Wednesday, October 10, 2012


By Issa Mbura,

Historical Overview of Film Industry in Tanzania

Shortly after independence, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form the nation of Tanzania in 1964. One political - party rule came to an end in 1995 with the first democratic elections held in the country since the 1970s. Arusha Declaration of 1967, the Tanzania economic reforms towards free market economy introduced in 1980s, IMF and World Bank lent the Structural Adjustment programs that attempt to correct the economic imbalances and improve the efficiency of economy of Tanzania towards development.

Furthermore, the dismantle of socialism and encouragement of active participation of private sectors saw privately owned TV station coming to light in 1990 with ITV pioneering the movement which resulted to the licensing of quite a good number of TV to date.

Such cited historical shifts above and many others that may have occurred in the past 50 years equally delivered dynamism in the Tanzania Film Industry specifically if we speculate upon its three major activities; production, distribution and exhibition of films.

Even though, the historical point of view of Tanzania film industry encompass also the filmmaking activities that were attempted during colonialism and after attaining independence, in this article I put to scrutiny what transpired during the 50 years of independence because that’s the point in time where we started to deliberate what story to tell and our brains and minds were put to test on how to technically produce a film. Have we succeeded?

One historical moment in colonial Tanzania film Industry that I believe we should commit to memory happened in 1950s when the second prime minister of Tanzania, the late Rashidi Mfaume Kawawa took on the role of acting in about four films “Mhogo Mchungu”, Chalo Amerudi, Juma Matatani and “Wageni wema”.

Soon after achieving independence, government established film units to revive filmmaking in Tanzania. One was established in Tengeru – Arusha named Department of Community Development and the other one was under Information Service Division in Dar es Salaam. During the Arusha Declaration, filmmaking became an important tool for propagating its ideology.

The government, under the ruling party – TANU took an initiative to develop film in Tanzania by establishing Tanzania Film Company (TFC) to conduct the business of production, distribution and exhibition of films. TFC went on to produce a number of educational films such as Shabaha ya Twico, Somo Kasema, Kupe ni Adui wa haki etc. 1973 saw the first feature length film being introduced; Fimbo ya Mnyonge which advocates the ideologies of Ujamaa and self – reliance.

By then films were shot on locations in Tanzania and then sent to South Africa, England or South Africa for processing. Such a routine led to the establishment of Audio Visual Institute (AVI) in 1974 in order to process films locally. TFC collapsed due to several bureaucracies and institutional mismanagements while AVI was later on merged with National Television (TVT) now TBC in 2000.

1972 saw the establishment of National Film Library (NFL) which functions as an archive and a distributing agency for educational films produced by AVI and TFC. By 1970s the locally produced feature films such as Fimbo ya Mnyonge and the imported kung fu, crime, musical, sex and spy films from Western Europe, USA and India were exhibited in Cinema halls especially in urban areas. All the films had to be inspected by the National Film Censorship Board (NFCB) before were exhibited to ensure that they are attuned with our customs and cultural values. Dar es Salaam had such cinema halls as Drive in, Empress, Avalon, Empire with the seating capacity of over 500 people. Other regions that had cinema halls established include Tanga, Arusha, Mwanza, Dodoma etc of which at least each had one cinema hall.

Soon after the demise of TFC and AVI and filmmaking was taken over by privately owned companies, independent producers who were backed up by NGO’s and CBOs who turn to films to educate people about various socio-economic issues of development. Such film as Maangamizi The ancient one (Martin Mhando and Ron Muhivil in 1985), Arusi ya Marium, Yomba Yomba, Mama Tumaini, Rama, Zawadi, Fimbo ya Baba, Duara, and the more recent ones Chumo and Chukua Pipi (Sweet Deceit) exemplifies the types of films that were/are produced as interventions or educational films but also films that displays the film art values that were once experienced as such films as Neria, Yellow Cards were introduced to TV stations in Tanzania.

