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The Rise, Fall, and Potential Resurgence of Tanzania’s Movie Industry

Bongo Movie
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You can always tell how it ends because you know how the plot unfolds. If it’s not a pretty woman who grows mean to the man who made her rich, then it’s a man who abandons his family for a woman. If it’s not Vincent Kigosi in a troubled marriage, then it’s Emmanuel Myamba being a pastor. And don’t forget the witch because there is always an evil stepmother with an agenda. And that is Bongo Movie.

But Eionii was offering something different. It promised a Marvel-like sci-fi, the allure of Blade Runner-like cinematography, and a Hollywood-like feel that’s originally Swahili. In typical Hollywood fashion, its producer and director, Eddie Mzale, said the movie took five years to produce and had a price tag of Tsh. 400 million. It was just what we all wanted: A highly budgeted, larger-than-life epic made by and starring Tanzanians.

However, cinemas were mostly empty in its 3-day theatrical window. At least in Misterious Sinematix, Mwanza. It never had a chance in the first place. Cinema fans only show up for Hollywood tentpoles. Azam Media then expanded the window due to fan demand. But once again, fans didn’t show up.

A Tale of Lost Passion and Missed Opportunities

Our reluctance to support Bongo Movie began long ago. When we were kids, our elders introduced us to foreign cinema. There were flying superheroes, complex characters, epic Bollywood dance numbers, and well-choreographed fight scenes. And we fell in love.

To us, the Bongo Movie Artist is to blame. Somewhere along the way, the Artists lost passion. They no longer produced content that was transcendent enough to make us escape reality. They repeatedly had the same script with the same cast, which became tedious.

Most people argue that the most excellent movie star Tanzania has had is Steven Kanumba. He had that range that captivated an audience. He raised the stakes traveling to hell in The Devil’s Kingdom, surprised us with laughter in Uncle JJ, and left us amazed with those plot twists in Oprah, Red Valentine, and Crazy Love. Though the industry wasn’t strong even then, he gave it that allure of surprise, high stakes, and creativity that draws fans to cinemas. When he died, so did the golden era of Bongo Movie. Vicent Kigosi and Blandina Chagula, the next in line, could not keep the industry afloat. They needed the system.

But the government didn’t provide enough support. Movies were legally shown in small cinemas (Kibanda umiza) with no royalties for artists, hence denying them revenue. Ultimately, artists retorted to displaying their work on YouTube, which pays little.

The failure of Bongo Movie is a collective effort of the government, the fans, and the artists. The streaming boom of 2020, however, created the need for inclusive and diverse content. Major studios began investing in Africa. Netflix has poured millions into Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Disney Plus also has entered the chat with its Kizazi Moto series. Tanzania should jump into this hype to revive the Bongo Movie. It should:

  • Give the artist his artistic liberty: The government needs to allow artists to imagine and create without confining them. The old Bongo Movie was reduced to an education machine. Yes, the country requires education, but art’s primary goal is to entertain. It does not need a good ending or a lesson; it must make one feel something. Take movies such as Gone Girl and Parasite that end in twists but are box-office and cultural flicks.
  • Enacting an antipiracy policy: Accessing a pirated movie in Tanzania is more accessible than accessing pornography. TCRA took the initiative to geo-block dirty websites from Tanzania. The same should be done for movie pirating sites. Websites such as Netnaija offer free movies to users. Though they don’t carry Tanzanian movies, they deny the government revenue it would have made had people seen the same film in cinemas. Antipiracy laws serve to remind people that art is beautiful and thus expensive.

It should further criminalize public showings of movies in small cinemas that don’t pay tax. It is brutal but vital for growth.

  • Nationalistic selfishness: The prime slate for Tanzania’s highest-rated film channels is reserved for foreign content. For instance, Azam has foreign TV shows for its 7-12 PM slate on Azam One and Two tracks; Startimes also boosts Asian performances for its peak hours on Star Times Swahili.

These channels attract more viewers than local content broadcasters such as Maisha Magic Bongo or Sinema Zetu. Limiting media to air local content during these peak hours will force studios to compete and create high-quality local content that glues viewers after a long work day. The move is not meant to censor foreign content but to give exposure to local content when most eyes are on TV.

China, for instance, began limiting the number of Hollywood movies that enter its market, and as a result, it is the world’s second-largest movie market and on the threshold of overtaking Hollywood.

  • Tax incentives: The state of Georgia pops up if you survey the shooting setting of most of the latest Hollywood movies. This is due to its low taxes for production. The government should adopt such an approach. It will encourage filmmakers and make it easy for them to acquire the necessary permits.

The incentives should extend to channels, local streaming services, and studios. This way, they do not go bankrupt.

  • Copyright protection: An artist earns money via residuals from work they took part in or created back in the day. The government should adopt and adhere to international standards of copyright protection. Such a move helps the artists sustain themselves since they are freelancers, and it limits theft.
  • AI/technology embrace: With many filmmakers in Tanzania not being graduates of film schools, the advent of new technology should be a game-changer. Now, digital editing software replaces traditional film editing equipment, allowing faster and more precise editing. This is cost-saving and enables independent filmmakers to enter the game.

With the green screen, bringing any environment to life is possible. This makes shooting easier since more is done with less space and budget, which would be convenient for a rebooting industry.

Also, distribution is now easier. Streamers such as Azam Max, Star Times ON, and Showmax would reserve the rights to broadcast locally. The likes of Netflix and Disney Plus would secure global rights.

Not diving back into Bongo Movie means denying the youth their dreams and employment. For instance, Nigeria’s Nollywood produces north of 2,500 movies annually and employs a million people while generating $600 million. But not reviving Bongo Movie does more than kill dreams; it makes our kids feel underrepresented. It is about time to be in the content we watch.

Read more insightful articles from Tanzania Digest here.

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DONNA
DONNA
7 months ago

A lot of passion went into writing this article, for which I am pleased. The only extra point that needs to be noted is that the marketing team for this film failed in the highest degree.
Many people confuse advertising with marketing, which makes it hard to distinguish when a team is under-performing at a task. Marketing strategies were not fully implemented in this film at all. The potential went wasted from the onset which then directly linked the film to lack of sales. Sidelining the masses for an elite group to watch the filmnwas a foul move. The lack of inclusiveness during the premier quite literally solidified the decision for the majority not to support the film, no matter the quality of the film or the plot. Lessons need to be learned on this particular field even before any filmmakers try tackle a larger system.

Mbaraka Tila
Mbaraka Tila
7 months ago
Reply to  DONNA

You are genius these people never learn, if you think you use 400 milion to prepare the product that you need to sell to all thw people regardless of their social status then you really need to include all the end-user. I somehow knew they wont make it but i couldn’t tell how may be because i am at uswahilini but i knew these dudes film wont prevail but i didn’t know why.

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