|©Seya Kitenge Fundafunda|
Seya Kitenge Fundafunda talks about her evolution into cinema, her film Kayemba, initiatives such as the media company African Reel and the Amka Arts Festival, and her hopes for the future of Zambian Cinema.
Seya, you are an emerging filmmaker from Zambia, what were your experiences in cinema while growing up?
Well I come from a family that watched a lot of classic movies like My Fair Lady, A Sound of Music (my favorite film of all time), Fiddler on the Roof, Scrooge, and lots of classic Disney movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi, etc. But these were viewed at home, and not at an actual cinema because at the time the state of cinema theatres in this country had deteriorated and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near them. Despite all this, my interest in performing arts emerged.
You have had diverse international experiences in media production, starting in high school in fact at the International School of Geneva, what role have they played in the evolution of your career at present?
My international background has played a huge role in my life and my career; it has exposed me to so many cultures. At this moment in history, I think it’s critical to learn and understand how to live and work with people of different cultures. And it’s the same in the media industry. Looking at the high school productions, such as the German play The Visit, we had students from different ethnic backgrounds taking up German roles. For my role, I played a painter and recited some of my lines in German, which was tough during rehearsals but when it was show time, I have to say we all did a remarkable job. My work ethic today is what it is because of my past experiences; it has made me a perfectionist.
You attended a film internship program in Helsinki, Finland in 2010. What did the internship entail, how did you become involved with it and what were your experiences?
The film internship in Helsinki, Finland came about after the 2008 production of the feature film Suwi by Musola Cathrine Kaseketi. It was the first co-production between Zambia and Finland. We had half of the crew come from Finland. And upon completion of the production, the Finnish crew wanted to do more for the young Zambian crew in terms of training since Zambia has no film school. When they returned to Helsinki, they presented a proposal to the Finnish Government to do a 3-month film internship in Helsinki. Due to budget constraints, they couldn’t take the whole Zambian crew, so only three could go in 2009, which was the first year. There was an application process and selection, so I applied for the 2010 group and got selected. I had an amazing experience during the internship and learnt a lot, including: the history of film and filmmaking, exercises in making short amateur silent films, attending the 2010 Helsinki International Film Festival, scripting and directing a short film called Kayemba.
Your final project, Kayemba, is about the traumatic experience of a young Finnish-African woman by the same name. Why did you choose this subject, what were your experiences with the actors and crew, and what has been the reception of the film?
The idea for Kayemba came about while still in Zambia, before I leaving for the internship. As part of the application for the internship, one had to send a synopsis of a film one would like to make at the end of the internship and so that is how Kayemba came about. I am a human rights advocate at heart and I wanted to do something that had to do with women’s rights. The subject matter for Kayemba is so important and relevant and needs to be talked about and addressed with urgency throughout Africa and the world at large. There are a lot of women, young women in fact, whose rights are infringed upon, due solely to the fact that they are women. And if this film helps even one woman, then I will be satisfied. The cast and crew of Kayemba were a great group to work with. Everyone was very dedicated to this project before, during and after the shoot. I am so grateful to them. They made my directorial debut stress free. Kayemba is screening at the 2011 Kenya International Film Festival (21-31 October), which is really exciting. This is the first major film fest at which it is being screened. Some viewers expressed feeling depressed, maybe because of its inconclusive ending. There is no happy ending. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible. Some did not like it. For instance one YouTube viewer commented “I don't believe that showing violence prevents violence. That is why I don't like this film. It is not a good idea to show a rape.” But overall, the responses have been encouraging.
Kayemba (2010) by Seya Kitenge Fundafunda
You are the director of the media company African Reel. What is the mission of the company and some of the projects that it has undertaken?
African Reel is an up and coming media house. The mission is to tell realistic African stories, to inspire, educate, motivate, challenge, as well as entertain the world in general and Africa in particular. To make a difference! We are currently working on a few campaigns, one of them called Green Revolution focuses on the environment. Another, Real and Raw, a reality show of sorts, presents African perspectives on African female beauty. In addition, we are in the developmental stage for a series of 13 short films dealing with the theme of HIV/AIDS, but with a twist: all of the stories derive from real life. We are also in co-production with another local production company on a 20-episode drama series called Dreams. So these are just a few of the projects African Reel has embarked upon.
The project, Dreams is a 20-episode TV drama series. What is the theme of the program and how did the concept evolve?
Dreams is a drama series reflecting on gender challenges in relation with development. It addresses issues that women in Africa deal with and the challenges they face; things such as women’s health, girl child education and cultural challenges for women. The story is told through three characters: Taonga an orphan with a strong desire for education and freedom but cocooned in a society that has different trends and norms of life. Bertha, Taonga’s mother who is trapped in a marriage based on cultural beliefs, and Kamukazi Taonga’s cousin, a young mother entering marriage for all the wrong reasons. They all have dreams that seem farfetched for the simple reason that they are women. There are certain things that society believes are a woman’s fate and that she is supposed to do. The three women endure hardships such as rape, defilement, infringement of rights, and other abuses.
What reactions do you hope to get from the viewers?
Women are the major players in the development process and need to be empowered. Media is a powerful tool to educate women on issues that affect them, because what people see they believe and begin to practice.
The Amka Arts Festival is a project in the works. What is the concept and what do you hope that participants will get from the festival.
Amka Arts Festival is a multi disciplinary arts festival whose main goal is to promote Zambian art and showcase our diverse culture. It will also be a platform for international artists to network and learn from Zambian artists and vice versa. We are hoping that at the end of the festival, our government will see the importance of supporting the arts industry, because there has been little support from this important sector. The festival will take place from the 3rd to 4th week of September 2012.
What is the state of cinema in Zambia and what contribution would you like to make?
Zambian cinema is still in its infancy. We haven’t really reached the competitive stage yet. Right now we are lobbying for a film policy as well as a film school because we currently do not have one. Most of us fortunate ones got hands-on training during international projects shot in Zambia, but those who weren’t able to be a part of those projects are left out. Having said that, there are some young people nonetheless, who go ahead and write scripts, shoot a few amateur films. However, we have a long way to go as far as cinema is concerned. I hope to be part of the evolution of our industry, not just as a woman, but also as a proud African.
Interview with Seya Kitenge Fundafunda by Beti Ellerson, October 2011
Interview with Seya Kitenge Fundafunda by Beti Ellerson, October 2011