There is hope in Tanzania’s Film Industry
‘Why does nobody go and see Tanzanian-made films?’ is a question that perennially dogs the country’s movie industry, and as of this past week, there is another casualty to throw on the pile Just like any other form of art and culture, movies are context-bound. They are reflections of people, and collectively, of the societies or countries that make them. In Tanzania, film content reflects how members of a community think and feel. It makes a statement about themselves and their surroundings. It shows their qualities. It’s like capturing your own image when you look in the mirror. That’s why people are never happy when they look at movies and mostly see insults and attacks against logic, common sense and conscience. What they see is exploitation of women’s bodies, sexual vulgarism, shallow story lines and ridiculous dialogue not that they are comedies, rather they are horror movies. While, of course, there are some exceptions in Tanzania film sector, few come out of the theater feeling happy about ourselves and mostly feel really low. However, the greatest concern and the biggest challenge are to get Tanzanians to watch locals film in theaters and that seems to be mission impossible. It’s tough to get Tanzanians to trust Tanzanian films which are more popular in their northern neighboring country of Kenya than in the country commercial capital of Dar Es Salaam.
But while we try to see film as a form of art and culture, it is a commodity produced by an industry that can only survive if it is monetized. And thus, it conforms to market forces and it is only supplied if there is a demand for it. Films are made and screened because people watch it. But can Tanzania produce quality films that can be entertaining as well as educative? The answer is big YES and that’s already happening. As a civilized country and one of the most peaceful in the world and with some of the most enduring cultural heritage, Tanzania surely has much to offer in quality entertainment. The country has idealistic and quality young people ready to make movies that equal those made by Africa’s best filmmakers, but the country film makers have to stop assuming that our moviegoers only enjoy slapstick and vulgarism. One sold-out genre doesn’t define United Republic of Tanzania society as a whole. Surprising though it may be, many in the Tanzanian film industry are in favor of bringing in overseas ringers, for the simple reason that it will mean more movies getting green lit, more revenue, and ultimately, a bigger share of the pie for everyone. In short, overseas talent will give Tanzania’s industry a leg-up. Either way, it seems that local films have failed to capture Tanzanian’s imagination in any real way a pity, and the country may need foreign stars to give the film industry a boost, but at this point, the old cliché about how Tanzanian films are just auditions for local actors before they make it big in Africa and beyond still appears to be true.