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Ambassadors Fund bounty for Fama

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Azaius Mkandawire

United States (US) Embassy has become the latest friend to meet the needs of Malawi’s film industry.

This time, the US Embassy— through Ambassadors Fund— has awarded Film Association of Malawi (Fama) $75,000 meant for implementation of the ‘Malawi: Preservation of Indigenous – Gule Wamkulu, Vimbuza and Mbona Traditional dances Project’.

The development comes after the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) announced results of the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation 2020 Small Grants Competition winners.

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Fama has made it to the list, joining 24 other cultural heritage preservation projects that have been selected for funding in the world.

The project intends, through Fama, to audio visually record and produce multimedia content such as documentaries, songs, and important rituals of cultural expressions within the Gule Wamkulu and Vimbuza context.

The two are classified by Unesco as masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity for preservation.

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In fact, Gule Wamkulu and Vimbuza are mentioned in the same breath as the Mbona rain rituals, which have been performed by Malawi’s ancestors since the 15th century.

Through the project, filmmakers will identify and reconstruct roles played by women in passing knowledge from one generation to the other.

The Department of State established the Ambassadors Fund in 2000 at the request of Congress.

Projects recommended for funding advance US foreign policy goals and show respect for other cultures.

The statement indicates that, in the financial year 2020, US Ambassadors around the world submitted a total of 89 applications to the State department’s Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) for projects to preserve cultural sites, cultural objects, and forms of traditional cultural expression.

The combined amount requested was $11.3 million but ECA selected 25 proposals for funding, one of them being the one in Malawi.

Fama President Ezaius Mkandawire said they were happy to get a piece of the Ambassadors Fund.

“This application is for 2019 but, because of Covid-19 pandemic we could not get it in time. But, that aside, we are very excited that we have received this award,” Mkandawire said.

He said the funds will go towards preservation of key subjects: Vimbuza, Gule Wamkulu and Mbona.

“Research is set to be done. We have partners such as Dr Robert Chanunkha from Malawi University of Science and Technology and University of Norway. So, there will be publications to cover subjects and we will also produce documentaries focusing on the three key elements with a focus on women,” the Fama President said.

Mkandawire said the project was for a year.

The US Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer Douglas Johnston said the US government strongly believes that the preservation of significant cultural history is essential to every nation, “because culture is at the root of a nation’s identity”.

“That is why we are proud to offer the Ambassadors Fund programme at all of our embassies worldwide every year to demonstrate American leadership in the preservation of cultural heritage around the world and show our respect for other cultures.

“Out of the 89 projects submitted globally for the Ambassadors Fund, we are very proud that the Malawi Film Association is among the 25 awarded.

He said they had great faith in the creative induty.

“We will continue supporting the creative industry but it’s also up to artists to be forthcoming in reaching out for these opportunities. Just like any grant or exchange opportunity, it depends on what the artists can make out of it,” Johnston said.

The Public Affairs Officer then said they were also happy that recently, they supported actor and cultural specialist Vincent Maluwa with a $9,000 grant to conduct the International Cultural Marketing Workshop aimed at equipping young people with skills that would help them contribute to the growth of Malawi’s creative sector.

He said, in 2019 and 2020, they supported up-and-coming female musicians through the Nvak-Malawi Programme.

Under the programme, US-based musicians mentored and coached 15 young women with the skills to become professional music recording artists.

“This is not all [as] through the Iowa Writers Programme, we supported the professional development of several prominent Malawian writers, including Shadreck Chikoti (2019) and Muthi Nhlema (2020-21) to showcase their work and also learn from other writers,” Johnston said.

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