Africa, Headlines


Andrew Whaley

HARARE, Nov 17 1998 (IPS) - Zimbabwean movie maker Manu Kurewa – who won a prize for his short film ‘MANGWANA’ at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – has decided to come home after working abroad for seven years.

Kurewa made his decision to return because “quite simply, home is best” and Zimbabwe is his creative habitat. Kurewa confesses that his time overseas, working mainly in Scotland as an actor and then as an apprentice film director, made him more conscious of his “African-ness.”

“It’s strange that I had to go to Europe to become more aware of being African,” he says.

The deciding moment came when he was visiting Zimbabwe in June to co-ordinate a second unit shoot for a film by Scottish director Bill Forsyth. He spotted an advertisement for a script-writing course in Harare, Zimbabwe. He applied and, not surprisingly, was selected almost immediately.

The course, run by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) at the Zimbabwean Film Production Services (ZFPS), was the ideal opportunity for the young writer- director to develop a full-length feature film script under supervision and with feedback from his African colleagues. It was a chance to immerse himself in the changing culture of Zimbabwe.

Kurewa has made four films. They all focus on the problems of alienation through poverty, cultural or sexual difference. They are variations on the Black experience, attentive to detail and radiating humour.

MANGWANA (meaning ‘tomorrow’) was shot both in chiShona – Kurewa’s native language – and English. His playful and honest style of directing strikes a chord that crosses cultural barriers, a fact recognised by his award at Cannes. In May, Kurewa stepped into the spotlight to shake hands with Cannes Grand Juror, Martin Scorsese and collect third prize in a new short film section for young talent.

Kurewa was dressed down for the lavish occasion, conspicuous without the customary tuxedo. “I had just graduated as a student from film school. How was I supposed to have money to buy a suit?” Kurewa says.

Even sweeter than this success was the reaction of Zimbabwean audiences to a showing of MANGWANA. Kurewa deals with difficult realms of racial and cultural conflict with unusual sensitivity. Deft story-telling transcends national boundaries.

Kurewa wrote MANGWANA in collaboration with his Scottish wife, Aileen Ritchie.

It is the story of an accidental encounter between ‘Archie’, a kilt-clad Scottish farmer, and an African village head named ‘Sekuru.’

Archie, on his way to a family celebration at some country hotel, drives off the road and runs his pick-up truck into a river bed. He is forced to spend the night in Sekuru’s kraal which is nearby and, in the slowed-down reality of this encounter, emotions are brought to the rhythm of the Sekuru’s chip-chipping of a wooden artefact he is carving.

Everyone waits. Two old men from opposing cultures – the colonial and the African villager – are forced into a kind of dialogue that is kinder and more real than the head-on clash of social forces. Then there is a young boy, a grandchild from the city who, hilariously and inquisitively, interrogates these two old, rigid worlds of his grandfather and the white man.

Kurewa is the product of two divergent worlds in Zimbabwe. Born in the Makokoba township of Bulawayo, his family moved to a bigger house in the suburbs soon after independence in 1980. But he always remained close to his township friends and grew up on a diet of action movies, karate and kung fu at the local community hall.

Although his mother tongue was Shona, he – along with the many different nationalities compressed into Makokoba township from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa – was assimilated under the local language of Ndebele. As his name Emmanuel suggests he hailed from a religious family and went to the local Catholic school, St Patrick’s.

He wanted to act. He wanted to be an artist. He had a foot in township and was, at the same time, able to break into the mainly white enclave of Shakespearean theatre.

During the 1980s, Kurewa left school and attended the local polytechnic where he studied graphic design. He sketched cartoons on the side. He wanted to go into the theatre full-time.

When Chris Menges’ award-winning film, ‘A World Apart’, was shot in Bulawayo in 1987, Kurewa’s life was turned upside down. He began as a featured extra but was soon working as a casting assistant on another anti-apartheid film, ‘Dry White Season.’

A trip as an actor to the 1990 Edinburgh Theatre Festival brought him into contact with a community of actors from the vibrant Glasgow-based Clyde Unity Theatre which he joined a year later. From these fringes of the British Arts, he began to get small acting jobs in stage and television and secured Scottish funding to make a 20-minute short film ‘Sugar For My Honey’ with writer Ritchie, whom he later married.

This film put him onto the European Festival route and propelled him toward a career in film and his inclusion in the NFTS directors’ course in 1994.

Since then, Manu has hardly looked back. His student film ‘One Sunday Morning’, a powerful and succinct story about an immigration bust on some Africans living in London, brought considerable attention. It received four awards at major European festivals, was nominated for the NFTS student Oscar and was sold to Channel Four, a British television station. In 1996 he directed ‘The Cold Season’ for the Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge.

Meanwhile, back at home Kurewa experienced a quiet satisfaction when his film MANGWANA received a special commendation in the Southern African Film Festival in Harare, in front of a Zimbabwean audience.

And next year might be even better. There are reports of the possibility of Kurewa directing his first full-length feature film in Zimbabwe. The young film maker is more than happy to be back on home soil.

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