A Conversation with Tafadzwa Ranganai: The award winning filmmaker who hopes innovative ideas can change the film industry in Zimbabwe

For Tafadzwa Ranganai, storytelling is something that he has always been fascinated with from a young age. As a child he used to read a lot, something that has been overtaken by watching films and tv shows, but what really ignited his imagination was his maternal grandmother. She used to tell him ngano, Shona folktales, and that was the seed that would see Ranganai eventually going into filmmaking.

Tafadzwa Ranganai

Inspired by Quentin Tarantino and guided by a passion for telling authentic African stories, Ranganai has had a twisting journey that has seen him work on multiple productions in different sectors, before he finally settled on pursuing the dream of making his own feature films. 

In 2014 the filmmaker founded Creative Hub Films with a group of friends, and together they have worked on everything, from music videos, to corporate content, to adverts and now feature films. The company's debut full length production earned Ranganai the Outstanding Screenwriting Award at the inaugural ZAFTA Awards. 

While his debut feature film had just wrapped up production, the filmmaker had his next project already in the pipeline. Now two years in the making, the horror film Bako (Cavern) is set for premiere in Harare on Friday the 24th of May, at the Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre.

During it's festival run, the thriller garnered official selections at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival, Botswana International Film Festival, Bantu Film Festival and the Lift Off Global Network Sessions in the United Kingdom. Ranganai has ambitions of making the horror film the first widely released local film in Zimbabwe since Yellow Card.

We caught up with the filmmaker for an interview about his creative journey and views on the local filmmaking space:

What made you decide to become a filmmaker?

Ranganai: To seriously think I could have a career in it, I think it only happened when I was trying to think of what to do in college. I happened to meet a girl at a party, I mean there's always a girl. It was a girl who was doing media studies, and me and her kind of hit it off. 

As we started talking about what she was studying, she started telling me how fascinating production was and you know how a production comes together and people get to see this final thing but she would've created something out of nothing, that kind of inspired me and the following year I was applying to varsity I basically ended up applying to doing media studies in Botswana. 

Then I discovered the hard way, like a lot of people do, that when you're doing a media studies course in an African university, usually you're being taught to be a journalist or a good technical guy like a cameraman/sound technician but not really a filmmaker. So me and a couple of friends would watch YouTube tutorials and behind the scenes footage from famous movies, and we were like this is the thing we want to do. We basically ended up pushing the media studies department to allow us to major in film studies.

How did your film company come about and how has it been making films in Zimbabwe and Botswana?

Ranganai: If I'm to trace it's proper origins, it came from a school assignment. I think we had an animation class, where we had to come up with an opening logo like Universal or Paramount films for when a movie starts. So me and my current business partner were sitting next to each other and we were like we can work together on this thing. 

So we came up with the name Creative Hub films, I can't remember how but I mean it's not the most creative of names if you really dig deep, but we were second year students and we thought this sounds great.

Eventually what would happen is that when we would have class assignments, the same people would gravitate towards each other and we would work together on assignments. Even if it was assignments we would have to work on alone, we would just help each other out. You know when you find your people who think the same way as you, you don't let them go. So we left college, and those of us who said we were not going to work for anyone else decided to register it as a company around 2011.

How did the film Nevanji come to be?

Ranganai: As Creative Hub films, the first film we produced was my first film Nevanji. Which we filmed in 2019. So I just put together all the money I had been saving over the years from all my jobs and decided to just shoot a full length movie, because I was like I'm getting old now and I call myself a filmmaker without a film, so let me make a film. 

But making a movie is not child's play, I'll tell you that. It's probably one of the toughest things I've ever had to do in my life. It's also extremely addictive, so I'm pretty sure I'm not going to stop doing it. 

How was it winning a ZAFTA for Nevanji?

Ranganai: As my first award I have to admit I was pretty chuffed. It was for screenwriting which I actually consider my weakest point in filmmaking.

How did you feel about being snubbed by the NAMAs?

