Zanzibar International Film Festival opened here in Stone Town last night with the premier of a South African movie. The opening act of the festival was a traditional dance from the dhow countries, along with a searing poetry (slam poetry is what you would call in the US, I believe) by a guy named Mrisho Mpoto. Of course the poetry was in Kiswahili but from what I could gather, his poetry was deeply moving as he discussed about social and political issues (he even made the former prime minister of the island, the guest of honor, so uncomfortable by what he was saying that the ex pm had to get up and offer the guy a ‘bus’ to take him around the island – to which Mrisho replied at the end, “be careful PM, I will be using that bus to come visit you” ). Whenever Mrisho said something someone in the audience agreed with or liked, they would get up and put money in his hand to show their appreciation (it’s like clapping, cheering, whistling, or giving the two-thumbs up equivalent). This is a tradition that doesn’t exist in the West though…I did see few Europeans do it, however, as they started to understand the concept (not his poetry) as the performance continued.
Izulu Lami, or My Secret Sky, that opened the festival was absolutely fantastic. The story of the movie is about two recently orphaned siblings, Khwezi and Thembi, a boy and a girl. Directed by Madoda Ncayiyana, the movie has a lot of depth in terms of content and message. I also loved the many symbolism the director inserted throughout the film. It would be useful for someone to know a little bit about South Africa to understand some of these symbolisms but anyone paying attention will get the message. I liked how the film dealt with the taboo subject of men infected with HIV/AIDS trying to cure themselves by ‘having sex with a virgin.’ This is one of the terrible crimes have been plaguing, really, many parts of West Africa especially, where men with HIV/AIDS believe they will somehow be cured of their disease if they have sex with a virgin; children, unfortunately, have been the most victims of this terrible falsehood. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say this movie has a real shot at winning the best foreign film at the Oscars next year (I think, in many ways, Izulu Lami is better than Tsotsi, the previous South African movie to win the Oscar few years ago).