It took us about three decades before we started seeing dimensional changes in Tanzania film industry. Film making with our hands and capacity started in the late 1970’s, however the vigor was highly vivid after the introduction of free economy in the 1980s and the establishment of privately owned TV in 1990s. Independent Television (ITV) started supporting the making of local TV drama for its own broadcast. The producer and actors involved in that process learned through apprenticeship and intuitions how to make videos. The free market introduced another variety of films in the market “the Nigerian Films” which inspired the tendency of extreme and popularity of making films about Africa and by Africans themselves.

Such inspiration saw the same local TV producers and actors shortly after gaining the popularity on TV, they went on to establish their independent film projects using the cheap available video technology and the little knowledge they had on video production techniques. Such TV Drama Stars and Producers as Mussa Banzi, Theckla Mjata, Jimmy Mponda, Blandina Chagula, Single Mtambalike, Steven Kanumba, Yvonne Cherly, to mention but a few became the popular movie stars at the eve of commercial filmmaking in Tanzania. Films were introduced into the market and as audiences responded positively, the trend of video-filmmaking emerged and the rest is history or what can be referred to as contemporary film industry in Tanzania.

The Contemporary Film Industry in Tanzania: Bongo Movies

The contemporary film industry in Tanzania is changing at a rapid speed since the introduction of “Bongo Movies” as a concept that stands for films that are locally produced for commercial purposes. Bongo Movies are produced at the capacity of independent producers or production houses upon which throughout the period of a decade or so, have managed to develop certain tendencies, formula and clich├ęs.

Bongo Movies (despite being criticized of releasing films at rapid rate and films that are half – baked or carbon copy) changed the face of film industry in Tanzania soon at it started releasing films to the market. Nsyuka, Girlfriend, Shetani ya Mahaba, Mzee wa Busara, Dilemma etc pioneered the movement of what was to become Bongo movie industry or as some of the people would call it Tollywood in reaction to Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood.

Some Challenges Facing “Bongo movies” in Tanzania

The Local Film industry in Tanzania is informed by two or three different systems of productions or types of filmmaking. These are artistic films, commercial films and pedagogical/educational films. Each one of them has its own challenges and very few challenges are being shared by both. I discuss some of them hereafter

Tanzania Film Censorship Board (TFCB)

The establishment of Tanzania Film Censorship Board as a government organ implies that the government aims at controlling the film industry. However, this organ has proved failure in terms of its role and functions in the development of film industry. They have failed to control the release of films at a fast rate and so the producers are releasing half baked films on the basis that the market/free economy/audiences demands.

Tanzania Film Federation (TAFF)

Tanzania Film Federation (TAFF) was established in 2009 hoping that it will play the bridging role between the filmmakers and the government organs in establishing a platform for deliberate but common decisions and actions that shall inform the filmmaking activities in Tanzania so as to ensure the growth of the industry. Today we are still seeing that the film industry is not organized and displays a diversity of films that lack ideology, style and focus. Taking for example, Hollywood is a film industry that has a clear cut definition of what Hollywood films are in terms of dramatic structure, characterization, ideology and hence the films are more or less formulaic over the centuries of their productions. This is what TAFF should gear upon in the quest to create a robust movie industry in Tanzania.

Filmmaking education

One thing is crystal clear that most of the people who are engaged into the filmmaking activities in Tanzania are not formally trained. They have learned the practice/art and skill through apprenticeship or instincts and intuition as they are engaged in watching films and in making other people’s film before they make their own films. The argument that we have few schools or colleges that train people in filmmaking is unsound since the industry doesn’t recognize the importance of education but rather it is dependent of cheap unskilled labor for super profit. We have quite a good number of professionally and qualified graduates with diploma and bachelor degrees who are not utilized to the extent that we see the development of this industry.

