Film producer Shemu Joyah is arguably one of the best film talents Malawi has. He displayed great potential with his first movie Seasons of a Life, which screened at several international film festivals including the Zanzibar International Film Festival (Ziff) where it won the Ziff Chairman's Award and Verona Jury Award, among others. It also won the Special Schools Award in Verona, Italy. Joyah is now back with news of his new movie, which, if all goes according to plans, will be released in May. Arts reporter SAM BANDA JNR had a chat with him on the forthcoming movie and other related issues.
It's been sometime since we heard from you as regards the 'Seasons of a Life' movie, which did quite well screening in various festivals and winning awards, any lessons learnt from that film?
A lot of lessons were learnt and I am sure this will be reflected in the way I will be producing my next films.
It took quite some time for you to produce the DVD for 'Seasons of a Life', why was that the case and how has it faired on the market since you put it on the market?
I took some time to release the DVD for 'Seasons of a Life' because I was worried about piracy. I thought the best thing was to release the film only when I had the financial resources to have it produced with professional copy protection. It is doing well on the market, though maybe slower than one would have wished. Mainly it's to do with the price. Most Malawians think that spending K2,000 on a DVD is a bit on the high side.
MultiChoice Malawi last year was worried that there were not many Malawian movies on the Africa Magic Plus channel on DStv, which is open to African countries. Why have you not connected with them?
I have connected with MultiChoice but I told them that they should not put the DVD on TV too soon. The reason being that once a film has been released on TV its market value drops.
Last year you talked about creating a fund for financing film projects, where are we and have you funded any upcoming producers?
The idea of a film fund is still there. I am working towards having a trust registered shortly that will be the custodian of the film fund.
It's just come to our knowledge that you have been shooting a new movie? What's the title and when will it be released?
Yes, I have just been shooting my second film in the lakeshore district of Mangochi. Principal photography was from 30 January to 22 February 2012. We are now doing the editing. The working title of the film is "The Last Fishing Boat". I don't know yet whether that will be the release title. I am thinking of releasing the film in May or June this year, depending on how post-production fairs. I am aiming to have it premiered at an international film festival. Already Zanzibar International Film Festival, where 'Seasons of a Life', won two awards, has shown interest.
Any improvements in the new movie and how different is it in terms of content from the first movie?
The main improvements are in the quality of the shooting. It's also a much more complex story, therefore more challenging than 'Seasons of a Life'.
You have just complained about funding. How much will be spent on production of the new movie?
I did not have enough funding but fortunately I was able to get a grant from the Norwegian Embassy here in Malawi and also money from the Göteborg International Film Festival Fund. It was not enough but at least it was able to see us through the production stage, which is the most expensive stage in filmmaking. I wouldn't be able to mention the amount as that will only come when the film is out.
Have you used the same actors and actresses you featured in the first movie or ...?
Two of the main characters are Hope Chisanu and Flora Suya, who were also in 'Seasons of a Life'. The others who will be known later are new.
Tell me the exact place where you shoot the movie in Mangochi and can you just share with us bits of the story?
We shot the movie in Mangochi, the main location being Mpemba Village and beach. We also shot at Nkopola Lodge and MALDECO. It is not an action movie but rather a captivating drama about the changing fortunes of a fishing village in an ever-changing world and I am sure people will love it.
This is your second movie and having rubbed shoulders with lots of movie makers during international film festivals, do you take film as a career or just passion?
At the moment it's still just a passion. I still have to do my consultancy work to survive. The generation of career filmmakers in Malawi has not come yet.
We have seen quite a few other movies hitting the market and of late there is one by Story Workshop, 'Okoma Atani'. What's your assessment of the film industry in Malawi?
First of all, I would wish to state that we do not yet have a film industry in Malawi. Having said that, I have to add that the quality of films being produced is improving. I worked with a highly inspired team of cast and crew in Mangochi, and I am glad to say that I am beginning to see the seeds of a film industry in Malawi. If we can have enough resources and funding then things would move faster.
What are some of the challenges which you feel the film industry is facing at the moment in Malawi which is restricting us from hitting the top and be at par with countries like South Africa?
The biggest problem we have is that we are poor, and filmmaking is not a poor man's hobby. Being poor brings with it all the attendant problems like lack of trained cast and crew, poor equipment and so on. I will be cheating myself if I try to compare ourselves with South Africa. We are way far much behind.
There was a time you also hinted about shooting a John Chilembwe movie, where are you at with this project?
It's still alive in my womb and it is slowly beginning to kick. One of these days it will be crying to be born and then it will be delivered. You see, I think I was cursed to shoot this film, therefore I do not doubt that I will shoot it if I live long enough. Funds permitting we may do it towards the end of this year, but realistically let's give it another two years.
There are other people like Michael Usi aka Manganya who have also done well in film, have you had time to think about putting together the resources and produce a film together?
I have chatted at length with Michael, who is probably one of the most naturally gifted comedians this country has ever produced. I am working on a script which we may work together on. He is one actor I would love to direct because I think his potential has not been fully realised yet. However I am also mindful of the fact that he is now on a PhD programme so I don't know whether time will permit us to work together. But I can assure you that sooner or later we will.
By the way briefly tell me how you come up with a movie? How is a movie different from any other art works?
You have to be a dreamer with good creative mind, a good story that can be turned into a good script, good actors and good technical people. You have to be able to think in images. You have to be able to work twenty-two hours a day and still have the energy to go on the following morning. A movie is different from any other art form in that it is the most emotionally engaging. As Ingmar Bergman once said, film passes our conscience and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.
Your last words?
There are problems of course, some of the movies on the market lack quality, some have been poorly directed, some were rushed but from all that we should be able to draw lessons and move forward. And I am very much optimistic that we will get there and slowly but surely, we are getting there. For instance 'Seasons of a Life', is a mature, powerful and educative movie that we can export and rake in more money. The film industry, if given enough support and resources, could help in bringing forex in the country through exports. Our friends in Nigeria have done well, they are exporting several films and they are making close to US$200 million a year and Malawi can utilise this as well.