Ranganai: That was rough! I think what made it worse is only 2 films were nominated so what exactly were they saying? My film was so bad that they’d rather leave the category with blank spaces than nominate it? 

How conducive are the environments in Zimbabwe and Botswana for filmmakers?

Ranganai: The thing that makes Zimbabwe a particularly difficult environment to work in is the economy. The economy is wicked man, like they're people who love the craft of filmmaking, they're people with the passion, they're some people with the gear and they're people with great ideas but there's no freaking money, there's no money at all, and that means a lot of relationships breakdown.

In Botswana they have the same problems, it's just that they have a better economy, but they still have some of the human element problems that we have here, like issues of gatekeeping. In any industry you have gatekeepers and you kind of have to kiss the ring before you reach the upper echelons. 

Yet we're hoping to change that, we're working on a self funded business model, where we put whatever resources we have together with a couple of like minded friends, shoot movies, then use the profits to shoot more movies. So if things go well, after I release my second feature film Bako this year, I might go to Botswana to shoot another film there and we'll try build a big ass brand as a company that exists in 2 countries.

How has been the process of distributing your films and what would make the systems better in both Botswana and Zimbabwe?

Ranganai: Now this is an area I'm extremely passionate about. So the typical life cycle of a film is supposed to be that you create your film then you release it in the cinema, it makes it's money and then you release it on DVD or Blu-ray or you send it to a tv station or tv stations across the world. But you see now the thing in Zimbabwe is that Ster Kinekor for example, are not interested in showing local films and to put it delicately they have hoops which are too high to get your film through the normal screening process. 

So what a lot of people do in Zim, is that you basically hire a cinema from Ster Kinekor, and you have your film premiere. People come, they enjoy but obviously you can't keep sustaining that every single day. So a lot of films tend to get premiered and they die. 

But I wanted to go a different route, I actually wanted to try make some money from my fill. So I came across an aggregator called Filmhub, where you upload your posters, your trailer and your film, then they find streaming services.

Botswana on the other hand, they don't have a Ster Kinekor, their cinema franchise is called New Capital Cinemas and from the last time that I was there at a film festival, they would love to engage local filmmakers. It's just that unlike Zimbabwe, in Botswana a lot of filmmakers are not making 90 minute films but short films. 

So I'm hoping that my current film will have a release in Botswana, I'm going to talk to them to see if I can release it in cinemas there.

What do you feel can change the film space in that regard?

Ranganai: What we've tried to do to remedy the situation is that a couple of us filmmakers have been looking for a place to call home for local films. So with that in mind, we're hopeful that every weekend at the Jason Mpepho Little Theatre in Harare, you'll be able to watch a local film for the low low price of $5. 

The idea is that if people know there's a place you can go to watch a local film in Zim, maybe that might build a culture of consuming local films and maybe Ster Kinekor might invite us to the table to start releasing our films on the big screen.

It's all about trying things out, we're sort of in the West before it became the Wild West. When it was undiscovered land. There's just so much going on. We're also looking into putting our stuff onto specific streaming platforms but it's all complicated. 

Distribution is a very tricky area that honestly should have people who focus on just that and not the filmmakers. We should concentrate on making films and distributors concentrate on the business end of things but right now we're in a situation where we have to do everything.

What can the audience expect from your latest film Bako?

Ranganai: Audiences, I believe will relate to the characters of this film as they are young chaps who go to extraordinary lengths to make some cash. We intentionally employed “street lingo” as our major type of dialogue to make the characters relatable.

The story of Bako follows four illegal gold miners; Peter (played by Mathias Kureva, brothers Tanaka (portrayed by Zebron Thembo) and Kuda (played by Paul Zibgowa); and Simon (portrayed by Kudzai Kizito Madangwa). The quartet go in search of an abandoned mine called Mermaid Mine, lured by legend of "the largest recorded gold deposits ever".

The film is set to premiere in Harare at the Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre, on the Friday the 24th of May at 6 pm. It will also have another screening at the same venue on Sunday the 26th of May at 3 pm.

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