Zimbabwean Cinema emerges in the North-East of England
We make movie
Zollywood in Harare North
There have been several films that have emerged from Zimbabweans living in the United Kingdom ever since a diaspora community became established in the land that we affectionately call 'Harare North'. Thorns, MaZimba: Till His Wife Do Us Part, To the End of the Road are popular features, while shorts such as Dystopia Paruzevha have been viewed online by thousands. Such a film industry is creating a corpus of cinematographic material through which we document and interpret the land we have come to, while also serving to entertain and provoke critical thought. They allow the many Zimbabweans, such as myself, who were part of the nascent film industry back home use those skills which we have acquired from institutions such as Vision Valley Film, Video & Television Institute, The UNESCO Southern African Film & Video Training Project etc. There are many Zimbabweans who have also trained at British institutions.
Zimbabweans too have begun to enter the British film and TV industry. We have seen several of our compatriots on TV and on the silver screen, a development that is a source of immense pride. Those of us who remember Lucian Msamati's performance as the Lion in an adaptation of the Wizard of Oz in 1986 at Avondale Primary School, Harare, were delighted to see him in the BBC adaptation of the Number 1 Detective Agency novels. We have also seen Zimbabweans involved in less visible but still very important aspects of filming, behind the scenes.
It has been said that the British film industry is very closed. That is true of any film industry. Nonetheless, the Zimbabwean presence in it is very encouraging. There are enough Zimbas who can help compatriots in. There is also a sufficient audience to make independent production viable.
However, much of this success has tended to focus on the south of England. In a replication of the situation back home, where Harare, true to its colonial nickname of Bambazonke ("take all"), hogged the limelight, it is London and the towns within commuting distance that have seen the bulk of Zimbabwean film-making in the United Kingdom.
This, I am pleased to announce, looks set to change. Zimbabwean film-making in the UK is about to go regional.
Zollywood, Harare (Much Further) North
The North-East of England is one part of the country that is not widely associated with Zimbabweans. BME groups are very small in this region of the UK. This makes the achievements of Zimbabweans in various fields and enterprises, in proportion to our presence here, all the more remarkable.
Take, for instance, the first series of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, which has been filmed mostly at a disused quarry in Co. Durham over the last few weeks. The entire region has expressed excitement over the project and its possible impact on the local economy. I cannot confirm about the major cast and crew, but I heard ChiShona and SiNdebele being spoken by many of the supporting cast in between scenes. This is not to say that the producers deliberately chose Zimbabweans. Rather, there are that many Zimbabweans working in the film industry, even on major productions.
Zimbabweans living in the region are making independent films too, or working on independent productions by others. Some of you may have seen the Reed.co.uk advert and not known that the dreadlocked individual in the butcher's apron was actually a vegan Rastafarian Zimbabwean chap who lives in Middlesbrough. Well, now you know.
In Gateshead, there are talented film makers such as Busani Ncube and Philani Noble. Both are from Bulawayo. Like me, they trained at the UNESCO Zimbabwe Film & Video Training Project for Southern Africa at Production Services, Mazoe Street, Harare. Busani has carved a name for himself doing documentaries for organisations such as the NHS, but has also ventured in to shorts and features. Philani has embarked on a TV soap, currently in development. He has also appeared in television productions as a supporting actor. In Sunderland, there is Bright Mawoko. In Stockton-on-Tees, one Baba Machipisa (Lawrence Dee) has begun to cultivate a following on Facebook with his comic skits. In Middlesbrough, Kudakwashe Derera, a pastor at PCCI, produced the suicide awareness film, Bright Lights, which was shown by some of the Christian television channels in the UK and abroad.
Clearly, there is a lot happening already. Yet, there is room for more. Middlesbrough, for instance, has taken the initiative to foster a viable arts and culture industry as one way of confronting the unemployment problem in the town. Zimbabweans form one of the larger BME groups in Middlesbrough. The emerging film industry is one way in which Zimbabweans can contribute to the economy of the region. They do not necessarily have to be actors or producers and directors. There are so many other skills, such as dress-making, carpentry or even catering, which form an essential part of a growing industry. What is needed is greater awareness of how more Zimbabweans can get involved in film-making.
Attitudes may also need to change. When I posted on Facebook that I thought the North East was emerging as a centre for British film-making, one of the comments from a Zimbabwean was:
What filming is on the up up north. Most filming is in london. I would know. I am in the industry.
This brother knows everything, of course and someone who has lived in the North East for five years now and seen the transformation should deny their own experience even as it unfolds before their very eyes.....
Here's to a bright film-making future in the North East, and to all the Zimbabweans who are helping to make it happen.