Zanzibar. Vuta N’kuvute, a film about the love story of a young rebellious freedom fighter with a Zanzibar Indian girl fleeing an oppressive arranged marriage is the latest addition to a growing number of African films attracting global audiences.
Recently, “Vuta N’kuvute” made history as the first Tanzanian feature film to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), making its debut in the discovery section.
Released in Swahili and with a predominantly black cast, Vuta N’kuvute (roughly translated as “Tug of War”) becomes one of the most authentic African films available on the world’s big screen.
Director Amil Shivji told Bird that the use of the local language was deliberate, as the use of East Africa’s most widely spoken language best carries the depth and meaning of the historical events leading up to it. the period in which the film takes place.
Set in colonial times in Zanzibar, Vuta N’kuvute tells the story of a young revolutionary and a runaway bride whose romance grows on the back of a political revolt at the end of British Imperial rule. .
Already, Vuta N’kuvute has struck a distribution deal with African entertainment giant Multichoice, which means it will air on television across the continent in the coming months.
It is also slated to debut on the company’s streaming service, Showmax.
âThe rights to Africa belong to MultiChoice. They came very early in the film, during the script stages. We are still looking for distribution rights outside, especially in Europe and North America, âShivji told Bird.
âBut it’s not easy to distribute a Swahili film with local distribution. For distributors (this) doesn’t tick many of their boxes, especially at a time like this, when they’ve already cut back on many of their acquisitions.
He denounced the fact that despite the presence of an audience, the African film market fails to support films like his.
âWe have a problem because the guardians of the market, like DVD distributors before, have not allowed films like this to gain any valueâ¦ we have been shut out of the market. We therefore used other places such as the festival circuit, academic screenings …
âSo I hope that ‘Tug of War’ can be used as a response tool, to allow us to enter the mainstream market and get a fair deal with distributors. I hope they can open up new audiences for this kind of work.
Shivji is optimistic the film will strike a chord with African viewers, who have developed an appetite for local content in recent years.
After the premiere of TIFF, he said they had organized a series of local screenings, starting in his home country, Tanzania, as well as several crucial film markets on the continent.
The film is produced by Steven Markovitz (Big World Cinema) and Shivji (Kijiweni Productions), who co-wrote with South African director Jenna Bass. The screenplay is an adaptation of Shafi Adam Shafi’s novel Vuta N’kuvute, written in Swahili and never translated to this day.
In the film, Denge (Gudrun Mwanyika), a young freedom fighter who campaigns for the independence of Zanzibar, and Yasmin (Ikhla Vora), an Indian-Zanzibar who flees an arranged marriage in search of her freedom, fall in love. one from the other.
It’s a forbidden love, which, coupled with Denge’s resistance struggle, complicates things for them, putting their very survival in jeopardy.
The film highlights Zanzibar, an archipelago adjacent to mainland Tanzania in East Africa and a leading tourist destination thanks to its pristine white sand beaches and Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Shivji, told Bird that the film is also a conduit to critical literature for African films, a gap he saw while studying in Canada. His experience while pursuing his undergraduate studies at a university in Toronto unveiled the treatment of African films at universities abroad.
âI remember there were instances where we would study week after week different movements of cinemas around the world, from Italian neorealism to Soviet editing, to classic Hollywood … and we would spend two to three weeks on each. module. But African cinema as a continent has been given a class. A 1,500-page manual had a page on African cinema, âhe recalls.
It was after this that he returned to Tanzania and opened Kijiweni Productions, then returned to Canada for his masters and returned to the country to focus on films, in order to generate content that builds a long-lasting industry. term. But he has an even greater mission. With Vuta N’kuvute, he wanted to create a film that would provoke reflection, create political awareness and displace stories that have become too anchored in Africa.
âI wanted this film not to romance the past but to talk about our present … and the film is made in a very contemporary spirit. Like, you feel like it’s happening right now, like it’s happening on your doorstepâ¦ and the 1950s was talking about this idea of ââ’mental change’, âhe said.
âWe are told to join the rat race, but we’ve been tied to the ground for 150 years, so it was never a fair race to begin with. There are so many political factors that have created such an overwhelming mentality … it’s a colonial mentality, a mentally defeatist.
Shivji believed that films could either combat stereotypes or entrench them, because for years it paid off to portray Africa in a negative light.
Fighting stereotypes seems like something he’s good at. (Bird)