By Paul Owere, email@example.com (The Citizen)
Inside the single-roomed office, former director now spokesperson Martin Mhando and other staff are going through several paper work as they put the final details to the 15th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF).
They beam with a renewed sense of confidence as they confirm that everything is running according to plan and the date for the internationally recognised festival has been set.
“This year we shall have four film venues which will show up to 90 films from Africa, the Dhow countries and internationally. Seven films have been sourced from the Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles,” says Dr Martin Mhando.
The Australian based don adds that: There will be two World premieres, 12 African premieres and 18 live music performances over the nine days.
Apart from the music concerts, the films at the ancient walls of the Old Fort will be supplemented with fringe events around the town including Women Panorama and art exhibitions. But as Dr Mhando and the ZIFF chairman Mr Mahmoud Kombo speak with a renewed confidence on what the festival is going to offer, this couldn’t have been the case 12 months ago.
Just like the sister event, Sauti Za Busara Music Festival, whose fortunes had plummeted forcing organisers to think of alternatives, ZIFF was equally headed towards the same direction.
Something different had to happen, Zuku, a new pay per view TV came in handy with a 10-year-sponsorship deal worth $1 million (Sh1.6 billion).
According to Wananchi Programming manager, Hannelie Bekker, the 10-year sponsorship is intended towards creating a measure of funding security for the festival, and encourages other long-term sponsors to come on board.
“The sponsorship goes towards supporting the promotion and marketing of the film festival, which has for the last 15 years been instrumental in enabling and celebrating film making from the East African region,” she says.
In the long run, the two parties Zuku and ZIFF will devise plans to gradually create an annual presence for ZIFF, through both events and broadcast.
Something that Dr Mhando also agrees with as he commits that the film programming will target two areas this time around.
“We shall target film and entertainment. ZIFF provides opportunity for new films to be seen by new audiences. The phenomenon of the film festival is to allow audiences worldwide to view films not in the commercial circuit and from a diverse range of sources,” he says
As much as there are priorities, organisers will aim at expanding their infrastructure with their new funding source.
“We are the example that is being copied around the region. ZIFF gave birth to Amakula (Uganda) NDIFF (Uganda) KIFF (Kenya) and Lola (Kenya), Sauti Za Busara and the Dhow Culture Music Academy (Zanzibar). We are here to set standards and this year we are projecting the growth of Swahili film production aka Bongo movies, alongside Bongo Flava,” says Martin Mhando.
He adds that the typically African reverie that ZIFF provides captures what African art and entertainment is all about- the sharing of space and time for the celebration of life. ZIFF symbolises the village ritual dance of old as opposed to entertainers in the new environments and technologies who flaunt their creative genius!
Though the quality of film-making has improved over the years, both parties think that this is a growth avenue for the regional industry.
“All film festivals have a role to inspire and stimulate growth in the industry. They provide an opportunity, for both film lovers and makers, to immerse themselves in movies for a few days, and emerge with a new sense of the power and possibilities of film-making. Because festivals show a handpicked line-up they help to set benchmarks and raise the bar,” says Zuku’s Hannelie Bekker.
Her admission is not far from what Dr Mhando has in mind. According to him, the awarding of films creates a place where filmmakers pit themselves against those at their level and above them.
In this way, he thinks they set themselves standards to achieve given the fact that ZIFF also provides a market for films.
In recognition of the sought after excellence, the festival this year like in the previous editions hands out two major awards: The Sembene Ousmane Award and the Verona Award.
“The winner of the first award will also get a cash prize of $5000 plus an opportunity of exhibiting in Potsdam Germany where the filmmaker is likely to get exposure and again get measured against other cultural tastes,” says the former festival director.
The winner of the Verona Award (from the Verona African film festival) will similarly be pitted against other African films held in November each year in Verona, Italy.
In recognition of local talent ,ZIFF and their new partners have created the East African Talent and the Bongo Film Awards with the aim of earmarking potential and future filmmakers in the region.
According to organisers, there is going to be a more Tanzanian presence at the extravaganza than in any other past festivals.
“Despite a growing competition at the ZIFF platform from South African films, comparatively we have about the same number of percentage of films from East Africa as in the past. But more important is that ZIFF will be providing Zuku with 10 films from a host of films that have won at ZIFF,” says Dr Mhando.
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