BY TAFADZWA KACHIKO
NO doubt, each year comes with its ups and downs.As the curtain comes down on the year in a few days, a glimpse of the film and theatre sectors indicates that, just like other sections of the creative industry, they could not dodge the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While 2020 has been tough, not only due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the issue of poor funding has, however, continued to dominate conversations at different forums.
The production and premiere of some films was affected by lack of funding thereby limiting the industry’s growth.
Filmmakers and theatre practitioners who spoke to NewsDay Life & Style, described 2020 as a difficult year.
However, some said they would not throw in the towel as they hope for better prospects in 2021.
When death rob creative talent
The year 2020 was characterised by high profile deaths that robbed the two sectors of its talents.
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Among those who lost their lives are popular actor Lazarus “Gringo” Boora (pictured), actresses Yengiwe “Nambiji” Ngwenya, Patience Chivhami, Samantha Kapora, Sibonisiwe “Bonnie” Sithole, Hillary Mambo and Charles “Doesmatter” Jackson.
Sadly the death of Gringo affected the production of a television series, Gringo Troublemaker Two, Gringo naDaison and Chihwerure.
Seasoned actor William “Gweshe Gweshe” Matenga, who worked with Gringo since the 1980s said Gringo’s character was irreplaceable.
On another sad note, actress Rumbidzai Machunga allegedly lost $2 580 in April in a job scam as she was seeking employment outside the film industry.
She said she was duped by a fraudster by the moniker Muchemwa who claimed to be working at Chicken Inn.
Of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
Apart from deaths, the outbreak of COVID-19 that resulted in lockdown restrictions as part of the measures to curb the spread of the virus also stalled activities in the film and theatre sectors.
Although, the lockdowns initially choked artists from showcasing their works at the cinemas and theatres, playhouses like Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre and Theatre in The Park adapted to the “new normal” of doing business as they went virtual to showcase some productions on different digital platforms.
Jasen Mphepo Theatre co-ordinator Caroline Magenga said: “As the COVID-19 restrictions created a demand for online content, we transformed to ignite conversations on topical issues and “quench” theatre lovers’ thirsty by going virtual so as to adapt to conditions that had been caused by the imposed lockdown.”
“Going virtual has, however, not been easy though as most people had trouble accessing the online content. Theatre thrives on physical gathering and COVID-19 made it impossible to gather, this year was indeed tough.”
Some of the events that were conducted virtually are European film festival, Human rights festival and the Mitambo Arts and Theatre festival.
“On the other hand, the lockdown also made it difficult for many productions to be completed due to travel restrictions and this affected the livelihoods of the actors.
“Among the affected productions include filmmaker Kudzai Chikomo’s comedy series Bazukuru, Downrains Entertainment’s The Temple and the post production of an animation film Patriotic Force and Mojwadi (The Sower), a Botswana television series which filmmaker Admire Kanhenga is part of.
“We had just shot four of the targeted 13 Bazukuru episodes, before nature took its course,” Chikomo said.
Award-winning filmmaker Melgin Tafirenyika also described 2020 as a bumpy year.
“It was really a tough year due to COVID-19. It was not easy to adapt to the rules and regulations. There was nothing we could do in terms of shooting because that requires interaction with the cast and crew,” he said.
Some of the actors who have not been spared and felt the COVID-19 heat are Robert Chiyama and Leo Jakata Ericks.
“Last year I had many roles, but this year it was not the same. I was casted in some productions that were heavily affected by the lockdown and I heard that some will never be produced due to losses incurred during the period. I was only lucky to feature in productions that appeared on ZBCTV such as Kanukai, Musikana Weshamwari, Chipo and Inbox,” said Chinyama.
Erick said: “The year was very tough. We jostled for roles because only a few films were produced.”
Exploits amid COVID-induced lockdown
Although Nick Zemura of Mirazvo Productions described 2020 as a tough year, he expressed hope that scriptwriters and editors did not take lockdown as time to sleep.
“It is my sincere hope that during the lockdown, scriptwriters were busy writing and editing those compelling stories, and editors were learning their part taking advantage of the situation and not relaxing in the comfort of their homes,” he said.
“During lockdown people could rarely walk around, but I didn’t fold my hands. I took it as an opportunity to write the film Musikana Weshamwari that we eventually shot when restrictions were eased a bit. It’s now ready for the market.”
Filmmaker Joe Njagu in collaboration with Gonarezhou film producer Tariro Washe introduced the 48-Hour Cut, a programme in which they challenged local filmmakers to create short films through remote online collaboration to exhibit their creativity.
The 48-Hour Cut challenge that ran under the banner Firima saw excelling participants pocketing various amounts for their efforts ranging from US$150 to US$300.
New productions premiered
Despite the setbacks, film and theatre did not entirely sink into oblivion as there were some productions that premiered this year.
Filmmaker Malon Murape released an HIV and Aids sci-fi short film, titled Garingiro, in August to amplify voices in the fight against the pandemic.
Billy Kubasa released Tsitsi which captures women abuse.
Other films that were released include Gonarezhou, Shaina, Kanukai, Musikana Weshamwari, Isthembo, House of Stones, television series Marbles, Can of Worms, The Breakup and The City Light’s scheduled for release on December 31.
Films at international platforms
Quite a number of films were this year screened on the international platforms compared to the previous year.
A local romantic comedy, Cook Off, produced by Njagu and Thomas Brickhill made history by being the first Zimbabwean production to be selected for screening on America’s streaming platform Netflix.
Later another production, Riding with Sugar, was also screened on the same platform.
Filmmaker Charles Mawungwa’s short movie Two Dead Government Officials was screened at the Africa Film for Impact Festival in Nigeria.
South Africa-based Zimbabwean filmmaker Tapiwa Gambura’s productions, Bvudzi and Not Your Bride, won the Honest Beauty award and First Runner award at the United States Girls Impact World Film Festival.
For this double triumph, she pocketed US$5 000 and won an internship sponsored by the Harvard Social Innovation Club.
This year also saw top model Malaika Mushandu spreading her wings to filmmaking and the debut film she directed titled Mirage was nominated for three awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in Lagos, Nigeria.
What is in stock for 2021?
Filmmakers are expecting that 2021 will be a better year.
There are many productions that are likely to premiere next year, hopefully the COVID-19 would have eased.
“If we are healthy and safe to go out and shoot, we have three major projects that we will be rolling out in 2021 and two spin-offs that we will share,” said Zemura.
Njagu said: “We will release Mirage next year and also shoot new films. Again we are looking forward to seeing what comes out of the new TV stations.”
“2020 has been a year with its own challenges. But out of that some filmmakers excelled and gave their best. To those who didn’t make it, it’s time to focus on the future. The coming year is ready for those determined to transform the industry. Remember with collaborations you harvest good fruits.