We are happy to make a decision to travel our journey together with Jit TV as our new partner in broadcasting and distributor of our content to the audience
Digital Sunday Express
This week the Digital Sunday Express caught up with top Zimbabwean film director Leornard Chibamu and spoke to him about the flagship Village Secrets series which is now in season eight, and drawing perhaps the single biggest viewership of any standalone local production.
The series is drawing up to eight million viewers per week on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, running on primetime and showcasing a mix of youth and veterans in its cast and production crew.
Last year after the death of popular comedian Gringo – who was playing Gibbo in the production, the directors of the film made a decision to continue the role of the actor, and even when he contracted cancer and was ill, the script was adjusted to include the true-life story of the Gringo.
This week news reached Zimbabwe Digital Express that Chibamu will be coming through to Jit Television in a film distribution partnership that would open up new facilities for the growth of Village Secrets and other upcoming works.
You are on record as saying that Zimbabwe is rich in talented filmmakers, who are not being given enough platforms to showcase their talent. Where are these talents right now?
Well film making is a work of art with creativity being the critical ingredient. I hold a belief that every human being has some disposition of story telling – be it in reference to real-life experiences or the imaginary world. Film making obviously is another level beyond mere passion that demands the right artistic ability.
Personally I have evolved from being a mere passionate filmmaker, and I am now counted in Zimbabwe but beyond. At the inception of the idea, it appeared to me more as an area reserved for a few, but with personal professional development and shared experiences made me who I am today.
Judging from my exploits in the industry, any passionate filmmaker can grow to be a key person in the sector. I have met and interfaced with a lot of filmmakers in Zimbabwe who demonstrate ability in various ways.
It might be difficult to track individuals as most talented filmmakers resort to do their work on a part-time basis pursuing other interests to make ends meet. Our universities and colleges are churning out graduates in the area that appear not highly visible in the sector.
The more passionate ones are trying to do zero budget projects and I believe with some leverage from inflows of funding, financing and investment equally distribution facilities a lot of untapped talent will surface.
Personally I am approached by many prospective filmmakers seeking guidance on the sector all the time – a reflection of existence though limited opportunities appear the sore point.
You have developed some financial innovations which need to be tested on global platforms. Tell us more
Yes, correct, I have some financial innovations around valuation of creative products, quantifying risk metrics and addressing the financial side of film projects. By the way I am a financial analyst and working around my researches which are helping me to develop models on observation of the challenges the sector is facing. In fact, the sector approach was largely skewed on the artistic side, henceforth we continue have artistically successful creative products that fail to monetise.
At the moment I may not reveal on the envisaged practical applicability of such innovations as I am still working towards patenting and copyright stages. I can only hint that some of the innovations are of global repute. I have been applied on trial some of the innovations on Village secrets and have helped me develop a scientific approach that led us to where we are today.
What is the role of Village Secrets as a film that defines the essence of local content as far as Zimbabwean filmmaking is concerned? What is its space among other top Zimbabwean productions?
Village Secrets carries a purely Zimbabwean narrative and has its settings premised on the rural areas. As you are aware, our demographics are skewed in the rural with greater proportion of our population of over 60% being in the rural areas. Therefore it is against this background that Village secrets is centred more on a stronger cultural reference perspective navigating on issues in modern society that affects the social moral fabric.
Culture defines the people in a nation and as such the drama’s narrative is propelled by the need to visit the myths, perceptions, and discourse in society. The drama series desires to provide an alternative platform to review the conflicted views arising from customary, social constructs and modern society.
Globalisation and civilisation has brought with it a lot of contestations as present generation no longer reluctance or lack appreciation of the past routines in culture not out of the bad side but there has been a lack in transference from generations. Therefore Village secrets is an alternative out of very few films that speaks on the purely Zimbabwean narrative. Its existence is not only on cultural reference but provides opportunity on the economic space.
Presently we are the only drama series showing on the national broadcaster that is produced outside the urban centric environment on the national quarter system.
Presently there is a heightened desire in the country for devolution and national representation of local languages and we are doing justice on that.
We often do our independent reviews on uptake of Village secrets and we are happy that we have a highly considerable viewership across the breadth and length of Zimbabwe.
It is even popular in non-Shona speaking communities with subtitles embedded.
We even have reviews that it is also helping students at school considering that it carries with it some rich language.
Most parents express gratitude to it as it reminds children on the long-forgotten cultural practices due to cultural dynamics and evolution. In terms of influence among other productions, I cannot compare but I say we are a strong alternative to viewers out of the notion that viewers are not conditional in watching content.
