As the country looks ahead to the Chilembwe Day on January 15, celebrating the life of John Chilembwe, who fought for the country to gain freedom, film maker, Shemu Joyah, has said he is still looking forward to producing the Chilembwe movie.
Joyah, who last year premiered his third movie The Road to Sunrise, said it was his lifelong dream to make the Chilembwe film but could not be drawn to say when it would be ready.
“ It’s a lifelong dream to make the Chilembwe film, however I cannot say when people should expect it for it depends on when we will have the resources to make it,” Joyah said.
He maintained that the script for the Chilembwe movie has been ready for the past three years.
“But we need about US$3 million to make it. While this might seem like a lot of money in Malawian terms, it is in fact very little in film production, particularly a period drama like the Chilembwe film which will need special costumes and sets,” he said.
Joyah said it was important for him to make the Chilembwe film, as part of preserving history.
He said as a filmmaker, he sees Chilembwe as an inspiration.
“I think the biggest problem we face as Malawians is that we have never bothered to study the philosophy Chilembwe was trying to propound, instead, we have concentrated on the uprising, which, to me, was just the climax of his incredible life,” Joyah explained.
He further said that the most fruitful part of Chilembwe’s life was the period between 1900 when he came back from America and 1914 as his frustration with the white settlers was reaching boiling point.
“Several things make Chilembwe’s life outstanding and needed to be taught in our schools. And some of them are that Chilembwe had a strong desire to raise the status of black people through education,” the filmmaker said.
The award winning filmmaker said Chilembwe is the first black person in this part of Africa to build a school for other Africans.
“When Robert Laws and his fellow white missionaries were building schools in the North and South, Chilembwe too, a black missionary was building his own schools in Chiradzulu and Mulanje, to the chagrin of the white settlers,” Joyah said.
He also said Chilembwe is the first professionally trained doctor in Malawi and that Daniel Malikebu, had his first education at one of Chilembwe’s schools before going to America to get his medical degree.
Joyah said Chilembwe was talking about the rights of women and their significance in society long before women were even allowed to vote in Britain.
He said that Chilembwe’s wife run vocational training for women; teaching them basic literacy skills, sewing, and home craft.
According to the filmmaker, today, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) are going into villages trying to do what Chilembwe and his wife were doing over 100 years ago.
“Chilembwe taught that a man is only free if he is able to grow his own food, and urged Africans to grow their own food using modern methods of agriculture which he had learned in America and from his mentor, Joseph Booth,” he said.
Joyah said this was why Chilembwe called his church Providence Industrial Mission (PIM) and that the “Industrial” means work for oneself.
“When Kamuzu was saying that he wanted Malawians to be self-sufficient in food and promoted agriculture that was nothing new: Chilembwe had already said it more than 60 years earlier,” he said.
Joyah also said Chilembwe talked about equality of white and black people long before the African National Congress (ANC) of South was formed in 1912.
“If you read the letter he wrote to the Nyasaland Times in 1914, you will notice tones of Black consciousness that were later to be seen in the writings of Steve Biko and Franz Fanon 50 years later,” he said.
And despite not having any engineering qualification, Joyah said Chilembwe built a church so strong that it had to be brought down by dynamite during the uprising and that this church was even stronger than St Michael and All Angels Church that white missionaries built at HHI in Blantyre.
“Time has come now for us to look at other Malawian heroes like Chilembwe, Dunduzu and Yatuta Chisiza, Masauko Chipembere and others, and draw from them a philosophy that can help us forge ahead. We need a guiding philosophy otherwise we will just roam aimlessly on the surface of the earth,” the filmmaker said.
He said the Chilembwe movie would have everything that people need to know about him and that the script does not compromise on the information.
Joyah worked on The Road to Sunrise because he wanted to keep himself active as he awaits doing the Chilembwe film.
Meanwhile, The Road to Sunrise which was premiered at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival where it also won an award is set to screen at the 26th Annual Pan African Film Festival (Paff).
Paff will take place from February 8-19 2018 in Los Angeles, California, USA.
“We are in the process of preparing the film for screening. It takes a while because the film has to be converted into the right format and the sound has to be sharp. This process needs a very powerful computer, running for up to 24 hours without interruption for it to finish,” Joyah said.
“If we don’t have power cuts we should finish the process by January 11 (yesterday) and dispatch it by 12 January (today).”
Joyah’s other films which have also won awards are Seasons of A Life and The Last Fishing Boat.
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