The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

30 September 2010

A Conversation with M Beatrix Mugishagwe

Image: M Beatrix Mugishagwe
From the African Women in Cinema Collection, 2010

Beatrix, could you tell me a bit about yourself, how you became interested in filmmaking?

Actually I am a TV-journalist by profession; my filmmaking is a natural consequence of that - I began as TV documentary director and then later on I took it to the next level by getting involved in film production. I did not attend a film school but am trained as TV/Radio journalist.

Tanzanian cinema is perhaps small in comparison to other countries in Africa, could you give a bit of history of filmmaking in Tanzania and what you see as its future?

Cinema? If am honest, it hardly exist; after the demise of the Tanzania Film Company as well as the Tanzania Audio Visual in the late eighties, most of those people who were trained in various aspects of filmmaking simply gave up and looked for other jobs to survive. Film/Cinema as we know it simply died in Tanzania till in the mid-nineties when the medium of television brought the art of visual storytelling back to Tanzania - this time though in a different manner. Anybody who could get a camcorder and editing facility became a PRODUZA (this is a bastardization form of producer here) cum Director. That was what the democratization of equipment has meant to the Tanzania film landscape. A curse and maybe a blessing at the same time. A curse in the sense that what is globally accepted as minimum production value does not count in most productions in Tanzania. This leads to marginalization of the content out of Tanzania. A blessing in as much as I see a chance of developing a particular brand of films not encumbered by the western or eastern ideals and values of visual narration - I am ambivalent of this though, because I believe in knowing the rules first in order to break them effectively for my own use - our PRODUZAs just have the latest equipment and not the basic film education.

Women have been visible since the 1980s with Flora Mmbugu-Schelling who is now based in the United States. What is the current status of women filmmakers?

Again, it's difficult for me to talk of women filmmakers - we have TV production which is led mostly by women - nearly all the production houses in Tanzania are managed by women - I believe this is because most of us don't compromise easily and as such we could hardly find a broadcasting house ready to employ us at our own terms.

Tumaini is a feature film which you wrote and directed, how did it evolve?

TUMAINI - which means HOPE in Kiswahili, is a film, which again, came out of my documentary background - Tanzania is one of the countries which has been ravaged but HIV/AIDS since the early 80s. So much has been said and done for the affected adult population. But it’s only till recent that one began thinking of the plight of the children left behind. Children don't vote and as such they are what I consider voiceless. They don't have a politically threatening constituent. Having traveled throughout the country my colleague and I encountered the same story all over: misery, abandoned and desperate children leading to a big number of street children. Children who had run away from their homes, and they still do in order to look for a better life elsewhere after they lose their parents to HIV/AIDS. Most of these children still have relatives but in most cases these relatives are overburdened by the number of children they have to take care of. And some of them like in the case of TUMAINI, they cheat the orphans of the little inheritance left by their parents in the name of family oversight. The film was and still is an appeal to the society and sensitization about the plight of HIV/AIDS orphans.

What has been the reception?

The reception so far has been very positive but we need to distribute it more widely than has been the case to date.

The very ambitious project, UNSUNG HEROINES is a wonderful documentary series about African female leaders. How was it conceived, who are the African women included?

It’s a fact that people on the continent of Africa today continue to survive because of women: if there are no women who till the land for food, fetch water, collect firewood, bear children, run the market stalls, the continent would have long perished given its history. Yet when you look in the top decision making positions of governments, companies and the likes throughout the African continent women hardly feature therein. Is it a wonder then that a young African girl looks around for a role model and all she sees is men and if women then non-African? Today we have gone so far even as to negate figures like Winnie Mandela - a woman who if for 28 years had not kept that torch/fire burning for her Nelson, the world would not have gotten its much revered and adored Nelson Mandela - so the question was what happened to her? From there I started looking into the absence of great African women visibility not only in Africa itself but the entire world. Who do our children look up to as role models when they are growing up?

At the same time, the choice of women is difficult since there are so many African women leaders out there who must be constantly and continuously featured, spotlighted so that our youth know of them and emulate them, instead of looking up to mostly western cinema, music and football idols-because that's what they get to see daily in their homes.

How do you plan to promote and distribute the series?

Distribution is our Achilles heel - originally we had planned to promote the series through the various national television stations by using the SABC Africa back then. We also planned working with the ministries of education in their gender and civic education programmes - but that was theory. In reality SABC Africa no longer exist and most African TV stations demand payment for airing the series. We are partnering with various NGOs who deal with youth and gender-related issues across the continent and we piggyback on their distribution vehicles. In Tanzania we even make road shows ourselves to major centers - so we will for awhile stop producing and become distributors in order to make sure our series does reach the target audience.

Interview with M Beatrix Mugishagwe by Beti Ellerson, September 2013

Unsung Heroines (Trailer) by M Beatrix Mugishagwe (Abantu Visions International)