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Zambia 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: FILM & MEDIA

A budding domestic film industry has the potential to generate jobs and create quality local content.

The history of cinema in Zambia dates back to colonial times, when the British, administering what was then Northern Rhodesia, introduced open-air cinemas that showed mainstream Hollywood movies. And while censorship was introduced to many movies due to the perceived susceptible nature of audiences at the time, Zambia was getting its first taste of cinema. It wasn't until 1957 that filmgoers got a taste of a wider variety of films, when a multi-racial theater opened in Lusaka.

Just a few years later, in 1964, the country became independent, but that was not to be the spark that fired an indigenous film industry. Indeed, a film industry was not on the new government's list of priorities, and so foreign films continued to dominate the theaters. And while much has changed since then, the film industry remains nascent, with industry insiders keenly envious of the success of Nigeria's own film industry, which brings in $200 million every year and produces between 1,000 and 2,000 films a year.

There are some successes, however, to speak of. In 1999, a Zambian independent film company called Ambush Productions formed and produced “Choka!," a feature documentary that was later nominated twice by the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles for Most Distinguished Feature and the Pare Lorentz Award for social activism and lyricism in film. Other filmmakers have also had success in the documentary field, including Sampa Kangwe and Simon Wilkie, who produced “Imiti Ikula" in 2000, a short film that documented the youth on the streets of Lusaka. Now getting a taste for cinema, the first Zambia International Film Festival was held in 2002, while in 2003 London-based Zambian film producer and actor, Manish Patel, made a splash at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival with his first film "Triads, Yardies, and Onion Bhajees!" More success was soon to follow, when “Tikambe," a documentary directed by Carol Duffy Clay about a Zambian woman's experience with AIDS, was awarded the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival.

And success abroad seems to have piqued the interest of the government, which now sees the film industry as a potential creator of jobs. And it's not just the government that is thinking big; Vatice Mushauko, CEO of Inzy, a modern media company, believes the time is right for more feature films. “We have seen a huge niche develop in the film industry in this region, and we believe we are well placed," he told TBY, adding that, “We have enough knowledge and expertise to give it a shot. That is where we are going—we will be making Zambian films for the global market." On the subject of local content, Mushauko was also vocal on the potential for the industry to create jobs; “I deliberately chose to work in Zambia using a full Zambian cast and crew. That is the premise of the birth of an industry."

The public, too, are right behind developments. Keen to see Zambia become as successful as some of its African counterparts, the success of the domestic film industry only seems natural following the recent success of the Zambian music industry abroad. But Zambia will likely have to wait a little bit longer before it can match the success of Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry likes to be known. One such reason is the high rate of illiteracy in the country, a figure that stands at around 40%. Kelvin Musonda of the Times of Zambia blames the lack of a reading culture for lack of creative minds in Zambia, many of which have easy access to the same kinds of equipment available in Nigeria. Challenges also remain in convincing the main broadcaster, ZNBC, that creating local content can be profitable in the long term. Currently, it is often cheaper to acquire foreign content. That has pushed some filmmakers toward privately funded independent film productions and various commercial productions, including music videos and commercials. The lack of film schools in the country is also holding back the industry, making gaining the right skills an often expensive process.

For those wishing to get a taste of what Zambian film has to offer, however, look no further than e18hteam, a new documentary produced by Ngosa Chungu. The film focuses on the victory of the Zambian national football team at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 in the context of a 1993 air tragedy that killed 18 members of the national team. The movie is set for release on October 16, a week before Zambia's Golden Jubilee independence celebrations on October 24. Considering the country got its first taste of cinema under the British, the timing of the film is significant as an example of just how far the Zambian film industry has come.