be allowed to die. She says she is optimistic the good times will return some day and Zimbabwe's film industry will prosper again.