A public lecture titled 'Malawi in motion-Genesis of a professional film industry', will be held at Blantyre Sports Club on Sunday, April 29. The Sunday Times Correspondent JUSTICE MPONDA talked to author, publisher and filmmaker Michael Phoya, who is also the creator and creative director of Kupeza Chambo, which has organised the lecture, to shed more light on the nascent movie industry in Malawi. Excerpts:
Why this lecture?
MP: The lecture has been organised by Kupeza Chambo, a creative arts outfit which has a strategic goal to help promote Malawi's heritage by consulting and developing relevant content. As a company, we are motivated by a broader vision of national and international networking and sharing to make sure that Malawi contributes effectively to the global exchange.
Kupeza Chambo also promotes a symbiotic relationship between Malawi's corporate world and its heritage industry. At its very basic, this kind of relationship helps in ensuring sustainable growth of Malawi by providing the space/link where these two worlds merge in mutual support.
The lecture is of one of the ways of how we as a company are trying to fulfil our goal. There, Shemu Joyah, producer and director of the multi-award winning Malawian feature film 'Seasons of a Life' will discuss how Malawi can build a viable professional film industry. Shemu has just wrapped shooting his second film titled 'The Last Fishing Boat'.
How long can Malawians wait for a revolution in the film industry to happen?
Malawians have to be patient and wait a little longer for things to happen. The revolution is yet to happen. This is largely due to several factors, chief among them, the lack of necessary skills and the lack of coordination. Also, other key players especially the corporate world should come in. Even business people should invest their money in film. It's a very popular medium and with good marketing, it can bring some good returns.
What do you mean lack of skills and coordination?
In terms of skills, we are very much lacking. Most of us are self taught. And to make matters worse, we are not very keen on learning new things. We have to learn and master skills that will make us stand out.
One of our aims as Kupeza Chambo is to facilitate such learning platforms. We will either arrange some here or, through our worldwide networks, we will send our guys to other countries to learn these skills. Plus we normally settle for less. It's a cultural disposition that definitely needs to change. We should demand more from ourselves and others.
In terms of coordination, it is almost non-existent. In film at the beginning there is always a script. It's the scriptwriter who takes the script to the producer, who is normally someone who understands business. The producer will source out funds form preferably investors.
These investors put in their in the understanding that the film will make them money. The producer will then engage the director, director of photography, actors, etc, and the film will be shot and edited. Afterwards, it is up to marketers to market it so well that it not only pays for their rent/food but it also gives the investors good returns. At the end of the day, film is a serious business. And that's how we need to approach it.
Malawians actors have been criticised for copying wholesale from Nigeria's Nollywood industry. Do you hold this view?
No, I don't hold this view. That comment is misplaced, I think. I have spent the last 6 years with FirstDawn Arts, makers of the multiple-award winning 'Seasons of a Life'. Several actors in that film were nominated for awards including Tapiwa Gwaza, who won a major award.
The only challenge, and Shemu the Director can agree with me, is that most of our actors come from a theatre background. In that case, the challenge is to train them to act for film. One has to understand that culturally, we are heavily influenced by the oral tradition of telling stories. And in that, hyperbole is no stranger. The same applies in many a culture in Nigeria.
That said, there's a tendency to copy, especially from South Africa and Nigeria for the simple reason that these we consume quite a lot from media from these two countries.
But even so, Malawi does not have enough input for people to start making those kind of generalisations. The fact that companies like DSTV invite Nollywood superstars should not surprise anyone. If Malawi had a vibrant industry, DSTV would simply engage local film stars.
Are you happy with whatever efforts are being made to promote the film industry in Malawi?
There's good progress but we can do more. Shemu Joyah, through his FirstDawn Arts did well by raising the bar. What he did was raise the bar so that Malawi can compete on the international stage. The challenge now is to maintain that standard. So far, that has not always been the case.
This upcoming lecture addresses that. At the end of the day, there's a much greater scope for coordination. Just because someone can act does not mean they can direct as well. Or just because someone has a camera or a computer doesn't mean they are a filmmaker.
There's a reason why your average Hollywood film has a good number of personnel being credited. Film is a medium that relies on a lot of coordination. It is never a one-man show.
What does the future holds for film industry in the country?
It can only grow. First of all, things like equipment are becoming very affordable. And more people in the country are becoming interested in the medium. That's good news for us. Clearly, there's a hunger for entertainment in Malawi. It's up to us as filmmakers to capitalise on that and earn a decent living. It's a win/win situation.
Can Malawi become a Mollywood?
That depends on what you mean by that. Can Malawi have a viable industry? Yes. Should that industry be called Mollywood? Definitely No! We certainly can come up with a very good name. That names just smacks of copying. In any case, we need to produce enough content and have a viable film industry before we can even begin to start putting definitions to such things.
Those names normally come when people notice a certain trend. And other countries like Burkina Faso or South Africa, despite having good film industries, have avoided, for the better, having their name attached to Hollywood.
What do you think should be the take-off of the film industry?
Coordination is everything in this industry. Coordiantion! That's why this public lecture is very important. The growth of our industry can only occur if we can we can coordinate and share our skills. We also need to appreciate the value of learning. The majority of us do not, sadly.
One always has to learn. I was professionally trained at one of the best film school in South Africa but I will be lying here if I claim to know it all.
And the media has to play it is part as well, especially when it comes to reviewing our films. It's up to the media to help in making the crowd discerning, much in countries like Burkina Faso where film is an active pastime. There's a tendency to avoid saying negative things about anything regardless of the situation. Often times one has to call a spade exactly what it is for growth to occur.
Is there a market for the film industry?
There's a market in Malawi. That's what most people do not realise. Have you seen some of the cars people drive in Malawi? On a serious note, there's a market in Malawi. What we need is to create networks that will ensure viability and sustainability of the industry.
People in the rural areas, for example, there's a need for us to figure out a way of taking content to them. Right there you are talking of a solid market. How do we penetrate that potential market? Now you have those qualified in marketing giving solutions to that. We need that coordination.
Do you look beyond Malawi?
We always look beyond Malawi. Always have and always will. That's why we are always striving for quality. For one to compete out there, quality is everything. The audience is very much discerning.
Malawi needs to come out of her cocoon and talk to the world. There's an eager audience out there. They want to hear our stories. Not Malawians talking the Nigerian or the English story. Malawians telling our own Malawian stories.
For those in the arts/heritage industry, come and attend this public lecture. There's absolutely no charge. The presentation will be followed by a networking opportunity. This is a great opportunity for our industry.