Friday, May 19, 2017

A new dawn now beckons at ZIFF


By By Paul Owere

Dar es Salaam. There is an air of a new dawn at ZIFF, one that promises to make the 20th anniversary of the festivals existence the beginning of a great journey into the future.

A new director in Fabrizio Colombo, new partnerships and a new theme that calls on cinema enthusiasts to set on a journey towards ‘Finding Joy’.

According to organisers the 20 long years of the multidiscipline festival has shaped careers and inspired talent both local and foreign therefore justifying its theme.

To most who have been involved at the core , it has been a journey full of twists and turns which has at times necessitated a change of routes filled with hope and anticipation, thus the need for celebration.

ZIFF has in the past two decades attracted film makers from almost every corner of the world from Danny Glover to Mira Nair, during the same period the festival has witnessed several international movie premieres too.

This was further strengthened this week by the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the US embassy in Tanzania

Speaking at the MOU signing US Chargé d’Affaires Virginia Blaser said they were pleased with the continued support to the Tanzanian people through the cultural exchange programme.

“Together we will provide an opportunity for American and Tanzanian filmmakers to exchange ideas and discuss the craft of filmmaking and its use as a vehicle for addressing a variety of issues that affect society,” she says.

As part of the understanding the embassy will bring American film director Judd Ehrlich and American film expert Debra Zimmerman during this year’s festival which takes place in Stone Town from July 9-16, 2017.

Judd Ehrlich is the director of the documentary Keepers of the Game, which follows a team of Native American girls as they seek to win a regional championship in the sport of lacrosse, traditionally reserved for men and boys.

Debra Zimmerman on her part is a film expert and the Executive Director of Women Make Movies, an organization dedicated to increasing access and opportunities for female filmmakers.

Through the partnership with ZIFF, Ehrlich and Zimmerman will work directly with emerging Zanzibari filmmakers during the festival. The two will conduct a series of workshops on documentary filmmaking, and the marketing and distribution of films, as well as hold a workshop specifically for women in the film industry.

“We are committed toward bringing some of our best experts to share what they have and in the process help others tell their stories,” says Chargé d’Affaires Blaser

The festival director Fabrizio Colombo was elated at the new signing as he said it was a sign that the festival was looking toward a brighter future.

“They come in at a time when we are celebrating 20 years of our existence and it is important to note that we are heading towards the right direction,” says Colombo.

According to Fabrizio, this year over 600 films were submitted and they had to work around the clock to come up with 100 films that will be shown during the week-long festival.

“As part of our other collaborations we shall have the Film School and film market through the Soko Filamu. These two events shall provide insight on how the whole business of films is done worldwide even with the challenging circumstances that continue to plague the industry,” says Colombo.

He adds: At the Soko Filam industry stakeholders will come together to buy and sell films and TV content, exchange new ideas, identify alternative channels for distribution, discover the latest technology and innovative business models that are driving the taste, expectations and usage of a rapidly growing consumer base in East Africa

He says this is aimed at making sure that local film makers take their films to the international level with the same local stories.

“This year we are delighted at having two Bongo Films, ‘Kiumeni’ and ‘Home Coming’ which have set the bar higher, though these are local stories, the way they are told meets the requirements of the international audiences,” says Colombo.

These efforts come at a time when Bongo films seem to be swimming at the deep end with piracy; financing and distribution being a major hurdle that the industry is struggling to cope with.

“These are some of the discussions that I hope we can have during the festival given the fact that piracy and financing is a worldwide problem. ZIFF offers a platform for film makers to have these exchanges on how the industry is dealing with such issues elsewhere,” he says.

According to him, these are some of the opportunities that Tanzanian filmmakers should take since the festival is taking part in their backyard bringing in a wealth of experience from across the world.

The signing of the MOU with the US embassy is a sign that the new administration has started off on the right footing after the former festival director Martin Mhando stepped down at the end of last year’s festival.

They have signed other partnerships including one with Pan African television Trace Mziki for the East Africa Music Video Award another category that will be contested.

But even with such a glimmer of light, the festival will have to contend with some age old issues, this is despite the assurances made last year that the festival was gearing towards a corporate funding. Finance remains an issue so critical.

Last year’s festival attracted major sponsors such as Comnet, Zanlink, Azam Marine among many other companies that gave a helping hand. But it is at this point that something rather suspicious crops up, how ZIFF lost out on the $1 million sponsorship from Zuku which was supposed to run for 10 years with annual fee of $100, 000.

Nobody has been bold enough to tell the world why the festival gave up on such a lucrative sponsorship that promised to ease operational costs.

The July event still promises to be a gem but some of the problems are likely to persist and top on the list is lack of local attendance.

During these festivals the number of guests and touritss heading to Zanzibar increase by several folds as the world converges in Stone Town.

This is why it is rather puzzling that local people hardly attend the screening save for a few selected days.

This is despite the fact that on most nights the films are shown free prompting that same old question; whose festival is this?