Zanzibar International Film Festival

The Zanzibar International Film Festival is held annually in Stonetown and I was lucky enough to be here while it was going on. ZIFF is an organization which works to preserve and support the Arts in East Africa.  The other volunteer and I went this past Monday to check it out. To make it worth the 10,000 shillings we paid, we decided to stay for three of the films.

The first one we saw was called “Finder of Lost Children” and was very strange. This man had fathered children with many women and after he died, two of his daughters tried to find their brothers and sisters. The film was about their search and attempt to understand and forgive their father. It touched on many ethical and philosophical questions, which made it interesting.

The second film was a documentary about the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo called “Katanaga Business”. I was prepared to be somewhat bored, but it turns out that the problems and issues connected to mining in the Congo are complex and deeply related to the poverty of the people. First of all, most of the mining companies are owned by foreigners. They enter into contracts with the government so that the country gets some money, but the agreements are never fair. Other people, mostly the Chinese, come into the country and mine illegally without the government even knowing. The people who dig in the mines and the country in general, are being exploited by foreign companies. The film focused on the region of Katanga, where most of the mines are. The Governor of the region says he wants to protect the worker’s rights, but is also interested in keeping foreign investors happy. I wonder which one is really more important to him? “Katanga Business” showed the poverty of the people in this region and what globalization and industrialization means for them. You can watch a trailer on the ZIFF webiste: http://www.ziff.or.tz/films/katanga-business-war-copper

The third film was called “Once Upon Our Time” and I enjoyed this one the most because it was about music. It was also a documentary, this time about a boy named Annas from Tunisia who plays the violin. A few years ago, a French organization that supports the arts wanted to assist musically talented children from around the world who didn’t have the money for further lessons. Annas was one of the children chosen and was given a grant to study with top notch teachers internationally. The film followed him for two years, as he progressed as a violin player.

While I enjoyed this day, my favorite films were the ones we saw the second day we went. Later in the week, on Thursday the students went to the festival and I went with them. That day the films were all about children and we stayed for two of them. The first was called “Ana’s Playground”. It was a short, but extremely powerful look into the life of inner city children living in a war zone. I can’t even begin to describe it so just watch the trailer: http://www.ziff.or.tz/films/anas-playground

The next film was “Themba” which showed how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is tearing apart families. The main character, Themba, found hope by playing soccer though and it definitely ended on an uplifting note. There is also a trailer for this one: http://www.ziff.or.tz/films/themba

I didn’t miss the significance of watching these films with the students. It dawned on me that was I see as a heart breaking movie, is every day reality for some of them. There was a discussion afterwords and I was upset that I couldn’t understand most of it because I was really interested in what the students had to say. There is a very high possibility that some of them have AIDS or that they have been affected in some way by the disease. Now that I have experienced some of the reality of Africa’s poverty, I’m sure I will never see documentaries and movies in quite the same way.

What do you think?