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Zimbabwe International Film Festival Aims to Revive Industry - 2004-09-10

The seventh edition of the Zimbabwe International Film Festival is in its second and final week in Harare. One of the objectives of the festival organizers, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival Trust, is to re-establish what was a promising film industry, before the country's current economic and political problems began.

The festival popularly known as ZIFF affords Zimbabwean film lovers an opportunity to see movies other than the regular Hollywood fare. And, this year, film lovers are spoiled for choice, with films from 30 countries in the line-up.

In a bid to take the festival to the people, the festival organizers have this year increased the number of places where the films can be seen.

"We have screenings in more venues than we have ever had; we have screenings in three different cities of Zimbabwe, in Harare, in Bulawayo and Chitungwiza," explains Farai Mpfunya, the executive director of the Trust. "We have projects that are focusing a lot on audience building and expanding the audience to the whole country."

The film festival has also become an important platform for local and international film makers to meet one another. High on the agenda is the resuscitation of the Zimbabwe film industry, which saw its best years after independence in the 1980s and the 1990s, when a number of high budget international feature films were shot in the country.

Zimbabweans working on the sets of these movies acquired filmmaking skills, which they were able to put to good use in making local feature films such as the award winning "Neria", the biggest grossing Zimbabwean film of all time. It seemed that Zimbabwe was starting to build a vibrant film industry.

All this changed dramatically when both the economy and the stable political climate began to deteriorate in the year 2000. The last feature film to be shot in Zimbabwe was made that year.

Since then, the only film fare to come out of Zimbabwe has been a few documentaries, all donor funded and all focused on specific topics such as AIDS.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a donor agency spokesperson told VOA it is easier for filmmakers to access funds targeted at developmental or health related issues. Mr. Mpfunya says this problem could be circumvented by more local money being made available to filmmakers.

He also says the film festival organization is trying to make sure that the film industry does not die in Zimbabwe and is using the Trust to try to revive it.

"The mandate that we have is for the Trust to become a platform towards the development of a viable, sustainable, creative innovative film industry in Zimbabwe," he says, "so the projects that we run are primarily designed to emulate what could be an industry when it functions so you have production of films, development of script and then showcasing of films in the film festival and then also the distribution of films once they are made or once they do their run at the festival. What we hope is that we become some sort of a model of what can happen if the industry of film in Zimbabwe is revived or resuscitated."

In 2000, the Trust launched a Short Film Project in an effort to rehabilitate the Zimbabwean film industry. Aspiring Zimbabwean filmmakers are invited to come forward with story ideas. Those whose concepts are accepted receive guidance in translating them into short films. These are then screened at the festival.

Locally produced features are popular in Zimbabwe, and those that are well made compete for audiences with the best of Hollywood. The owner of one of Zimbabwe's biggest film theatre chains, Jimmy Perreira, told VOA that business has not really been affected by the harsh economic climate. "Considering the situation, we are doing very well," he said.

Godwin Mawuru the director of "Neria," says the collapse of the film industry has cost the country dearly in terms of skilled people moving to other countries or other professions.

"When you look at people of my age, we came into film at times by accident, it was not really what we wanted to do, but by us coming up and doing something, we were telling the young people that this is possible and we had young people that were coming up without anything in mind, what they wanted to do is film," he explains. "And those people I believe were going to be much better than our generation because from the onset this is what they wanted to do but we are not supporting them, we are losing them. It is sad, there is going to be a big gap between our generation and another generation coming and taking up what had been created; it is a sad loss."

Both Mr. Mpfunya and Mr. Mawuru say the Zimbabwean film industry can only become the force it almost achieved if everyone, including local business and the government, takes the industry seriously and invests in it.