Local Film Audiences

Free economy makes availability of films from every other film industry around the world possible. Tanzania is enjoying the importation (into its local film market) films from USA, UK, South Africa, India, China, and Nigeria to mention but a few. These films are produced with high standards of quality and by using high end results equipments which adds to the mood and sensation of astonishment and pleasure of watching films. This makes film audiences in Tanzania to opt for them even after the introduction of bongo movies which came about at the jiffy where Tanzanians for years have been exposed to imported films from outside Tanzania. As an upshot, they totally understand what films are supposed to be and their impact on them as audience.

Still studies have revealed (See Issa Athumani’s Changing Dynamics in Tanzania Film Industry; A Study of Dar es Salaam Film Audiences) that Bongo Movies have audiences and they are the cause of the changes that are occurring in the Industry because the producer can and will continue to produce only if what they produce has market (audiences). What informs the good reading of the patrons of Bongo movies is that these films are of their caliber in a sense that they can identify with the language, actions and simplicity of the stories. The fact that Bongo movies producer have found their audiences and now they are producing for them to make a quick buck shouldn’t be ignored in discussions of what are the challenges facing the development of the industry.

Lately we are seeing the exportation of films to Swahili speaking regions such Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DRC and Uganda. Its free economy, we are not limited to regions, we should be breaking through the further boundaries by now, but what about the quality (in simple term)

Sources of Stories

Most of the time we have assumed that the sources of stories are necessarily people and we have failed to indentify and use other sources of stories such as history, literatures etc. Bongo Movies just like their counterpart Nigeria finds Bible as a reliable source e.g. in Devils Kingdom the bible is being questioned. That shouldn’t be it all and if we are to become futuristic about it then we should think of consulting and adopting as well literary books, plays, novels but then fetch into the history and find historical moments, persons and events that are worthy to be represented to the current generation via film.

The titles and Subtitles of the films

Most of the film’s titles are in English that can be understood as commercial motives, however the implications of the titles into what the film is about is something that challenges the writers and is of great disadvantage to the positions of the films in the global film market.

The international markets and DSTV broadcasts requires subtitles. The sort of translation that we do from Kiswahili to English is full of mistakes that water down the content, quality and value of the films. This needs remedy as to technically consult the linguists to do such translations and again we cannot be translating the proverbs, riddles and sayings since they totally loose meaning. Ukubwa dawa: seniority is medicine!! Find this in one of the bongo movies and so are many other mistakes.

Character and Characterization

The routine of characters and characterization is the same at least in every movie that you watch. With the change of names of the character, the cast is predictable which predicts the actions and reactions of characters and end of the stories as well. There is also a tendency of the type casted mothers such Theclar Mjata, Pastors such as Emmanuel Myamba, the comedians, fathers, sisters and brothers to mention a few. This fact is detrimental to the growth of the industry and local talents on acting for movies.

Other Technical Challenges

The industry is generally faced with challenges that are technical such as creativity and scriptwriting, the challenge over the techniques of blocking, arrangement of visual elements in the scene (mise en scene), the use of entrance and exits of characters as a way to begin and end the scenes plus fade in and fade out, The manner and patterns of speaking English, the use and economy of screen time is still a challenge to screenwriters, directors and producers of film in Tanzania and so forth to mention a few.

Way forward

The fact that we managed to acquire the skills and knowledge of filmmaking by whatever means and we are making films with our own hands and brains is the fact to be celebrated. Conversely, what sort of films have we managed to produce so far can find us in the verge of disdain as we are now being watched by the most part of the world via satellite (DSTV). We are no longer marketing the films at local level, we are going global. As we embark on that voyage we are subsequently faced with the challenge of adjusting to global trade and investment regimes that have so far affected immensely the local media production and distribution systems of many other third world countries including Tanzania. Finally we can all agree that knowledge and skills of filmmaking through training and competitive minds are essentials to development of film industry. Other than that is the government’s cultural - policy framework, filmmakers associations and self regulations that can see the industry developing to a greater extents and avenues than it already has in the next 50 years from now.


Issa Athumani, is a writer and Assistant Lecturer at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication based in Dar es Salaam

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