The drum of international film competitions has, like a rhythmic heart, been throbbing at Malawian filmmakers’ door year after year.
And, still, the majority of filmmakers in Malawi’s budding industry are yet to know the sense of deep contentment that jolts the mind into wakefulness when one scoops an international award.
Of course, Malawi has proven award-winners, among them Shemu Joyah, Joyce Mhango Chavula, Flora Suya and others who have made Malawi merry in the past 15 years.
However, there is a need 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. Just that bursting on the international stage will require more than unbridled passion and energy; it will also require high levels of skill.
This [passion, energy and skill] will put players in the film industry the leeway to fly Malawi’s flag higher.
Whatever the case, 2021 was, somehow, panning out as ordinary as the other year, in terms of Malawian filmmakers stealing the limelight on the international stage, only for another award to come Malawi’s way.
Film Association of Malawi President Gift Sukez Sukali led by example by his and HD Plus’s movie, Fatsani: A Tale of Survival, won the Best Film Director- Southern Africa Award last month.
When the filmmaker travel 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 five months of being released.
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 at the festival, 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 those 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 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.
I am looking at 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
In 2021, Mashariki organisers decided to go a step further, paying special attention to Genre Cinema, which includes films such as action, thriller, comedy, horror, science fiction, among others.
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 whatebver tickles their fancy.
All I am saying is that the time to establish the Malawi film industry global acumen could be here, really.
And here it is.