Malawian movies missing the market

When one walks in the markets in cities and towns in Malawi they are most likely to find pavilions of CDs and DVDs. Upon closer inspection, one notices that Malawi has more movies besides the popular Last Fishing Boat, Seasons of a Life and Bell’a.
It is evident from the covers that most film-makers that find a spot in the markets draw their inspiration from Nigerian movies. Most movies are in sequels with some having more than five instalments of a single franchise.

Suya (L) and actor Hope Chisano in The Last Fishing Boat
Suya (L) and actor Hope Chisano in The Last Fishing Boat

Jacobs Mwase, Frank Yalu and Mr Jokes lead the pack in this fast movie industry.
Noticeably, rarely do these low-budget movies have trailers on local TVs. That begs the question: Why are there more movies on market stands than there are trailers on local television stations?
Mwase, one of the producers of these movies, says they use local radios to disseminate messages of latest movies.
“We sometimes advertise on MBC TV but at the moment we are happy with the revenue that these movies are generating. I can afford a decent life,” says Mwase.
Mwase refused to disclose how much revenue their movies make, citing security reasons. However, he disclosed that they sell a DVD at K500.
“Right now we have bought state-of-the-art supplicating equipment. It is similar to the one OG Issa was using to duplicate CDs and DVDs. So we are growing,” says Mwase.
Mwase says he and other film-makers are not affiliated to Copyright Association of Malawi (Cosoma) because they do not see the need.
“We do not see the need to join Cosoma or buy holograms [copyright stickers] because we sometimes buy the holograms and still find someone selling a pirated DVD with a hologram as well. So we developed our own security features on our DVDs and we do not need Cosoma’s hologram,” he said.
President of Film-makers Association of Malawi (Fama), Ezaius Mkandawire, says most film-makers lack order in their business such that it is hard for them to go beyond the Malawian market.
“A few months ago we were approached by MultiChoice which wanted Malawian movies for a new channel it is introducing. We have been able to submit some, but we need to be organised, because without that we will not be taken seriously. It is not just about having the most films released, it’s about having a product of quality,” said Mkandawire.
Mkandawire further argues that with the current trend the film makers are taking, piracy will be hard to combat.
“If these film-makers had Cosoma holograms they could have been selling their DVDs at double the price they are selling now, plus they could have security because they would know which DVDs are pirated. But, as it is now they cannot figure out which one is pirated and which one is not,” he said.
A lecturer in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, Lusizi Kambalame, thinks film-makers are unable to advertise their movies on television because their movies are low on budget.
“On the other hand, they could indeed be losing a lot for not being able to access the would-be consumers. And as they do not have much control in marketing they are not sure of the numbers being sold and how many are reproducing. In essence they have no control over their own product,” she says.
However, Kambalame hails the “low-budget” film-makers for their courage to venture into the industry.
“Contrary to popular opinion, it is a good step. In order for us to have an industry there is need for someone to start. To be bold enough to make the mistakes and take the blunt for making them. But what the pioneers are doing is creating space for improvement and a chance for something better to come out. The biggest mistake would be for us to stick to the same trend,” she says.
Kambalame said the movie industry in Malawi is not well organised
“There is no body to help in making the industry organised and, hence, it becomes difficult to even control quality and find a standard way of operating,” she says.
Kambalame says the first step for film producers should be to attain high quality.
“There is no way of penetrating the ‘bigger markets’ if the product you are selling cannot compete with what’s on the market,” she said.
Chimwemwe Nyirenda, marketing manager for MultiChoice Malawi, suggests that the reason the low budget filmmakers do not usually advertise using conventional trailers on television is because they have created a niche market due to the absence of cinemas in the country.
“Because there are no cinemas, the filmmakers have resorted to selling their DVDs in markets at lower prices. So their current ways of advertising work for them in such a situation,” said Nyirenda.
He added that Fama needs to come up with strategies to coordinate activities in the industry for it to flourish.
“However, we are making progress in terms of movies. In Nigeria, for example, they did not start with having a channel like Africa Magic, they first started with producing movies, then they had a platform where they can showcase. We need to keep on producing movies,” said Nyirenda.
He, however, cautioned these low-budget filmmakers to desist from using Nollywood concepts and create a unique identity that can be identified with Malawi.

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