Why ‘Subira’ was the perfect curtain raiser for ZIFF

Tuesday August 6 2019


By Salome Gregory

Subira, a Kenyan film directed by Sippy Chadha got the honour to curtain raise the 22nd edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF). During the award ceremony this past weekend, the film won two nods in two different categories, namely; European African film and Feature Film under bronze dhow category.

Subira is a Swahili film with English subtitles shot in Lamu, Kenya. It is about an unbreakable father-daughter bond which sets into motion a young woman’s determination to follow her dream.

Roselida Taabu, the Editor of the film, shares with The Beat more about Subira.

On why the film was chosen to open this year’s ZIFF, Taabu says Subira is a story that resonates with everyone since it tackles the issue of pursuing one’s dreams irrespective of the challenges. The movie’s protagonist, Subira, was able to find inner strength and courage to pursue her dream of swimming in the ocean. The setting is also similar to Zanzibar Island making it appropriate for ZIFF.

The film’s editor opens up about the challenges during film production. She particularly points to scenes shot in Lamu at the ocean to be the hardest. “Those scenes were not easy to film because there were so many activities going on around the beach and so blocking all that out was a little hectic,” she says.

On the lessons learnt from the film and the major takeaway, Taabu says the major lesson that cuts across the board is push until you get the story out and don’t be afraid to ask for opinions of the experts around you and just trust your crew to do their best.


“She calls for collaboration among East African film stakeholders as a great way to achieve so much more within the industry. She uses Subira as an example of great collaboration. “Our cinematographer Tallib Rasmussen is from Tanzania, one of the producers Vibeke Mwasya is Danish-Kenyan and together with the rest of the crew Subira came to life,” she says.

“I would like my fellow East Africans to learn the importance of determination, resilience and cooperation because this is a story inspired by the director’s real life and it took her eight years to write. Had she given up then we would not have had this great story out. Just as the character Subira was determined to achieve her dream, we should also not give up but continue to tell our stories in the simplest ways possible,” adds Taabu.

Commenting on ZIFF 2019, the editor says she enjoyed the festival because it brought filmmakers and creative minds in a great space to share their craft and skills. She reckons it ideal to have additional practical sessions in the workshops and young filmmakers from East Africa brought into the workshops or ZIFF academy.

Announcing the European African Film award, Lizelle Bisschoff from the United Kingdom who’s a lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Glasgow as well as a researcher and curator of African film, opines that Subira is a movie that cuts across borders, which made it possible for the movie to win the two categories at ZIFF.

By winning the award, the crew behind Subira will get a chance to attend European Film Festivals and Africa in Motion Film Festival in Scotland.

A film maker based in Zanzibar, Salumu Maulid, says Subira film tells a story of a girl who felt she was losing control of her own life as she was fighting against arranged marriage and other customs that affect African girls.

He says at the end Subira managed to live her life as she desired by overcoming the challenges in her community. The film comes at the right time when there are a lot of movements to empower young girls.

From a short film to a feature film

Subira - the short film (2008), which was wretten, directed and produced by Sippy Chandha, won 15 international awards in East Africa and in Europe. The film also had tremendous success with audiences in the US. It was screened in Brussels as part of an African film festival and was highly acclaimed as audiences could relate to three aspects of women showed in the film. It has been shown in Italy, France – Cine Cinema Cable T.V as well as U.S.A PB5 T.V.

Based on the success of the short film, came the feature film of the same name. Subira the feature film was released in November 2018, in Kenya. It was nominated in 13 categories in its home country of Kenya and won 5 top Kalasha awards; Best Feature, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Lighting and Best Editing.

The international Premiere of the film was at Goteborg, Sweden, January 26th, 2019.The film is currently doing the film festival rounds and Ravneet is writing her second feature narrative.