With reviews in both the media space and other platforms, we can rate ourselves among the top shows in the country cemented by the fact that we have grown to be a prime-time show on the national broadcaster.
How has the role of Gibbo adjusted to the script since the demise of its character holder Gringo? What happened in the movie after his death, and how has the storyline played out in the current storylines?
Firstly I say may the dear soul of Lazarus Boora continue to rest in eternal peace and I continue to give him my strongest respect in being the last producer that saw him to his last days. That really speaks volumes in terms of the potential and trust that he placed in me. Indisputably, he remains the face of the Zimbabwean film industry as one of the best actors ever to come from our country.
My association with him on the project was long-term and despite him passing on, his influence in the story will continue to be felt as long the story posthumously. It will be naïve to have a replacement on him as I still feel he was a man of his own calibre and integrity with his role as Gibbo in Village Secrets certainly remaining a permanent feature.
Whilst I cannot pre-empt everything, I simply hint you that he remains a traceable influence in the plotline in Village Secrets. He played the character Gibbo, a retiree from the city who upon return to his home community discovers things not adding up in terms of village governance. He steps in the fold and showing great interest on the throne with a desire to turn fortune of the Village, but alas if ever he is bewitched and rest folds in the coming narrative.
With the viewership of eight million, Village Secrets should be classified as a giant in Zimbabwean film currently and coming in at prime time means everyone – including government, Ministry of Youth, Sports Arts and Recreation and others – are watching. Discuss the role the Zimbabwean government is playing in the sustenance of the industry?
I am sure any government as the powers that be have policy at hand which we religiously follow especially at the moment we have the recent Cultural and Creative Industry Policy (2020-30) launched on 28 October 2020 by the relevant Minister. I see a lot of potential if the pillars in it are fully implemented as promised in the document. I feel the government plays a role in creating an enabling environment and it is the role of every participant in the sector to position him/herself to the right place as most direct micro-decisions are made at the corporate or individual level.
Personally, I appreciate that when I did the necessary compliance and knocked on the right doors, I got government assistance in the recent webinar I took part in. My greatest wish is that the government push for the recently licenced broadcasters to take off as they are the new hope to everyone.
However I feel there is need for some arbitration to protect content creators from exploitation. I am aware of the clause of 40% content requirement from independent producers and that needs to be observed to promote local content to some extent equally upholding the tenets of an efficient market.
Where will village Secrets will be at this time next year?
Our approach to Village Secrets is purely a business approach.
Presently we are approaching our third year which marks our crucial growth stage. Our first two years saw were part of our launch stage in our business cycle in terms of our corporate strategy which we accounted for very well. In our present three year stage, we expect to tick the box on our matrix and soon we are going beyond Zimbabwe with our deal with Jit TV.
You were in the news after attending the Webinar : “Content Monetization: The Brand Placement Option” in which you were a panellist. You spoke there about handling of premium content with the aim of attracting the right users of right content. Give us the low down
Firstly let me express my gratitude to all who supported my participation on the Webinar where I got to share notes and experience with other experts from Africa, representing Zimbabwe and Southern Africa at such a continental showcase. The issue was on the convoluted challenge that on monetisation of content in Africa.
I am happy we had various technocrats on the panel and it was clear that as Africa we face similar challenges from the most hyped film industries to the least ranked.
The major take away was that as Africa we have the right brains to shape our industry towards our destiny. It might be difficult to influence individual aggregates but at country and African level a lot can be done to leverage the industry. Everyone has a lot to do to contribute in the era we are in.
My critical remark on the webinar was that as Africa let’s take film as a business and move from the agenda of message filmmaking to a business-centric approach.
You were looking for a facility that would give Village secrets a better foothold on international market, and JIT TV has come on board. How did you meet Jit TV, and where are you going with them?
Every business seeks to grow both horizontally and vertically and our association with JiT TV has come at a time we are setting out eyes on Africa. Business these days has gone borderless and its existence beyond the border brings with it multiculturalism, expanded growth around revenue potential and brand visibility beyond territoriality.
Need I say, we are in Zimbabwe, we are part of Africa and the globe and as such growth is inevitable as long we think both locally, regionally and globally. We met with JiT TV and as a business engagement, we saw the synergistic benefits in the decision and there we are. We are happy to make a decision to travel our journey together with JiT TV as our new partner in broadcasting and distributor of our content to the audience.
This will help in us attracting new regional viewers and equally our diaspora community.
In conclusion for this week. Should we watch this space?
We are a brand and now in three years, this where we are and we promise to grow each day fulfilling our calling in the sector.
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