If it were up to me, I’d have had Half of a Yellow Sun as the opening film at the 17th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival instead of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. East Africa’s premier cinema showpiece opened on Saturday June 14th on the idyllic Indian Ocean Island at its principal historic venue, the imposing Old Fort. The hype around the screen adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel, especially its apparent banning in Nigeria and its resonance with the fact that many African countries are still grappling with early post-colonial unfinished business, would have made me choose it over the Mandela biopic. Well, there’s also the sentimentality about director Biyi Bandele was one of my screenwriter mentors at the Maisha Film Lab class of 2009, the garden where the seeds of my interest in film were planted. Festival goers have to wait until Wednesday June 18th for Half of a Yellow Sun’s screening at the open air amphitheater screening venue.
Something about Zanzibar keeps bringing me back even after ridiculous policies like an immigration demand for yellow fever cards from East Africa citizens. That and a mandatory $50 departure tax have had me swear not to return in the past. (I see vaccination cards as nothing but veiled xenophobia and that obnoxious airport tax would still not make sense even if the Zanzibar airport were touched up to make it look less like a dignified bus park). And the allure that makes me return has little to do with the swimming-pool-green ocean water, the seafood (everyone here sings about its aphrodisiac qualities) or my elusive quest for a mermaid (mbu they only pop out of the ocean on full moon nights). It has more to do with the cultural trappings on offer on this Indian ocean island Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse sang so passionately about in that immortal hit Zanzibar, oh Zanzibar.