In the kitchen: Local films’ success
From afar, the actors, namely filmmakers, look almost celebratory, replete with plastic smiles, which they ‘wear’ as easily as they put on costume.
This could be because creativity is, in an ideal setup, supposed to be exciting.
In fact, under a conducive environment, it opens the floodgates of success and reduces poverty— for a long time the sub-theme to Malawi’s dominant theme of warm-heartedness— to ashes.
Blame it on the ill-founded conception that those that acquire a certain greatness in the local film industry must, as well, become richer and happier than those outside it.
Not for Malawi, though, for, as Film Association of Malawi President Gift Sukez Sukali puts it, there is a lot of work to be done to put take local films to the level where other countries, notably Nigeria, are.
Nevertheless, gauging by recent decisions in Malawi, the film industry could be on the way to success; if not success, at least fame. This is the case with Fatsani: A Tale of Survival.
Just this month, Malawi Oscars Selection Committee announced that it had chosen it, out of all other local films submitted, meaning that it is on course to representing the country at the 94th Annual Academy Awards, set to take place in 2022.
The 9th Oscars` edition will take place on March 27 2022 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, the United States.
“The Malawi Oscars’ Selection Committee is pleased to announce that it has selected the film Fatsani: A Tale of Survival to represent Malawi at the 94th Annual Academy Awards (Oscars) in 2022 in the Best International Feature Film category,” filmmaker Shemu Joyah, who headed the committee, announced in a statement.
This is despite that the feature-length film was premiered in Lilongwe just six months ago.
Of course, only the Academy can have a say on who makes the final cut for the Best International Feature Film but, for Fatsani: A Tale of Survival, being nominated at local level represents a milestone.
Not that a Malawian film is making inroads into international boundaries for the first time; far from it.
Filmmakers such as Joyce Mhango Chavula, Flora Suya, Shemu Joyah himself, among others, have flown Malawi’s film flag in far-flung countries, as well as in the Southern African Development Community region, before.
Just that, with Fatsani: A Tale of Survival, the drum of participation in international film competitions seems to, like a rhythmic heart, be throbbing closer and closer to home.
The fact that Sukez is doing it on a grand scale means time has come for Malawi to create another ‘team’ of award-winners to be competing side-by-side with the proven winners.
After all, up-and-coming filmmakers, as well as old hands that are yet to win awards, are full of energy.
However, Salima-based filmmaker Evance Kapwepwe feels that, for local films to burst on the international stage like never before, it will take more than good will, unbridled passion and energy; it will also require high levels of skill.
“And, most importantly, it will require massive investments and this is the reason we have been fighting for the establishment of the Arts Council,” he says.
Of course, Culture Minister Michael Usi has committed to ensure that there is movement, in terms of Cultural Policy actualisation and the setting up of an Arts Council, although under a different name, but it may be ages before those ‘dreams’ are realised.
Meanwhile, and whatever the case, 2021, which was somehow panning out as ordinary as the other year, in terms of Malawian filmmakers stealing the limelight on the international stage, seems to be full of end-of-year surprises.
Sukali epitomizes such surprises, with his Fatsani: A Tale of Survival counting the Best Film Director-Southern Africa Award, which it got last month, among its trappings.
When the filmmaker travelled to Sotambe International Film and Arts Festival in Zambia, just across the border from Mchinji District, there was hope that Fatsani: A Tale of Survival would do well but, deep down, some observers were not so sure that glory would come within six months of its relese.
It must be remembered that, in March this year, there was nothing like Fatsani: A Tale of Survival, more so because the film was premiered in Lilongwe in April this year.
The filmmakers travelled to Zambia high on the hopes that they would emerge winners in the two categories they got nominations in, namely Best Film Director-Southern Africa and Best Feature Film-Southern Africa.
Actually, when Sukali, Gilbert Moyo, Uthandiwe Chidambo, Joyce Mhango Chavula, Hannah Sukali and Hastings Golosi, among others, travelled to Zambia to be at the festival, they knew, deep down their hearts, that, apart from representing Malawi there, they would take advantage of the event to sell the movie and Malawi to the world.
That is what they did before attending the Sotambe International Film and Arts Festival because, a day before, they premiered Fatsani: A Tale of Survival at Garden Court Hotel in Zambia, where people turned up in droves.
Then came festival day, when Fatsani: A Tale of Survival claimed the Best Film Director-Southern Africa award, something that sent Sukezi and the team that accompanied him to the Southern African Development Community member state on cloud nine.
Failing to bag the Best Feature Film accolade, which went to another former member of the Federation of Nyasaland and Rhodesia, in the form of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe, did not pain much, more so for a film that participated in an international festival for the first time ever.
After all, they say a bird in hand is worth more than nine in the bush.
Perhaps another point worth buttressing is that Fatsani: A Tale of Survival faced stiff competition from filmmakers from other parts of Africa, notably those from host nation Zambia, Uganda, and Botswana, countries that have, of late, made inroads in as far as film production is concerned.
Gauging from last month’s success in Zambia, one would not be faulted for declaring that, all these years, Malawian filmmakers have been preparing for moments like these, through which they can roll their films across the world like small fish [usipa] waiting to dry on some stalls in Mangochi, Salima, Nkhotakota, Karonga or Nkhata Bay districts— any place where Lake Malawi has a footprint.
However, this is not time to sit on the laurels; it is time to cast the net wider.
There are events such as the Mashariki African Film Festival, which has been touted as the largest film festival in Rwanda. Malawian filmmakers would not be denied the chance to participate as ‘guests’, considering that Rwandan president Paul Kagame is a pan-Africanist.
The festival was created to respond to a fast-growing film audience and a much-needed film connection through African countries, filmmakers, the African diaspora and international media producers
This year, Mashariki organisers decided to go a step further, paying special attention to Genre Cinema, which includes films such as action, thriller, comedy, horror and science fiction.
At that event, African filmmakers and producers are given a chance to come up with ‘truly’ African genre films, with African stories and myths forming an integral part of a mystical and fantasy genre too.
Malawian filmmakers can, in line with categories that Mashariki organisers set, participate in any of the following [be it in 2022 or 2023 or whenever they are ready] Best Long Feature Fiction, Best Feature Documentary, Best Short film, Best Television and Web Series, Best Music Video, or whatever tickles their fancy.
There could be no better time to establish Malawi film industry global acumen than now.