Give an account of the problems that the film industry in Zimbabwe is facing, using film industry giants like Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood.
The Zimbabwean film industry is replete with problems that continue to threaten its survival and growth. The problems range from man-made, political, social, economic and technical. These include neglect by the government to recognise the industry as viable, shortage of foreign currency for acquisition of skills, equipment and marketing, censorship by the government, little or no participation by the private sector, a dwindling market, shortage of skills to buttress the industry, poor quality productions, piracy and absence of agencies that promotes film. These problems have relegated Zimbabwe to the rear as Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood’s industry dominates.
To start with, the government of Zimbabwe last directly promoted film in the early 1990s as the economy suddenly took a downward trend towards a depression. During this era the government spending was enormous and they had to introduce drastic measures in the form of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) to curtail the failing economy as per the advice of the World Bank. Through the implementation of ESAP the government intended to curb spending by cutting on subsidies, embargos and some public goods and services. It is within this scope that film was regarded as not essential and therefore was not funded. The film industry was once promising that big international productions such as “King Solomon’s Mines” and “Cry Freedom” in the 1980s gave hope for an enhanced film industry. (Mushawevato, 2018).
The continued onslaught on the economy due to bad governance, investment threatening policies such as the Indigenisation, Community Share Ownership Trusts and AIPPA as well as the much dreaded Land Reformprogramme further thwarted foreign direct investment into Zimbabwe. To make matters worse, the United States of America and the United Kingdom placed Zimbabwe under sanctions in response to the chaotic land reform and human rights abuses in pursuit of regime change. This further exacerbated the demise of the struggling film industry as no foreign currency was made available to the country and ultimately to film production.
Film is one of the costliest art forms. This means that it is dependent on funding, and sensitive to economic recession. Although able to draw on the traditions of narration in oral culture, it is a fairly new cultural form in Zimbabwe, which already has produced interesting feature films, such as Jit (1990), Neria (1992), More Time (1993), Everyone’s Child (1996), Flame (1996) and Yellow Card (2000)(Nordic Africa Institute). Interesting to note is that all these films were made with funding obtained from the donor community thereby spelling doom to creativity as the narrative will be controlled by him who pays the piper. In as much as established industries such as Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood have donor funded projects, the industry has many players who pour money to ensure variety of genres for a diverse market.
The shortage of foreign currency and poverty spelt doom for acquiring skills and equipment. The majority of filmmakers in Zimbabwe are not trained and have no money to equip sophisticated studios. The majority of their narratives is centred on realism, not interesting and shot on low budget.
Most filmmakers in the industry have castigated the government for its continued hold on the industry. There is intense censorship that has resulted in many filmmakers facing the wrath of the law if their work is perceived to be anti-government and might cause despondency. Not only does the censorship board ban anti-government rhetoric but also preside over the content deciding what to exhibit or otherwise. The producers of 50 Shades of Grey had a hard time to exhibit their film in Zimbabwe as the censorship board stood their ground due to the film’s erotic scenes. (Daily News, 2015). Producers such as Cont Mhlanga, SilvanosMudzvova and Joe Njagu have had some of their works barred from showing.
Due to the economic meltdown, the private sector has shifted focus to market their products and services using other channels than film. The last time a company made a tremendous support to local film was during Studio 263 when NevernayChinyanga was given a sports car. Writing for The Standard Plus, Stanley Kwenda said, “The posh car that NevernayChinyanga got from Royal Car Sales a few months ago has created problems for the actor: he is now being shunned by jealous colleagues and his character may soon be axed from the popular soap.” (Standard Plus, 2004)
The Zimbabwean film market is dwindling due to anunderperforming economy and bad quality films. Hollywood on the other hand, has a booming market which was built over a hundred years. The Hollywood market offers extensive ground for experimental films hence Hollywood is more of trendsetter in film compared to ours. They have the resources to try out new genres and production house strive to give best quality to consumers.
Another scourge hitting hard the Zimbabwean film industry is shortage of skills to buttress the industry. Experienced film producers and actors continue to seek greener pastures in South Africa and USA. The likes of Leroy Gopal, Arnold Chirisa, Chipo Chung, Danai Gurira and Kevin Mambo have invaded Hollywood screens and are well received (Zaniest, 2015). Producer and actor, Ben Mahaka, has since shifted focus to international film production as there is no film industry to talk about in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe continues to trail far behind Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood in terms of quality of productions. Most of the Zimbabwean films are still in the experimental phase and as such the audiences continue to choose foreign productions over ours.
The film industry is also under threat due to increased piracy as hardware and software technological advancements continue to make it easy for chancers to profiteer out of the work of others. This has led to many people failing to release their films to a wilder market in fear of losing out. The proliferation of the internet has allowed people to download films from poorly configured sites and share on illegal torrenting sites and on the deep web. Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood have not been spared by websites such as Torrent Freak, The Piratebay, Demonoid and Glow Torrents but they have a comparative advantage as they sell to an extensive and richer market using a variety of platforms including video on demand services such as Netflix, DSTV, Kwese and Hulu.
Gender based violence has off late surfaced in the Zimbabwean film landscape. It is alleged women in film are exposed to sexual abuse by their male counterparts in return for favours and protection. Ms. Amanda Ranganawa wrote that, “Stories about male producers and directors who are like “gigolos” (male escorts) have also surfaced. When you sleep with them or date them and then break up, they hit back at you by withholding your payment. Your salary becomes like a payment for sleeping with them. (Newsday, 19 March 2018). These allegations came at the backdrop of Hollywood sexual scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Lupita Nyiongo. Weinstein and Spacey have been suspended pending investigations while Cosby has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. On the other hand, Nyiongo alleges an awful encounter with Harvey at his home.
Zimbabwe also faces an acute shortage of agencies that promotes film. The recently held Smartphone Short Film Competition, a brainchild of ZIFFT, paid $500, 300 and 200 to first, second and third place winners respectively (Daily News, 29 June 2018). These amounts are more of consolation prices than anything to go by as they cannot pay for a simple Digital Single LenseReflex (DSLR) camera. No wonder many graduate filmmakers end up working for public relations departments where they produce low budget substandard documentaries for in-house exhibitions.
It is apparent that the Zimbabwean film industry has numerous challenges that continue to threaten its survival compared to world’s big three; Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood. In order for the industry to grow there is need for stakeholders to come together and map the way forward. The stakeholders will include the private sector, government, producers, actors, exhibition centre, non-governmental organisations and the audience.