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Stop and think - Interview with Charity Maruta, International Video Fair
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
September 15, 2009

Read Inside/Out with Charity Maruta, director of the International Video Fair

How was International Video Fair established?
It was born out of the need to take films to the people. I had a group of girlfriends who were happy to be on the board, so we developed International Video Fair Trust (IVFT). We started taking ready-made films to the people, or at least getting the donors to fund it. Then we took African feature films to the people as well. That didn't happen immediately of course. We're nine years old this year.

What projects are you currently working on?
Our current projects include Sex In The City which we've just finished, but of course now we have to look for the promotional budget, but we're pre-testing it. Another project is Sisterly Reflections, Brotherly Revelations - a film on domestic violence. And then of course we have the Cinetoile project, which will be the taking of five classical African feature films to tertiary institutions and high schools in both Harare and Bulawayo.

What is your opinion of the South African Film industry?
It's certainly vibrant and happening. The South African Government puts money into it. The National Film and Video Foundation in South Africa gets direct funding from government. I think the last time I checked they were getting something in the region of R55 million. And that's great because it's always easier to find other partners when you've got a little something from your own government.

How did you come to be a documentary filmmaker?
There was training offered during the late 80s by UNESCO through the Zimbabwe Production Services. Nathan Shamuyarira was the Minster of Information. He's really the father of the film industry. He worked hard with UNESCO to set the school up, and I'm one of the beneficiaries. I think one of the courses was observational documentary and I took part in that.

What motivates you to do the work that you do?
To make a change. It's to alleviate this needless suffering. Currently the method we've used with Sex in the City, and the follow up, Sisterly Reflections, Brotherly Revelations, has been an anthropological approach based on focus group discussions. It's a way to get us to talk about difficult issues, and think about them, and hopefully change our behaviour. Because without us stopping to think, where we are, who are we, our everyday actions; we'll just never get there.

How did your project Sex in the City come about?
It was after six years of taking various films to our audience around Southern Africa. We took a major collection of films between 2003 to 2006. But all these stories are about how I got AIDS, how I'm surviving AIDS, how I'm not. And we thought how do we move this agenda forward. How do we look at this issue differently? I think by that time I was so sick of the words HIV/AIDS . . . I didn't want to hear it anymore. Then I came across a book called ‘Visualising the Invisible' and it's such a true statement, because then you get people to talk about issues that otherwise are invisible. And articulate them and explore them so that's the method we've been using and that's how Sex in the City was born. You must always grow and change and see things differently. Or just roll over and die.

What did you learn from working on the documentary?
Lot's of things. But the one, big thing, which the anthropologist Susan Pietrzyk shared with me, was that sex is actually not a taboo subject. What has happened in Zimbabwe and probably on the Continent is that we censor ourselves so much, that a lot of issues have become taboo. Politics is taboo to discuss, money is taboo to discuss, sex is taboo to discuss. Talking to your kids about sex is taboo. And so there is a great need for spaces to be created for people to openly dialogue on issues.

Do you think that frank discussion about sex can help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS?
Definitely. I think especially among lovers, and couples. I think as one of the participants in the film says: ‘sex is the greatest thing that's ever happened to man; everything that living is on the planet because of sex.' It's so important to our lives, so if my husband and I can't talk about sex, how do I talk about it with my daughter and my son? So I shut up, and then I wait for them to come back with AIDS. But I can talk to my daughter about sex, and tell her about the pill for unwanted pregnancy, tell her about the condom, because young people at that age between 15 and 18, find it very natural to explore, it's a biological thing. It's not that miskanzwa aiwa, it's very, very natural there's no way around it. Our kids need to know this. But my husband and I don't even communicate about sex, how we have sex. We have a marriage certificate. We should be having sex hanging from the chandeliers; we have the licence to explore sex. And yet we don't. My husband goes and explores sex outside with a girlfriend, and then if I'm brave enough I'll go and explore it with a boyfriend. So, really, we have to talk about it. We have to talk about money. We have to talk about politics; what kind of a government do we want? Because the current leadership has completely failed if we are to grade them.

What do you hope your film will achieve?
I hope it helps people look at the subject of sex. Because I think for a lot of people it's a difficult subject. I hope they will be able to feel informed enough to go and be able to talk to their partner or at least start some dialogue with their partner on an open level. If anything, that's all I hope for.

As a documentary filmmaker do you feel that there are stories out there that need to be told, but aren't being told?
There are so many. There is no shortage of stories. The problem is that young people are not being exposed to skills such as filmmaking. But in the end I think they will be told.

Do you think that women are perceived differently from men in the film industry?
Definitely. At the same time I think it's really women themselves who hold themselves back.

I'm here in an all-male industry, and my first job was as a production assistant for some wildlife film for WWF in Zambia. And because I spoke the language, I got the job and I went. I came back and my first major feature film was A Dry White Season, and I was a location trainee. I think it comes down to perseverance. I did lots of other things in-between. I fashion designed, I waitressed, I did everything to pay the bills but my passion was filmmaking. In fact today, in the Zimbabwean film industry, there are three major women, Tsitsi Dangarembga of Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe, Nakai Matema of Zimbabwe International Film Festival and myself making films. We've been quite consistent, we've been there for a long time, and we haven't been fly by nights. Nakai and myself are a new generation.

In what ways do you think talented women storytellers should be encouraged?
I say this to young people all the time, when you have time on your hands it's time to explore yourself, find out who you are, what you want, why you were born, what is that special gift that you alone have to live your best life. For me that is the key, to first and foremost spend the time to get to know you. One of my biggest complaints is that we marry young, before we know ourselves. So you have this young girl and boy, 22, 23, or 25, 26, by the time they're 28 they're parents. All of a sudden you have this responsibility. But there's the world to discover.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Perseverance. Everyone knows the history of Strive Masiyiwa and his four-year legal battle with the government. We all know Nigel Chanakira's history too, he sold his house and went and lived with his parents. But they persevered. What they had was a vision and they stuck too it. But obviously passion too because they've done really well since.

What is your opinion of Zimbabwe's film industry?
I think it's very dead. But it's like any other industry, don't you think? We're literally a country that's dead or in intensive care.

What in your opinion is the biggest hindrance to the growth of Zimbabwe's film industry?
The lack of support from the state. We're at the mercy of European governments. A film industry is supposed to document one's history. We're supposed to be a major tool in national strategy.

What do you think that the government should be doing to foster the growth of filmmaking in this country?
Put their money where their mouths are.

Do you have any hope for the GNU?
We have no choice. I think it's a good thing it happened, because I think Tsvangirai and Bob are father and son. No, really! A lot of us can look at our parents and see Bob in them. It is our duty as Bob's children, as in Tsvangirai, to challenge our parents, so that they open up and grow. They need that challenge. My generation, which is Tsvangirai's generation, has a responsibility to the younger generation coming up, and we have to do right by them.

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