Inside Tanzania's Growing Film Industry.
Damilola takes a look at Bongowood, Tanzania's rapidly growing film industry, highlighting the massive leaps and bounds they've made over the last few years.
The history of motion pictures in Tanzania has come a long way. The first cinema shows appeared in the region at the turn of the 20th century. Indian entrepreneurs established tent shows before World War I and built permanent cinemas in the interwar period. Colonial officials however feared cinema images would undermine their authority and attempted to censor films and segregate audiences. This would
not deter most moviegoers and the slowly growing industry as a whole. During and immediately after the Second World War, Tanganyika and Zanzibar, two historical East African states, began to experience a boom in cinema building as the popularity of going to the movies soared among urban Africans. The Tanzanian audience also began to develop cosmopolitan tastes, embracing Bollywood actors, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, and the likes.
Tanzania's new government, following independence in 1961 once again established policies to discourage cinema-going by its citizens, but the importation of inexpensive video films from Nigeria made the policies less effective as the influx of Nigerian home videos into the country encouraged an industry that would become known as Bongowood or Swahilihood. In recent years, hundreds of low-budget videos have been produced each year by this new booming industry.
These Swahili movies are consumed avidly within the country, as well as in Swahili-speaking areas of neighbouring nations, and throughout the Swahili diaspora, it is fast owning its narrative by telling stories for a much wider audience across the continent of Africa.
The current growth of the East African video film industry as a whole is one example of the changes in popular arts production currently taking shape in African cinema. The shift in production value has created new visual styles and restructured physical and social spaces of production for the industry who made films with minimal budgets straight to DVD and little or no marketing done to sell content to several parts of the continent.
Despite having limited production skills and equipment to produce on a large scale, Tanzania's filmmakers are determined to develop the industry to rival Nigeria’s Nollywood and other big film industries. While speaking to Mubi Tanzibe, a member of creative moviemakers in Tanzania, she said: “The Tanzanian film industry has lots of potentials as Tanzania has a beautiful landscape for filming, plenty of creative people and good talented actors and actresses. In the movie industry, for instance, there is a growing demand for the local content through cable network TV’s and online platforms, which means that if we can develop or produce a good movie here, and be able to capture the attention of the market in east Africa which is more than 100 million people, it is a very huge business.”
Recently, the Tanzanian government introduced new regulations and operational costs to the film Sector by declaring the reduction of filming permit fees to help actors and filmmakers produce high-quality movies. According to the new regulations, filmmakers will pay only Sh50, 000 ($21) to get a filming permit instead of the exorbitant Sh500,000 ($215) that they used to pay. This policy makes it affordable for independent filmmakers who have had struggles making a profit off the high taxes and levies placed on film production companies.
Statistically, there are over 3million Tanzanians living in the diaspora and more than 21 per cent of the locals can afford Pay-TV and streaming platforms, a fairly good number allowing filmmakers to make movies attractive enough to grab their audience's attention and generate business.
In the last few years, the film industry has potentially grown to create employment opportunities while simultaneously boosting Tanzania’s brand and the Swahili language. This year, "Binti" became the first Tanzanian movie to land on the popular streaming platform Netflix. The moving drama tells the tale of four women in Dar es Salaam who are unintentionally linked by their ability to persevere in the face of adversity. "Binti" has created opportunities for other Tanzanian films like "Fatuma" to also be acquired by the streaming platform, showcasing it to a much wider audience.
These opportunities highlight how far Tanzanian content have come and the commitments of the local filmmakers to help take the industry to a higher standard in Africa.
The country is also home to one of the biggest film festivals on the African continent known as the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF). ZIFF is a non-governmental organization established in 1997 to develop and promote the film and other cultural industries as catalysts for regional social and economic growth. The festival is arguably the largest multi-disciplinary art and cultural festival in Africa, and continues to be a tourist attraction event in the region.
The Tanzanian audience has been particularly receptive to the homegrown films made by local filmmakers. Marketing efforts are also geared towards getting them into the cinemas – seeing as it’s pivotal to profits for filmmakers and box office, which is also vital in determining the film’s journey – and whether it ends up on specific streaming platforms that are equally available to audiences from several parts of Africa.
Video film has made massive strides in Tanzania during the past decade as in other parts of the world. Technological advancement has played a major role in such transformation which has led to the film industry in Tanzania receiving substantial applause and although the industry also faces criticism from various stakeholders for its lack of professionalism compared to Euro-American and Asian films, nonetheless, the industry is growing massively and there is room for further development and Bongowood is steadily rising to the occasion.