A country will thrive if its culture thrives – Xi

By Tafadzwa Kachiko

Culture’s ability to turnaround the economy is often looked down upon in Zimbabwe especially the arts industry’s potential to preserve and promote local culture in a way that in turn foster national development.

Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasizes in his book – The Governance of China Volume, under the section titled Culturally Advanced China – the importance of every citizen for the development of his/her nation.

“Everyone is responsible for his country’s rise or fall,” he writes.

The arts industry is also responsible for the rise and fall of Zimbabwe. It’s capable of contributing immensely to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) if supported by several stakeholders that in short include government, the business community and consumers.

It was not surprising that the 2020 national budget presented recentlyby Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube did not pay particular attention to the arts industry falls.

The budget clearly indicated that the arts industry’s productivity is not recognized by Government. Calling it an industry is just a fallacy.

Owing to good governance China has managed to preserve its culture centres and these have been hubs for economic development. Counties throughout China have not only been promoting themselves as hearths of such things as ‘Hunan lotus culture’, ‘bamboo weaving culture’, ‘paper-cut culture’, ‘bamboo shoot culture’, ‘liquor distilling culture’, ‘tea culture’, and so on. But this came with economic benefits.

Centres such as Chitungwiza Arts Centre and Murehwa Culture Centre can be used to benefit our economy if given much support in form of funding by particularly government and the corporate world. Government also ought to create more creative hubs for the promotion of culture.

This writing inspired by Xi’s governance principles will have much bias towards the film industry.

Also known as the motion picture industry, it comprises film schools such as the Zimbabwe Film and Television School in Southern Africa, production companies (Mirazvo Productions), festivals (The Zimbabwe International Film Festival), shooting, distribution et cetera.

The industry generates over US$100 billion every year globally. In fiscal year 2019, the total revenue earned by India’s film industry (dominated by Bollywood) amounted to over 183 billion Indian rupees. United States’ Hollywood generates over US$140 billion annually with Nigeria’s Nollywood producing over 200 billionNairas per year.

Chinese Cinema’s Lost in Thailand (2012) was the first to reach One Billion Yuan (CN¥1 billion) at the Chinese box office, Monster Hunt (2015) was the first to reach CN¥2 billion, The Mermaid (2016) was the first to CN¥3 billion and Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) is currently the highest-grossing film in China.

In his 2017 speech at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China Xi described culture as a nation’s soul.

“Culture is a country and nation’s soul. Our country will thrive only if our culture thrives, and our nation will be strong only if our culture is strong. Without full confidence in our culture, without a rich and prosperous culture, the Chinese nation will not be able to rejuvenate itself,” he said.

Film can be very instrumental in marketing Zimbabwe’s culture to the world in a manner that would generate more revenue for that nation resulting in subsequent economic turnaround. It’s important to look at what is the missing link in Zimbabwe’s ‘film industry’. Just as noted by Xi, “Everyone is responsible”.

Government, donors, filmmakers and consumers of film products are all to blame for the low performance of the country’s cinema.

Several filmmakers have complained that being enveloped in the same ministry that houses sports has seen them being neglected on numerous times by government.

“They always give us a minister with much passion about sport. We are not recognized,” such is the common talk.

It’s high time that government starts to recognize the industry’s potential to turnaround the economy and channel funds that sustain film production or growth of production companies.

In June this year former Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation deputy minister together with the Zanu-PF youth leadership expressed interested to support artists when they visited Chitungwiza Arts Centre arts and promised to address issues affecting them such as lack funding.

“We are now in the new dispensation, so things should change to artists especially the emerging ones. Government realizes that it is critical to provide sound policies, functional infrastructure and necessary equipment for cultural and creative industries to become fully monetized. There should also be systems to report to in cases of all forms of abuse in the industry that include sexual and nonpayment,” she said.

“President requested us to go around these ministries so we have started with the arts. I am excited that you were free to air your concerns but I was pained that despite all your efforts to promote Zimbabwe’s image you’re still facing challenges that can be dealt with overnight.In two weeks’ time we will be back with feedback. We are not going to fail because we have a leader who is pragmatic,” said Zanu PF youth league Secretary Pupurai Togarepi.

Two weeks lapsed and they never came back clearly indicating insincerity of government. Not only funding matters but government should create an enabling environment for artists who in this piece are represented by filmmakers.

Hopefully the proposed National Media and Film Industry Policy (MFIP) would soon be ratified for the realisation of a national vibrant film industry with a National Film Fund (NFF), National Film Commission (NFC) or National Film Board (NFB) a remodeled ZIFTESSA and a Digital Film Library.

