Bside recently caught up with Tanzanian filmmaker Seko Shamte to discuss her latest feature film Binti.
Tanzanian filmmaker Seko Shamte is currently working tirelessly to put the Tanzanian movie industry on the map. Her latest film Binti is currently the first Tanzanian film to be acquired by Netflix and it has recently been streaming to several positive reviews across the globe. "it's completely exceeded my expectations. I knew Tanzanians would watch it. they'd come through the diaspora but I just didn't know it was going to touch so many women from different parts of the world" Shamte tells me during our zoom chat sometime in mid-January. The new East African feature film explores how contemporary Tanzanian women live their lives, along with the concept of what it means to be a family in an East African community.
The 40-year-old Dar es Salaam-native who studied Finance and Media at Marymount Manhattan College in New York has been working in the Tanzanian media industry for over 15 years. She has directed numerous films and documentaries including the popular web series, The A-Team Tanzania, and a cooking show titled Jikoni na Marion.
In her exclusive interview with Bside, she talks about the process of making her movie Binti, the challenges, and its influence on the Tanzanian film industry.
Bside: What has the reception been like since your new film BINTI premiered on Netflix?
SHAMTE: it's completely exceeded my expectations. I knew Tanzanians would watch it, they'd come through and the diaspora but I just didn't know it was going to touch so many women from different parts of the world. I am somebody who checks her DM regularly. Especially when you direct a movie like this. Sometimes women just want to talk directly to the person who made the movie. So I have received so many messages as far as from Kazakhstan. That's how far we've reached. It transcends nationalistic boundaries, language barriers because this is really about women. Moreso, I am always gratified when men watch the movie and are moved as well. How did you get into the Tanzania film industry?
I always knew I was going to work in this space. I wasn't sure if I was going to be a producer or a director, I was just one of those theatre kids from when I was in high school. So I studied Finance and Media studies and when I moved back home to Tanzania there wasn't any kind of film happening here so it made sense that I would go into TV because there were TV stations and that was a good entry point. I decided I was going to make documentaries and movies and I remember my dad being worried. He asked me "what are you going to eat" and I told him I'd be fine, I'd make this work and I was lucky, I did figure out how to make this work. I started learning how to apply for grants and this was where finance came in for me. What informed the decision to work on a film like this? As a storyteller, It’s not every day you get a chance to tell these honest, dynamic stories about the female experience. The idea of telling stories that showcase the struggles of women from different works of life was one of the major reasons I decided to work on the project and I credit my fellow producers for creating space for this type of storytelling.
What were the challenges that you faced making the film? I mean, everything is a challenge. Getting a good budget is a challenge, we were restricted to a 21day shoot, and we had a lot of locations, we moved around a lot in Binti and it made it pretty tight from a logistic point of view considering that you have 12hours of daylight. The budget is always the most challenging for any filmmaker especially an African filmmaker because we always wish we had more time, more resources to get work done. What were the things you had to do to ensure that the lead characters delivered their lines? So the key thing is a lot of the women were first-time actors. So it was already challenging with the fact that I am dealing with first-time actors. But it was also refreshing because they were excited and very enthusiastic about the challenge. These first-time actors, were eager, when they came in, they auditioned, we felt they had connections with the characters, some of them did actually, they could identify with their characters and we also had 6 weeks of rehearsals from the very basis of acting for the screen. Basic things like being able to hit your mark, look into the camera and so we had to go through the first week and the remaining four weeks, we were able to sit down and get in touch with the rehearsing. And when we were doing rehearsals, I realized that one of the people did not have any kind of chemistry with their partner and I had to move things around because they just didn't seem like a believable couple. So we had to change things around when we realized that things weren't working. My pre-production tends to always be extensive, because I know I don't have much production time. So I work hard to ensure my pre-production is on point.
How long did it take to make the entire film, from pre-production to post-production and then release?
For pre-production, we took about 3 months to write it and about 2 months including the rehearsals, production was 21days and I am a believer in directors not editing their work because we are too attached to certain scenes and all. So initially I had an editor based in Los Angeles who was supposed to do it so when we were done, we compiled all of the script notes, the production note, drives, and everything and shipped them. 2 months later he sent me the first draft and that was really what we wanted. I had to do the first draft and by the time I was done, were behind schedule. Then I found another editor through a friend's recommendation in Los Angeles, he came as a secondary editor so he could look with fresh eyes. The post-production was quite chaotic. It was a lot of management of people and everyone was a bit uncertain but luckily we managed to pull through and by the time we finalized everything, it was November 2020. What do you hope the audience will take away from this project when streaming on Netflix? I think there are different themes running through the movies. Comparison is the thief of joy, I think especially now with the pressure that young women are facing now on social media and stuff we tend to imagine that everybody's life is perfect if I only had this. Like the first character says if I only had money, meanwhile, money is not at the forefront of the lady in the second chapter, she was in a very abusive relationship, and for her, if I can only get a man to just be there for me, to love me. Then the third story, there is a family, they are happy, extraordinary but there is still an issue. In the year 2022, we need to expand our minds. There's a part where they are arguing and she's like we are not a family, we are a couple. And so the idea of what a family is the expectations on women, and the expectations we also put on ourselves so that we can have a complete family. I am also hoping people get to think about what that is. I mean you can also have a family of one or two. Family can look like anything.