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Giving Bingu wa Mutharika a moving image life-line

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MISOYA — I have high hopes

When former President Bingu wa Mutharika succumbed to cardiac arrest in April 2012, death put a stop to whatever hope the citizenry had in him.

All of a sudden, belief in the national agenda he vowed to advance after winning his second term in the 2009 presidential election evaporated and, in the 48 hours of uncertainty that marred his demise, a chasm between the present and future was conspicuous.

It [the chasm] actually signaled a frontier between the past that was the governing Democratic Progressive Party and the present that was about to be born [People’s Party], creating a historical divide.

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Death is unavoidable, yes, but, in the case of Bingu’s death, it had the appearance of surprising randomness.

This, actually, is the impression one gets after getting snippets of The President is Dead, a film which Gospel Media (Gosm) has been working on.

“This is a feature movie that reflects on what happened in Malawi. It is about a series of some past events that happened to Malawi and left an indelible mark on Malawi and the people of Malawi. We have been developing the script because we want to come up with something that will be inspiring and effective for generations to come. This is one first big project of the year and will cost over K30 million,” said Isaac Misoya, who is Gosm director.

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To come up with the film, the production crew has been working with a number of players, including lawyers, to avoid falling into legal traps.

Filmmaking experts have also been engaged to ensure that gaps experts and reviewers have identified in other films— both Gosm and films of other makers— are not repeated.

“As I said, this a big project. So, we have involved different experts, including players in the local film industry, so that we can be appreciated on the international stage. We have a product that will meet international standards. Gosm Films in partnership with other film companies are getting ready to do this amazing job,” he said.

He described Malawi as full of film opportunities, citing a history of twists and turns, beautiful landscape and bountiful human resource.

The filmmaker said, while the cloud of hope collapsed on people once they learned, back in April 2012, that Bingu’s sun had fallen, film lovers have an opportunity to be hopeful again by learning about Bingu’s personality through the film.

He, however, said a film is a group endeavour and that, as such, there is a need to join hands.

Misoya said, for example, that filmmakers incur a lot of costs in concocting the product because they have to balance between inherited complex traditions and their own uniqueness, without moving away from things that are established in the genre.

At the same time, they work with people steeped in the sense of their self-importnce, hence a need to always compromise and let experts do their job while contributing to the cause.

“As such, in our case, we need [people such as] costume designers, make-up artists sound engineers, among others.

“That said, I have high hopes in this project after getting more experience in filmmaking throughout the years I have been producing films. Gosm Films is now an experienced company and that is why we are willing to partner others.

“You can just imagine that, in this project, we are looking at working with 50 people. The film will feature scenes on, for example, Bingu wa Mutharika’s death event on April 6. It is not only about his death but also his achievements,” he said.

Gosm will not be the first film producers to focus on an individual in Malawi.

Experienced and award-winning filmmaker Shemu Joyah has been talking about his plans to produce a film on John Chilembwe, who led the 1915 uprising in the then Nyasaland.

He, however, bemoans lack of funds.

Of late, Malawian film companies have been coming out with products that have been reviewed abroad.

End last year, renowned reviewer and film critic Dennis Harvey did a review of a Malawian film in an article titled ‘Fatsani: A Tale of Survival’ Review: A Malawian Girl Fights for Educational and Economic Justice’, in which he highlights positives and negatives.

Of course, he lauds the movie for portraying a real picture of the situation in countries such as Malawi, where poverty comes in many faces, be it through heavy taxation, lopsided economic policies, non-existent economic safeguards and something as simple as State neglect.

“That triumph over systemic graft and theft would carry more force if not for a somewhat wooden child lead performance, the script’s carelessness about details (we’ve no idea how Fatsani kept herself and granny alive before leaving school to work, for instance), and a directorial paucity of narrative tension. Individual scenes are often poorly shaped, with transitions between them usually no more than a blackout.

“Variable performances, clumsy action sequences and an overwhelming excess of various-artist music soundtracked further conspire against the film developing any consistent pacing rhythm or tone. On the plus side, the widescreen photography is nicely handled, several drone shots providing a welcome bigger picture.

“Repeating obvious points while omitting needed additional intel, Fatsani: A Tale of Survival can feel both overlong and underdeveloped. But however limited its insights or dramatic impact, it still provides welcome illustration of some challenges facing one of the region’s most embattled nations,” Harvey writes.

Given a change, The President is Dead Could be reviewed one day.

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