Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why are movies so important? - By Freddy Macha

Freddy Macha
Freddy Macha

Can anyone tell me the origin of the word dezo?

In standard Swahili it means anything obtained free of charge. Sometimes I like to think of it as dazzle or daze which is to stun and bewilder.

Surely that explains the feeling of happiness after being endeared?

Anyway, I recall sinema dezo, back in the sixties and early seventies. Movies would be shown for free across Tanzanian fields and football pitches.

We watched the Charlie Chaplin, Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy series, then known as Chalii Mnene na Mwembamba. They were not only funny they also help build the Swahili vocabulary.

Charlie or Charley became Chalii or Chale, which in Swahili is a funny or humorous person. Movies not only entertain but also create new words thus helping shaping a national language.

By the mid-1970s, sinema dezo was out and in came the cinema halls. Our mothers and sisters flocked to watch afternoon movies (matinee) from India.

Nobody spoke Hindi, but the songs were loved. Does anyone recall i (which means Sometimes) and Sholay? The stories were long; movies went on for three hours plus.

Some of these Hindi films had strong social political messages like Mother India and Namak Haraam. I recall seeing them without subtitles and loving them across Dar es Salaam halls – Empire and Empress (in the Askari Monument area), Avalon, Odeon and Cameo.

For those who did not like these Hindi movies with their exaggerated sentimental singing and tears, there was an alternative option: Bruce Lee and kung fu, whoo, whaa films.

These flicks razed and grazed our halls until early eighties when the economic doom chocked and slapped everyone. The only consolation were second-hand imported ‘B’ movies like the soft porn wave Emanuelle.

From then on until around the arrival of mainstream television in the mid-1990s we had nothing. The film industry in Tanzania has always been thirsty and hungry.

Before Josiah Kibira's efforts in 2003 with the production of the Bongoland series we had only Fimbo ya Mnyonge as a Swahili movie of any substance. Mwalimu Nyerere must have gone to his grave wondering, will it ever be?

Lately because of this hunger we have started munching Nigerian and South African films.

US-based Josiah Kibira says he used to watch the Nigerians and wondered. His Bongoland one and two tale is a convincing narrative about dreams of a young Tanzanian totally gone wrong.

Like Obama's presidential win in 2008, Kibira uses the Internet well to publicise and sell them in a well packaged and organised product.

And that is the story of May-June 2010.
Lovely Gamble, a Swahili-English, film has just been released in the UK by young Tanzanian filmmakers. I have seen the flick and attended the launch last weekend in Reading, a few kilometres out of London.

I do not think Lovely Gamble is anything close to Bongoland. The storyline is simplistic, with an ending that women especially will find uninspiring. However, its release has heralded a new chapter in our filmmaking.

In 2008, I watched and listened to Spike Lee, the African American filmmaker, answering a crucial question in London. Many of us asked him why he never makes films about Africa. He said we should do it ourselves and in collaboration.

“Be a gang, form a posse...,” said the creator of Inside Man, Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing and She Is Gotta Have It.

Makers of Lovely Gamble, known as Urban Pulse, have already ticked this box. Urban Pulse unites not only a group of Tanzanians, but other Africans and Caribbean youths. They are all multi-skilled and multitalented.

Launching the event, which also raised funds for HIV orphans in the UK and Tanzania, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation at our London High Commission, Amos Msanjila, made a lively speech that summed up why the film industry is so important for any nation.

Brand Tanzania, is what Swahili movies may create and help reinforce. Nigerian and Hindi films have helped popularise their countries, the diplomat said. Then there is the use of Kiswahili a language rated amongst ten fastest growing in the world.

Not to forget employment opportunities. Making films is an activity involving a lot of people: technicians, actors and business people. But before going any further we need to make convincing films.

Films depend on well-written stories, researched materials and high standard acting.
More info about Lovely Gamble or to get DVD phone Frank Eyembe on +44-7865594576. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots.

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