Foreign capital: A short history of Tanzania's film industry by Aylin Basaran

20 Apr 2017 - 14:45


On Tuesday 18 April, Aylin Basaran from the University of Vienna presented her research on the history of Tanzania’s film industry from the 1960-90s. According to Basaran, film had already been introduced during Tanzania’s colonial period, particularly as an educational medium to instruct citizens about farming and health practices. Educational films have since been a source of skepticism for Tanzanians. In the 1960s, Denmark, under the umbrella of UNESCO, established an audiovisual institute (AVI) in Tanzania, precisely with how-to and practical films in mind.

Basaran noted that tension between socialist and capitalist influences of imported films commenced, which led to the creation of the Tanzanian Film Company, which was responsible for regulating and nationalising film distribution. She added that films in Tanzania in the 60s were produced under complicated technological conditions, and therefore foreign capital was needed to sustain the industry. However, conflicts between the Danish and Tanzania ensued at AVI – mostly due to prejudices, power struggles and politics. The Tanzanian employees knew their audiences well, and disagreed with some of the content and leadership that was proposed by the Danish. The need for foreign currency to develop Tanzania’s film industry also meant collaboration with international NGOs and inviting international co-producers who brought necessary infrastructure from abroad.

Basaran briefly touched on the following iconic films, illustrating the evolution of fiction film in Tanzania from realism, to utopian realism, to the mythical surrealism of the 90s:

• The Land of Promise (1963) used an American male narrator throughout the film, focusing on the classical motif of a man coming to town in search of work, and failing to do so, returns to the bliss of Umajaa community.

• A Poor Man's Stick – Fymbo Ya Mnyonge (1974), was the first fictional film produced in Tanzania that followed the similar motif as mentioned above.

• Its sequel A Poor Man’s Salvation – Yombayomba (1984), contained more critical elements. According to Basaran, because more Tanzanians were inclined to listen to radio at the time, film had a smaller audience, which meant criticism was allowed more freely.

• The Ballade of Bamboo – Wimbo wa Mianzi (1983) was an advocacy film supporting the use of bamboo piping rather than aluminum. Its aim was to further advocate for self-reliance, rather than dependending on imports.

• Mother Hope – Mama Tumaina (1984) focuses on the friendship between a Norwegian and Tanzanian woman, and characterises the good and bad of international relationships at the time.

• Mariamu's Wedding – Arusi ya Mariamu (1983) introduced a new thematic thread of the tension between traditional vs modern medicine.

• The Ancient One – Maangamizi (1994-99) also addressed this theme through the friendship of two women and a journey of overcoming trauma and the liberation of forgiveness.

Basaran further explained that TV took over film in 90s, but Tanzanian Bongo (Nollywood-style) movies remained popular. She added that more artistic modern Tanzanian films were showcased annually at the Zanzibar International Film Festival. Basaran will be doing a screening of a film on her research in the coming weeks at CFMS, follow our Twitter feed to stay informed.