Tanzanian filmmaker Martin Mhando, who is also CEO of the Zanzibar International Film Festival, shares his experiences in China
We can easily say that every Tanzanian theater group today has its past in cultural exchanges with China and Chinese acrobatic companies sent to Africa.
A film is a language, says Martin Mhando, Curator and CEO of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), “because a film is about breaking narrative conventions, and about diversity.”
Mhando loves films. He loves making them and curating them. His first full feature Maangamizi: The Ancient One is a 2001 American-tanzanian drama co-directed with Ron Mulvihill, an American director of photography and film producer. After premiering at the Pan African Film Festival the same year, it was screened in 55 film festivals worldwide, winning several awards.
Mhando, an old friend of China, has a long engagement with China, with his first trip to Beijing dating back to 1976. His upcoming film Ni Kunga,a love story between a young Chinese and a Tanzanian woman at the time the Tanzania-zambia Railway was built, will be completed in 2017.
In an exclusive interview with Chinafrica, Mhando shares his experiences in China and his ideas on cultural exchanges between China and Tanzania.
how do you see cultural exchanges between China and Tanzania? Martin Mhando: China and Tanzania have enjoyed a long and friendly relationship during the past decades. The close ties between the two countries are rooted in history. One notable high point is the 1,800-km Tanzania-zambia Railway, which was built with the help of China. Africa needs, and has always needed, technology for its development. I think nothing is wrong with that. In many ways, my personal career path has echoed the African call for openness for opportunities in both cultural and business aspects. China is ready to provide all that.
My the late first visit to [China] was in the year Chairman Mao Zedong died. In 1976, I went to Beijing and paid homage to that giant of ideas. I felt I had a real connection to the place.
When China was trying hard to resume its legal position in the United Nations and finally achieved the goal in 1971, among the African countries that supported this motion, Tanzania played an active role. Today, the two countries still maintain close ties. Of the five East African Community member states, Tanzania continues to attract the most Chinese investment.
You returned to China many times in the years to follow. What brought you back again? It was … soap opera. During the past decades I visited various Chinese metropolises, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. More recently, I was invited by the Yunnan Minzu University to make documentaries on local subjects and mainly present the African point of view on China’s multicultural life.
I have worked in the city of Yuxi in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan as a filmmaker and guest lecturer at the Yuxi Normal University. I used well-known soap operas to teach my Chinese class of filmmakers about narrative structure and conventions. I must say it was an effective way of communication with my Chinese colleagues and students, who didn’t speak English well. In the end, they were keen to participate and were less shy and reserved. So that was my bit in “living your life as a soap opera!”
You brought Africa to China. Did you bring China to Africa? It has always been my motivation to work more and more with China and Chinese subjects.
Back in 2008, a dance group from Qingdao [a city on the eastern coast of China], attended the ZIFF and brought Zanzibar an unforgettably spectacular show including acrobatic acts. Introduced in the