|Article by Ogova Ondego
Published January 10, 2007
Over the past two years, budding Zimbabwean filmmaker Tawanda Gunda Mupengo’s films have not only been screened in Africa, Europe and North America, but have gone on to win several awards and accolades. These wins have also proved to the world that given a chance, Zimbabwe’s creative people can hold their own against the world. OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
I first met Tawanda Gunda Mupengo in August 2005 during the 8th Zimbabwe International Film Festival in Harare. It was here that Tanyaradzwa, a feature film he had directed, was screened and went on to win the festival’s top award to a local production, the Zimbabwe Calabash Award.
In April 2006, Tanyaradzwa grabbed Best Cinematography and Best Up and coming Actress awards at the second Africa Movie Awards in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, Nigeria; it had received a whopping nine nominations.
Besides Harare, Tanyaradzwa’though mainly made in Shona with some English’has since been screened in Nairobi, Kampala, Lusaka, Kigali, Durban, Cape Town and London.
Another film that has done the soft-spoken Rastaman Mupengo proud is Peretera Maneta (Spell my name), another Shona/English short that won the UNICEF Children’s & Human Rights Award at 9th Zanzibar International Film Festival in July 2006. Four months later, in November, this 24-minute film won the first prize at the inaugural UNFPA-sponsored Dakar Film Festival.
Produced by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Peretera Maneta has since been shown at International Short Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand (France), Durban International Film Festival (South Africa), Cinematographic Framework of Hergla (Tunisia), and Izmir International Short Film Festival (Turkey).
While Peretera Maneta is about a young albino girl sexually abused by the headmaster of her school and a young teacher who rescues her, the Dorothy Meck-produced Tanyaradzwa is about a 17-year-old girl forced to leave home out of shame and disappointment in a bid to bridge a family rift after she falls pregnant out of wedlock and is dumped by her conniving playboy.
Tanyaradzwa, that targets youth and families, stars Kudakwashe Maradzika, Emmanuel Mbirimi, Agnes Mupikata, Tendai Musoni, Tongai Arnold Chirisa, Chamu Rice, Tafadzwa Munyoro and Rukudzo Chadzamira.
So who is Tawanda Gunda Mupengo, the prolific filmmaker in a country on the brink of the tearing apart of her socio-economic and political fabric?
Born in Masvingo to a policeman father in 1973, the turban-clad Mupengo, is a quiet, self-effacing man whose love for writing and filmmaking saw him drop out of school early. “I didn’t go beyond form four because I wanted to be a writer and filmmaker,” says Mupengo who grew up in Harare with his father while three his siblings were brought up in the village by their grandmother.
“Dad couldn’t go to the village because freedom fighters considered him a traitor as he worked for the then oppressive white Rhodesian government,” he says. Though he says he has ‘stayed away from marriage and other responsibilities that would prevent me from exercising my creative pursuits,’ Mupengo, who has been writing and directing film since 1998, adds he feels lonely now and wants to have a family.
He told us on January 8, 2007 that ‘nothing much has changed in my life since 2005. I am still single and childless though I hope to get married this year if all goes according to my will.’
As he grew up, Mupengo says, he used to tell and listen to oral stories before the emergence of television and he came in contact with Kudze Gamanya, a scripwriter trained in Cuba who ‘workshopped’ him for two weeks in 1992. But it was not till six years later that he decided to pursue film seriously.
“I wrote and directed a 15-minute film at the now defunct UNESCO-funded Zimbabwe Film and Video School in 2000. The film, Painting a Scene, was about a girl torn between a rich and a poor lover that leads to abortion and barrenness,” he says of the short that won Best Student Film Award at the equally defunct Southern Africa Film Festival, SAFF, in Harare.
In the film, a man wants to avenge his brother’s death but the man he wants to kill saves his own son.
The same year, Mupengo took part in the Short Film Project of the Zimbabwe Film Festival Trust that resulted in Special Delivery, a short film. He also made Chitsidzo.
Feeling he was now ready for the world having written, directed and produced several shorts, he joined Zimbabwe’s Studio 263 TV soap series as a scriptwriter alongside Aaron Chiundura Moyo in 2003 upon its launch but soon left to do independent filmmaking.
It was at this time that he and Dorothy Meck–who had just been retrenched by Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation in 2002–got together to make Tanyaradzwa in 2005.
Masiiwa: A Love for Life, a 55-minute documentary film on a leading Zimbabwean sculptor, Dominic Benhura, premiered almost simultaneously with Tanyaradzwa.
“Tanyaradzwa is based on the Avenues, a red light district of Harare I grew up in. Here a young mother left me with a baby one day saying she was going to collect her money and would be back in 20 minutes but never returned till 14 hours later,” Mupengo says. “It is on this incident that Tanyaradzwa, that I wrote and directed, is based.”
Mupengo says Musa Ally, who had worked with Dorothy Meck on Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Kare Kare Zvako (Mother’s day), is the one who introduced him to Meck.
About $Z500M(about US$100000), he says, was invested in Tanyaradzwa.
Despite these shortcomings, Mupengo says, “we came up with something presentable after six years of no major film made in Zimbabwe after Yellow Card of John Ribber.” What was more, it was decided that Tanyaradzwa feature only tailor-made soundtrack by leading popular musicians like Chiwoniso Mararie, Afrika Revenge, Sahara, Carmelita Gumbo and Jennifer Mujuru.
Saying all his films are screened at Zimbabwe International Film Festival, Mupengo adds a hunger for local productions exists in the southern African country and in the Zimbabwe Diaspora. “Tanyaradzwa is targeting southern Africans with contemporary urban story. We hope East Africa can also enjoy it and hence our subtitling it in English. We are also thinking of subtitling it in French and Portuguese for a wider market,” Mupengo says.
How different would Tanyaradzwa be if he had it to do over again?
Comparing Tanyaradzwa with other films made in Zimbabwe in the past, Mupengo says “Film made in Zimbabwe have been mainly donor-driven. Ours is purely artistic, creative, entrepreneurial and crafted from a personal experience I thought could enrich people.”
But I insist to know how he makes films in a country that is often portrayed as being intolerant and oppressive.
“Artists have to know the environment in which they are working. I know of no place without rules. We shot Tanyaradzwa in the streets of Harare without encountering any harassment from the authorities. The situation in Zimbabwe is not as bad as some people try to portray it. There is censorship when it comes to political issues, though.”
As to why he writes and directs, Mupengo says “I write and direct to protect and maintain my vision. When you feel strongly about something, especially if it is based on personal experiences, you feel the best person to tell it for the screen is yourself.”
By making Tanyaradzwa, Tawanda told ArtMatters.Info in 2005, “We want to show that we don’t need to import films from Hollywood to enjoy ourselves and if this film is successful, it will also present a challenge to all filmmakers.”
Of the UN Award-winning Peretera Manate, Mupengo says, “I made Pretera Maneta as a talking point, to inspire debate and discussion so we can try and protect our young girls.”
He feels filmmaking would develop faster on the continent if African countries went into co-production arrangements that would build capacity in areas such as skill development, storytelling, financing and marketing to avoid tough conditions from foreign grant givers.
Both Peretera Maneta and Tanyaradwa have each won Mupengo, who has three films in progress, three awards.
“I have a documentary about a rainmaker in progress right now;
Meck, the producer of Tanyaradzwa, says she ventured in filmmaking after being retrenched from Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation in 2002.
Meck had joined ZBC as a production assistant in the drama section in 1986.