The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), now in its 19th consecutive year, is a pioneer in the exposure ofAfrican film-making, and a gateway to the development of East African film.
ZIFF, the longest running film festival in East Africa, has played a crucial rolein the revival of cinema in the region. Festival director Martin Mhando says, “Beginning in 1998 ZIFF was born from the ashes of the collapsed film industry. In Tanzania all the 54 cinemas in the country had collapsed between 1992 and 1996. ZIFF was the only way of keeping alive the ambers of cinema culture and it was the only event on the Island that people could congregate and enjoy a night out in the open skies of Zanzibar.”
The tropical island of Zanzibar teems with excitement and opportunity every July, as locals and visitors enjoy ten days of screening of the best of Pan-African film-making, in a relaxed carnival-like environment of live music, dance, DJ’s and performances. But ZIFF is not only about glamour and celebration; it is about motivation, inspiration and empowerment.
8 full days of local and international discussion panels, workshops and a meeting and networking space for young and upcoming filmmakers to compare notes and gather strengthfrom experienced professionals has developed film making on the continent, and in particular the region. For example, 2013 Oscar winner for best supporting actress, LupitaNyongo had her training in festival management at ZIFF in 2006 and 2007. “ZIFF is a champion of cinematic underdogs, providing a platform for the celebration of young artists and creating opportunities for mentoring. In this way, ZIFF is helping to lay the foundation for a whole generation of African storytellers to burst forth,” said Umar Turaki, a film maker from Nigeria.
The creation of a special category of award, ‘Bongo Flava,’ was an initial spark for the Swahili film market to improve and attain a level of excellence that would satisfy the needs of a larger entertainment base.
“The name Bongo means Tanzania, specifically Dar es Salaam and also Brain, as one who wants to live in Dar es Salaam has to use more brain.Bongo Flava is Tanzanian Taste.” Freddy Feruzi
Tanzania is now the second biggest producer of film on the continent. 2015 winner of the SembeneOusmane award, Ekwa Msangi said, “Tanzania has a lot to share with the continent and the world at large, and the strongest way to show ourselves and others our thoughts, is through the arts.”
All of East Africa features strongly in this year’s ZIFF selection with five Kenyan films, three Ugandan and two Rwandan. Animator, mixed media artist and experimental filmmaker, Ng'endoMukii said, “ZIFF creates an intimate and welcoming environment to share and celebrate our filmmaking. I have found a space that has allowed me to continue to experiment and grow my work and also commercialise it, which is brilliant.”
The power of African stories to travel and inspire beyond the boundaries of the continent is another feature of ZIFF with a strong inclusion of ‘African diaspora’ film-makers.
The documentary‘Waiting for B’ by Sau Paulo film maker Paulo Cesar Toledoobserves the commonalities between West African and South American people. Paulo says, “Many of the characters are on a journey to embrace their own African heritage. Some have struggled with their African features.Others are proud members of the West African-Brazilian religion Umbanda, and still others in lighter moments joke about being descended from slaves.”
‘Out of the Village,’ by American film-maker Jonathan Steintells a story of Ebola in Ghana. Jonathan says, “It is important to promote stories that show Africans helping Africans and respect for tradition even during moments of tragedy.”
African storiesprovide beautiful and engaging content for cinema.South African feature film ‘Kalushi’, directed by Mandla Dube will open ZIFF 2016. ‘Kalushi’ tells the story of Solomon Mahlangu, a freedom fighter executed under the apartheid regime. MandlaDube expresses the power of showcasing such a ‘history from the other side,’ with the metaphor: “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Ziff is a $250,000 festival and brings to the Island of Zanzibar over $15million worth of business in the art and culture and tourism sectors.Martin Mhando says, “ZIFF is important glue to the identity and cultural life of Zanzibar. 90% of ZIFF’s income comes from sponsorship giving the organization a comfortable sense of sustainability.It is a journey of huge waves, tides and winds but one that we shall weather as we are the Festival of the Dhow countries with the single sail dhow as our symbol!”