Zanzibar. Twenty years ago when ZIFF was born, it was more out of curiosity, not even the founders expected to see what the festival has evolved into.
To their doubters it was more of a wishful thinking that was completely void of the stack reality on the ground.And in Hassan Mitawi's own words 'the baby has now grown and now knocking on the doors of the world' seeking recognition among the best film festivals in the world.
The 20th edition of the festival at the humble settings of the Old Fort in Stone Town was indeed a testimony on just how far they have come and what they have achieved in the years gone by.From the opening ceremony which was graced by former President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to the subsequent nine days of film screening there was an air of the extravaganza coming of age.
This turned out to be a festival that brought together film and other creative arts experts from all over the world as over 14000 visitors descended on the Spice Islands.As part of the proceedings there was the Women Panorama, Children's Panorama, Soko Filam, and Workshops on script writing and acting plus several related issues.
For some film makers this was their moment of breakthrough, when Amby Lusekelo went to the festival little did she know that she would end up with up to some $200,000 budget to make a film.This was all courtesy of the pitching session that was held by D Street's CEO Dexter Davis which she won.
This, too, turned out to be a place for what could pass as difficult dialogues as those in attendance sought navigate the festival's path towards a brighter future.Call for modernityBut as the festival welcomed a cosmopolitan audience that filled the Ngome Kongwe Amphitheater on a daily basis, some things seem to have remained the same.
The surroundings remain very humble and a bit dusty, one that not many celebrities would love to associate with on a daily basis. Speaking at the opening Ceremony former President Kikwete called on the organisers to make the festival a 'big thing' because there is every indication that it can get there.
"We cannot continue this way if we want to reach the levels of the Cannes and Toronto film festivals, we have to modernise to attract the so-called celebrities here," he saidThis, according to President Kikwete who is a self confessed admirer of works of art, will reinforce the position of the festival as destination of choice that industry people cannot afford to ignore on their calendars."I have heard from the Chairman Mahmoud Kombo that over 14000 visitors have come here but that number can still grow and in the process bring more income to both the festival and Zanzibar," he said.
Zanzibar versus MainlandThis festival has always attracted debate of all types from whether it suits an international status to who really should be attending the films.This year was not an exception there were some bizarre issues that left many a reveller in dismay.
On the opening night which is usually a grand night that kick starts the proceedings there was no Zanzibar government official from the arts and culture ministry.The absence of a high profile official from the government was rather suspect and as Mr Kikwete remarked in a traditional proverb.
"Guests cannot come to your daughter's wedding reception and for some reason you are not there," he said.The same scenario played again on the closing ceremony taking away the element of coincidence.
Top officials had decided to shun the festival and those who attended had come given their own long term association with ZIFF such as the Minister of Health Mahmoud Kombo who doubles as the ZIFF chair.This awful air needs urgent redress as there is growing concern that local people want the festival to be run by people from the Isles.
They feel those from the mainland are imposing certain things on them.It was rather uncomfortable when a female ZBC TV journalist said it on the festival director Daniel Nyalusi's face that they were getting tired of the festival being run by people from the Mainland.
To her, these people are detached from what the Zanzibaris aspire for and want.The same old pet peeveFilm festivals come with glamour and drama too, as they form a melting pot where paths cross each other and in the process crafting lasting memories.
This doesn't seem to be the case for the local people, despite the festival waving the entry fee for the films at all the four venues they were mostly filled by visitors.For a festival of this magnitude to realise its dreams local people have to understand its aspirations and therefore become part of it.
Many of those who attended were more interested in the music and performing arts events that take place at the adjacent Mambo Club.This time around organisers decided that they would only host local groups and artistes with the exception of Afrotronics from Canada.
This, as agreed by many it is taking away glamour from the festival, something that is quite different from what other festivals do.As Tanzanians shy away from the opportunities that this festival provides people elsewhere are taking up the opportunity.
Whereas the film school by Maisha Film Lab provided an opportunity for young aspiring actors, not many local people took it up!Many of those in attendance had come from Kenya, South Africa, some few from the University of Dar es Salaam and other parts of the World. This was a shame!Lessons in Bongo MoviesOur local film makers are struggling in all frontiers, in the absence of a true film industry that is supported by enough cinemas and a distribution chain, it is an industry that is in turmoil.
But even then there seems to be some positive news coming from that end of town as some filmmakers are showing the so called legends just how to do it.Directors like Amil Shivji and Nicholas Marwa whose films were picked for the opening and closing have shown that with some hard work and creativity local films can go the distance.
Their use of first time actresses in Hawa Ally who won the best actress in T-Junction and Antu Mendoza in Kiumeni was a master class.They have show just how abundantly endowed this industry is, therefore, there is no use to keep recycling artists who are well beyond their prime.