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Too poor to preserve history

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A NATION’S history, bad or good, is preserved in books, folktales, songs, and even movies.
In South Africa, national heroes like Nelson Mandela and Stevie Biko have been immortalised in movies such as Invictus, The Long Walk to Freedom and Cry Freedom respectively while the 1976 students’ revolt against “academic segregation” lives on in the movie Sarafina.
Across the globe, we also have movies that portray the lives of heroes, and even villains. We have Malcom X which talks about Malcom X, Ninety Minutes at Entebbe—a story about an Israel mission that rescued hostages from a hijacked plane at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, Der Untergang which chronicles the fall of Adolf Hitler, the former dictator of Germany, A Woman Called Moses which tells a story of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and slave escape leader.
However, we do not have historical movies here in Malawi yet we have heroes whose stories are worth to be captured in films. Why is it that film-makers do not produce historical movies as it is in other countries?
One of the country’s film producers, Shemu Joyah, said the biggest challenge is funding.
“It would be more expensive to produce[a movie about national heroes, villains or events] than an ordinary film. Particularly if you take the Chilembwe’s story, it is a period of drama so everything in the movie has to agree with the particular period it took place in terms of costume, setting, among other things, because you can’t shoot a 1915 film in a 2015 set up,” he said.
Joyah explained that history content is difficult to adapt considering that people have knowledge of that particular period.
“Some people can come to argue that this is not the way things happened so you have to be ready. I started preparing to produce a movie based on Chilembwe about three years ago, currently, I have written proposals to different organisation for funding because that’s the only challenge,” he said.
Joya believes that there is a lot to do in the film sector.
“We first of all need to improve the quality of ordinary movies before we get to produce historical pieces because I don’t think that we have achieved the quality that is interesting. We need to improve in that direction because for the historical movies, you need more
money and therefore, you have to convince donors to assist you with money and I don’t think that anybody can assist you if you haven’t done yet a good quality film. John Chilembwe story is very challenging because the set up is very complicated,” he said.
From a film-making point of view, Joyah said the quality of our movies is not the best comparing to other countries like South Africa, Kenya, Zambia or Zimbabwe.
Joyah explained that even though the country does not produce historical movies, they are very important.
“If we are not producing historical movies then we are losing out because that part of our culture which we can chronicle in the films is not being captured. So with time, we are going to lose something that is very important to us. I would definitely encourage film-makers to look into films based on historical moments,” he said.
Another film producer, Maxwell Chiphinga, concurs with Joyah.
“They cost a lot of money because you have to create a setting to suit that kind of historical background since you are required to manipulate the environment which would cost millions,” he said.
Chiphinga said it is the government’s job to make sure that history is preserved in every means possible.
“The government should fund such projects and put them in the archives for both education and cultural preservation purposes. As a business person, I cannot invest in historical movies unless if sponsored because they are not marketable,” he said.
Chiphanga said lack of historical movies has a negative impact.
“With passage of time, we will be people without any history captured visually,” he said.
Film Association of Malawi president, Ezaius Mkandawire, said historical movies are not produced in the country because they require a lot of construction hence expensive.
“If someone wants to make a John Chilembwe movie it would require a lot of reconstruction. That is the biggest impediment,” he said.
Mkandawire also blamed the chain of rights as one of reasons film producers shun away from producing historical movies.
“If film makers wanted to produce a John Chilembwe or Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s movie there are certain people that are so protective of these people. For example, Kamuzu’s family would be interested in the product so mostly, film makers are required to liaise properly with such kind of people because there is an economic opportunity and this chain of rights is what makes film producers back off,” he said.
As a way of bridging the gap, Mkandawire said the government and all stakeholders should take a role in funding film projects.
“History is part of our culture so there is need for the government to invest in preserving it through films because it’s not just entertainment,” he said.
Mkandawire said his association is taking some measures to help film producers in such projects.
“We are embracing different ideas and we are talking to various stakeholders. We want to establish a culture fund which will help film makers in such projects,” he said.

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