Zanzibar’s thought police were their eager Beaver selves yet again issuing their edict about blacking out the steamy scenes in the dark drama The Thorn of the Rose. This cinematic wonder, a Portugal-Guinea Bissau collaboration is mostly a cautionary tale against those that leave unresolved issues with the dead. Its leading man prosecuting attorney David Lunga’s success is overshadowed by the terrifying secrets of Rosa, a beautiful but mysterious woman he falls in love with. Abortion, a paedophiliac cop and David’s desire to face his demons take us on a 97-minute journey into near-voodoo, discomforting sex and bloodied scenes in this aesthetically-shot and well-paced feature. Director Filipe Henriques is awesome while interspersing Catholic symbols of Mother Mary and voodoo. Clever screenwriting filled with subtext finishes off the movie. An able portrayal by leading lady Ady Batista who was at the screening made this Lusophone thriller worth a second viewing that by-passed the zealous Zanzibari censors albeit in a closed hotel conference room.
You have to hand it to South Africa for the hearty animation Khumba. The production values in this morality tale are way up there in the league of Rio and Ice Age. But it’s the story that towers over the other two, the fact that even for a zebra, life is not black and white. Khumba is this zebra with definite stripe issues. His were half done, not just leaving him as the butt of the animal kingdom’s jokes. As the odd one, it is easy for his herd to blame him for bringing drought to the land. His dead mother’s folkloric tales see him team up with a sassy wildebeest and a flamboyant ostrich to find the legendary waterhole where the first zebras got their stripes. It will not be an easy journey. He has to come face to face with a tyrannical leopard in the epic battle to earn the other half of his stripes. Anyone that has been on the receiving end of being picked on for being different will love this animated feature. The rib-crackers come by the bucketful although using Hollywood actor voices was sucking up way too much. If you have little ones, get them the DVD! They’ll cherish the life lessons even if they fail to get the Springbok jokes.
Film festival organisers were on a collision course with the Zanzibari “thought police” after the island’s censorship board put restrictions on the screening of the Nollywood movie Mother of George. The edict was to either “black out” the film’s sex scenes or have the screening halted. Festival organisers cowered leaving a sour taste in the mouths of festivalgoers. Yet this is one of the better offerings from Nollywood if, like me, you have been put off by the low production values of much of the cinematic offerings from Nigeria; you know the Chineke-oh, melodramatic juju-plot-driven ones with derivative titles like Beyonce vs Rihana. Not so with the delightful Mother of George in which Adenike and Ayodele, a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn, are having trouble conceiving a child. The problem defies cultural expectations and leads Adenike to make a shocking decision that could either save or destroy her family. Spoiler alert; she has sex with her brother-in-law if anything to keep the DNA in the family. It may be a no-no in modern times what with all the IVF alternatives around but it is the sort of subject that gets under people’s skins.
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.
Screenwriters are more often than not the underappreciated lot of the film industry, what with the biggest attention being paid to actors/ actresses and directors. But it is they that craft the stories that directors bring to life cinematically. Anyone whose cinematic story has been mostly stuck in their head can now take advantage of the return of the Maisha Screenwriting Labs. Maisha Film Lab will this year hold four programmes each lasting eight days in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Prospective screenwriters will be selected from a pool of applicants based on their outstanding short screenplay ideas. There are 60 scholarships up for grabs; 15 for each of the participating countries. Each of the selected participants will work with internationally renowned mentors to refine their work and broaden their horizons on the film business and the art of filmmaking. At the end of the intensive creative process, each of the 60 total participants attending the screenwriting workshops will have a vetted and refined short screenplay. One screenplay will be selected at each lab to receive a grant of $2000 (about UGX5m) to produce their films.
Culture vultures heading out to the idyllic Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar for the 2014 Sauti za Busara Festival this February should have finalised their travel and accommodation plans by now. East Africa’s premier world music showcase is a pilgrimage of sorts that books out the ferry service between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. This coupled with an absence of [hotel] rooms for those that do not plan very early. The wise thing is to reserve one’s place of abode up to six months in advance. Unless you want to take a chance on sleeping out in the sweltering sea level heat, an adventure on its own. Joel Sebunjo is the lone Ugandan on the festival bill this year in what is yet another indictment of the World Music scene in Uganda. One would have expected fine outfits of note like Janzi Band, Myko Ouma, Suzan Kerunen or even Lilian Mbabazi to have made the grade. Let’s hope the folks at Bayimba, a partner festival to Busara, have not been napping on the job in not aggressively pitching our export-quality World Music talent.