Film Festivals Offer Vital Support to Female Filmmakers Amid Industry Challenges

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With the film industry worldwide roiled by revelations of exclusion, neglect or abuse of women, African women filmmakers like Amanda Marufu, are turning to film festivals as a safe space for growth and learning.

Award-winning Zimbabwean film producer, feminist activist, author and film festival organiser, Amanda Marufu during an interview. Photo Courtesy: Zen ISA

Takunda Aaron Chimutashu, bird story agency

For award-winning Zimbabwean film producer, feminist activist, author and film festival organiser, Amanda Marufu, also known as Amanda Tayte-Tait, media revelations regarding the abuse of women in the industry come as no surprise.

“People make snide comments almost implying you can't be good enough, you know, and then there's the whole boys club aspect where you meet a co-worker and suddenly they're hitting on you. You also get excluded from opportunities. There's one man who literally told me I can’t have a job if I have a baby, which led me to wonder if he would say anything of that sort to a man,” Marufu said.  

Marufu got her start in the creative industry through fellowships such as the Better Tomorrow Movement in 2019. She educated herself on how to create films and utilised creative residencies and programs such as the Digital Spaces Lab to enhance her knowledge. Her first experience in the industry came in the form of mini-documentaries on the Eat Out movement, a movement dedicated to improving the livelihoods of the homeless.

Marufu has since produced a TV show called #NoFilter featuring a panel of Zimbabwean celebrities including Chido Musasiwa, Patience Musa and Zandile Zaza Ndlovu discussing issues that are often labelled taboo or unspeakable in Zimbabwe. She facilitated the Let Them Festival in 2020, featuring over 25 films in different genres. Her most recent accolade is the documentary “CreateZim” which won best documentary at the European Film Festival Zimbabwe (EuroFilmFestZW).

According to veteran filmmaker and co-organiser of the European Film Festival, Mercy Mangwana, gender-based discrimination is an issue faced by women at all levels of the industry, worldwide.

“Some things that affect women the most are the sexist environment, the gender imbalance as well as sexual harassment. And these are things that have been there since time immemorial. These issues have been persistent and despite recent progress such as the MeToo movement, institutional barriers to gender equality and empowerment remain,” Mangwana stated.

Marufu pointed out that the statistical disparity between men and women involved in the media industry in Zimbabwe reflects a worldwide trend.

“The Global Media Monitoring Project investigated how many women are covered by the media as a whole and found that only 18% of all people covered by media are women; this is across print, radio and TV. Just 18 per cent of women are present. That means roughly 82 per cent of the time we're getting one viewpoint, a very male-centred viewpoint, and that's especially harmful for younger girls because they won't know what's possible,” Marufu shared.

Needing a place that provided a safe environment in which she could learn and grow, Marufu turned to film festivals.

A female filmmaker covering a festival in Zimbabwe. Photo Courtesy: Zen ISA

"Film festivals that have a fellowship aspect to them break down barriers because they create a safe environment for women to learn. I think the whole ecosystem helps because you get access to the resources and mentors, and you have a place to start, instead of just starting from zero," she shared.

After submitting work to the National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA), Zimbabwe Annual Film and Television Awards (ZAFTA) and the European Film Festival, Marufu was nominated for the ZAFTAs. She credits that success, along with her EuroFilmFestZW win, to her participation in film festivals as a contributor and organiser.

“Women’s participation in film festivals goes beyond career building as it allows women to finally tell stories from their own perspective. It's no secret that most films are created from the male point of view and thus fall prey to pitfalls like playing to the male gaze and the portrayal of women as simple plot devices or objects of sexual fantasy. Women’s involvement in the film industry is a massive asset in the struggle to depict stories and social issues from a fresh and varied angle,” she explained.

Film festivals such as the International Images Film Festival For Women (IIFF) are working to amplify the voices of women and showcase the depiction of women in more varied and nuanced media.

Instituting festival rules such as gender quotas and requiring the presence of women in at least one leading role in a film has also been an effective tool used to promote women’s participation in projects such as the Accountability Lab Zimbabwe (ALZ) Film Fellowship, according to many in the industry.

Dexter Fundire, the Project Officer for the ALZ Film Fellowship and the organiser of the Bokola Film Festival pointed out the importance of actively promoting women’s participation in training programs such as the one he runs.

“Within the (ALZ) Film Fellowship, we have a 60-40 split, with 60% being women and 40% being men. Competitions within the festival arena that are just for women or that have a 60-40 split ensure that there is equality and equity. Yes, some people might argue that it's not fair on the men who get the 40 per cent split, but the reason why we do that is because historically, men have had more opportunities than women," Fundire said.

Silicon Valley African Film Festival best documentary winner and film industry legend, Tsitsi Madoda, said that though there is light at the end of the tunnel, further effort is required to address disparities.

“It's so easy to give up, especially when you are in place or in an environment that has quite a number of challenges. But we all have a unique story to tell. I do feel that the African narrative, or the unique female, women perspective on things has not yet been fully tapped into. If we really came together and held each other's hands and said we will push and drive towards this, I think our children and grandchildren will thank us for it,” Madoda said.

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