MFIP is a welcomed document as it also seeks to promote the celebration of the vibrancy of our traditions and culture.

The other positive move filmmakers would welcome with open hands is the end of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s ZTV monopoly. Government needs to open airwaves for more television stations to broaden the market of local content producers most of whom are not making it on the global market.

It’s also quite sad that many locals don’t even know recently produced local films and this is because there are few platforms which filmmakers can use to take film to the people. One of which should be television channels. The sole television channel is struggling to pay producers and as indicated by one local daily owed producers ZWL$400 000. This is so detrimental to producers’ efforts to up their games.

Viewership of TV series on ZTV is not even pleasing, an indication that locals are not interested in them because of quality, electricity blackout et cetera. As revealed by the Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey of the first half of 2019, the viewership was less than 50% with Wenera topping with 31% followed by Mawoko Matema (24%). Tunga which used to lead with 50% in 2018 dropped to 5%.

As much as filmmakers need technical and financial support there are not doing enough to tell the Zimbabwean story in the best possible manner and reaching out to potential viewers. Mostly after premiering their films they don’t take them further to the people. Rather they put them under the pillow probably hoping to watch them in their dreams. As a result most are ignorant of the latest films being produced. If asked about local films they know they rush to think of think of Neria directed by the late Godwin Mawuruso many years ago. Film needs to be taken to the people.

Unlike China that introduced the movement of Chinese-language cinema into a domain of large scale international influence, mostfilms that premiere locally do not even promote native languages.

Culture is communication, communication is culture.

Actress, Gamuchirai Duve, who was nominated for an award at the Lake International PanAfrican Film Festival (LIPFF) held recently in Kenya even testifies local filmmakers’ failure to use native language in telling the Zimbabwean story.

“People (in Kenya) were asking me, do you guys have culture in Zimbabwe. It’s because we want to tell modern stories. Why not stories. Why not our culture. All the films that I watched were in native language, they are proud of their culture. Why do we always want to use English? It’s good to use our own languages,” she said.

Of the films that premiered this year a few, Chipo, Simbimbino and Shungu DzeMoyo, utilised Shona language mostly. Use of Shona in Chipo, a film that premiered last month at Theatre in the Park helps to connect with local audience and enabled the actors to aptly express the film’s storyline zeroed on the continued abuse of the girl child.

Due to use of English language, African-American, a film that premiered last month failed to captivate most of the audience. Films can be used to promote popular dances such as Mbende also known as Jerusalem, traditional foods among others traits of Zimbabwe’s culture.

Filmmaker Mercy Mubaiwa argued that there is need to prove film’s worthiness by producing quality films.

“We need to make stories that are sellable, simple and reflect the true Zimbabwean story. We should then should then sell them on the global market and the government will come in to support,” she said.

“We need to prove that film is a culture industry capable of generating lots of revenue. We need to start coming up with taxable projects. Subsequently we will be in good books with government, it will realise our worthiness. As long as it can’t get substantial taxes from filmmakers as with other sectors such as mining it will forever close the doors on our face.”

Another filmmaker Admire Kanhenga claimed that government can use film to promote its interest.

“The Americans have done it and today they remain a super power because of the propaganda they preach through their films. Had our government been clever, they would have availed funds to support the film industry and help to preach the propaganda,” he said.

Mubaiwa further argues, “We need to learn to differentiate between national interest and Zanu-PF’s such that we avoid falling in trap of creating highly politicized content.”

The Zimbabwe International Film and Festival Trust should be commended for its ongoing project Narrative from Zimbabwe aimed at archiving the country’s culture and heritage on a website.

“Basically it’s about us going around the country filming the history, culture and heritage of all the various ethnic groups to objectively create an archiving website that would benefit not only filmmakers in their productions but other practitioners as a resource to tell authentic Zimbabwean stories,” said project manager Nakai Matema.

“The project’s main objective is to create this interactive virtual archive to be used as the basis to tell the Zimbabwean story.”

ZIFFT’s initiative would definitely see the Zimbabwean stories being told without distortion to the international community hence preserving and promoting local culture.

The arts sector needs to be supported financially and technically. The film industry needs support for it cannot only be used to preserve native culture and promote good modern culture but also to generate revenue.

Zimbabwe needs to maintain its ties with China and take lessons on how it managed to package its culture for development. China’s recent initiative aimed at enhancing world connectivity whilst embracing business cooperation should be taken advantage of as a great platform to promote local culture through the arts in particular film.