Local filmmaker Charles Shemu Joyah looks to be a man on a mission. He is breaking all barriers by registering achievements which many considered impossible for a local filmmaker. Last Saturday, Joyah’s movie The Road to Sunrise won the Best Movie Southern Africa an award at the recent Africa Magic Viewers Choice awards. Our reporter, Brian Itai, caught up with him. And here are excerpts from their chat.
Explain your journey in the filmmaking industry, from your beginnings to where you are at the moment?
I fell in love with films when I was a kid in Zimbabwe. My sister used to take me to watch movies every Saturday and when we came back home I would try to tell my mother the whole movie and enact some parts. Later, I began to think that I could make my own. However, without resources, it was just a dream. It was in 2006 that I really decided that I should make a film so I wrote a script, bought a camera and, as they say, the rest is history.
From the long list of highs that you have hit in this industry, which moment stands out for you?
To me the moment I will never forget is the time my first film, Seasons of a Life ,was screened in front of about 1500 people at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in 2009. The audience was so much engaged with the movie and at the end there was a huge standing ovation which seemed like it would never end. I will never forget that and the film won two awards.
Your movie, The Road To Sunrise, has won the Best Movie category for Southern Africa. What does this mean to you personally and the local film industry?
To me, personally, it is a source of delight that my work is being recognized outside the country. I know we are not there yet but this recognition is a strong indication that we are going in the right direction. This is great for the local film industry for it means that our industry is improving.
The Malawian filmmaking industry seems to be making some steady strides, what will it require for the sector to realise its full potential?
The most important thing the industry needs at the moment are, firstly resources, that means equipment and finances. Secondly, people in the trade need to learn how to use effectively the tools of the trade and sharpen their story-telling skills. For the first part I would encourage government and the corporate world to assist the industry and for the second part I would urge the filmmakers themselves to put in the necessary effort.
There is a perception that the local productions are getting more recognition abroad than home. Why do you think such is the case?
The reason is that we do not have proper distribution channels for our films. The DVD is not a reliable means of distribution due to the high rate of piracy. So, we need people to start going back to the cinema. I would love to see business people in Malawi invest more in facilities where Malawians can go and enjoy a good movie. Without cinemas, filmmakers in Malawi will still have it tough to break even when they produce their films.
How much money does it take to produce a movie? For instance, what was the production budget for The Road To Sunrise?
To make a good production you need a lot of money. Though I am not in a position at the moment to disclose our budget, all I can say is that it was a lot.
How do you personally manage to mobilise these resources?
For my first film, Seasons of a Life, I did it entirely alone. I had financial assistance from the Norwegian Embassy and the Gothenburg International Film Festival for The Last Fishing Boat and The Road to Sunrise I had to borrow the money from FDH Bank. They were ready to share the risk with us, which is amazing because most financial institutions in Malawi would not even dare to listen to a filmmaker.
You have been in this industry for a while now. You have been exposed to fully fledged film industries such as the Nigerian industry which is making a huge contribution to the country’s economy through foreign earnings. What will it take to monetise our industry to such a level?
It is something that needs a whole workshop to discuss but briefly it is an interaction between the government, the corporate world and the filmmakers. The government needs to understand that filmmakers are its partner in creating employment and expanding the tax base. Therefore, it needs to create an atmosphere conducive to filmmaking. The corporate world has to see the investment potential that exists in filmmaking and, therefore, make strategic investments that will push forward the film industry but in the long term will be beneficial to the corporate world itself. The filmmakers should in turn thrive to produce films of the best quality.