Taking Malawi movies to next level

firmMAKING HEADWAY — Malawi’s films

Success, like a picture, is made.

Indeed, before actualisation of success on the big stage, a picture of success is born in the artist’s mind.

This also applies to a painting; the fine artist has to conceptualise it and, boom, a painting is born.


When filmmakers in the country formed Film Association of Malawi in the early 2000s, it must have hit them that, at some point, they had to chalk some success. It was all in the mind.

Over the years, we have seen films produced in Malawi being shown at international film festivals, both in Malawi and abroad.

The number of movies being produced has also increased, so that, just from January to August this year, we have witnessed the premiering of three quality films.


Even in cities and towns of the country, people see vendors running helter-skelter selling Malawian movies, a clear indication that we have our own local movies.

One of the country’s film directors Joyce Chavula Mhango is on record to have said players in the industry are fast taking it to the promised land of glory, in terms of awards chalked during film festivals and other competitions.

If anything, she lamented that the number of films being produced was still very much on the lower side.

“We are currently producing few movies a year. This means we are underrepresented at festivals,” she said.

Chavula Mhango suggested that, for Malawi to get there, it needed to pick a leaf from the Nigerian film industry, also known as Nollywood.

“A good example closer to us is Nollywood. They produce about 50 movies a week and the industry is the second largest employer after the government. This is because partners and stakeholders understand how valuable the industry is to that country’s economic growth and development,” she said.

Mhango acknowledged that, if Malawi invested in the industry, things would be different.

“An average budget of a Hollywood movie is about $250 million. In Africa, the cost of producing an average Nollywood movie ranges from $25,000 to $70,000 but let me mention that Nollywood has access to funds and loans.

“A good example is a Nollywood film, Dr Bello, that got a loan of $250,000 and became the first Hollywood film to show in American theatres. The point is, accessibility of funds will help us employ professional expertise to come up with award-winning productions,” she said.

However, Mhango acknowledged the positive efforts being made by local film makers.

“It takes a lot of effort to come up with a film; it’s in fact a huge risk but, above all, it takes great courage and confidence to send that film to international festivals,” She said.

Another film director Taonga Nkhonjera, whose B’ella film was nominated twice in 2017, said the few movies that are produced in the country grab international awards.

“Even though my movie did not get any award after being nominated in two categories [in 2017], it does not mean other movies fail to win awards. We have movies like Seasons of a life and The Last Fishing Boat which have grabbed more than one award each,” he said.

Nkhonjera, however, said more film directors were needed in the country.

Writing in African Journal Online, University of Malawi lecturer Professor Mufunanji Magalasi indicates, in an article titled ‘Factors affecting the Growth of the Malawian Film Industry’ that the film industry in Malawi has been making progress, slowly and surely.

He writes in the abstract: “Interest in development of Malawian film has occurred like flashes in pans over the years, considering the culture of cinema and film making in the country. Like many Malawian arts genres, attempts to develop the film industry have met lukewarm responses from the market that seems unready to consume Malawian products, given the international competition that the practice has had over the years, whether it be from the British colonial films, moving to Hollywood, the injection of Chinese karate movies and of late the popular Nollywood video films.

“Besides the market, however, issues of support in terms of non-existent legal frameworks emerge now and again, adding to explanations of failing growth. Critically, the silence on Malawian film- making and cinema in international scholarly circles, with the exception of David Kerr’s lone voice, should be a surprise, given how other industries in the region and the continent have developed, and continue to develop.”

Culture Minister Michael Usi in July this year said the country had a lot of things, including culture, from which artists including filmmakers could tap from.

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