It has been said that Malawi’s Censorship law is still very restrictive to the point that artists fail to produce their works freely, cases in point being Michael Usi’s recent play Moto wa Chilendo which was heavily censored to the point that it lost its meaning. Thlupego Chisiza’s Semo was also banned and he was thrown into jail for staging the play and many more? CHEU MITA talks to film makers to get their take on the issue.
Malawi’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture late last month announced that all films made in Malawi had to go to the Censorship Board to apply for a film-making permit before undertaking film making. It further warns that it is a criminal offence to take part in the making of a film without a permit.
In an interview the Moto Wachilendo playwright cum film director Micheal Usi (stage name Manganya) said he does not blame the board for the decisions made on his play although he feels the Board should exercise its duties within its limit.
“The laws guiding censorship should be revisited to ensure that the rights of people are not suffocated. The challenge was that the censorship board was on strike and it turned out that all transactions made at that time were unofficial and cannot be quoted in any claim,” explained Usi.
He explains that the play is still on and it will be staged, however, it will wear a different coat.
“It is the title and the romance before the ‘action day’ that caused panic among some circles,” he said.
Apart from putting the cast on the firing line, Usi said he was ‘deeply sorry’ as reports emerged that some performers went against the script to give a packed Robins Park text handed down from unnamed political forces.
received grim reviews for weak scripting, storyline, transition, casting, acting and other flaws Usi earlier attributed to censorship.
He, however, believes he was merely a victim of circumstances.
“I do not know what was offensive in Moto Wachilendo, all were facts and facts and facts. Perhaps the political agenda and its temperature were not welcome to the paediatric politicians,” he said.
He however noted that he has learnt a lesson and would now ‘call brains to duty’.
“It will be suicidal for the play to start romancing the ‘action day’ again. Let it be said however, that the people should still watch and enjoy the play; they will and they will say Amen!,” he said.
Usi noted that there seem to be no set guidelines in Malawi on film-making.
“There are no known policy guidelines for film making in Malawi. If there any, then the policy is hidden somewhere. For example, it was challenging to film at the airport because the airport staff could not relate this type of event to any government policy guidelines. I have managed to produce my films out of people’s goodwill and not policy support.”
In his words filmmaker Shemu Joyah said he has no problems with the Censorship Board doing things in its power.
“Let me be very frank: I have no problems with the Censorship Board in its present state. Even in America it is illegal to release a film that has not been classified. The Censorship Board’s rules for applying for a permit are simple and straightforward, and if I don’t agree with their assessment I can always appeal to the Minister,” said Joyah.
Joyah said it is also important that filmmakers are able to engage the officials in discussions which will help them reach a compromise.
“I understood their position very well because there are times, for example, when the dichotomy between art and pornography is a very thin dividing line.
“They have the right to protect the unsuspecting public from offensive images, particularly the youth.
“What I like about the current Censorship Board officials is that they don’t approach issues like they know it all; they are always ready to listen and debate contentious issues. I would advise fellow artists not to be afraid of the Censorship Board but to engage it. Sometimes such an engagement is also good for the creative process,” he advises.
Film association of Malawi acting president Ezaius Mkandawire in an earlier interview with The Nation said in reaction to a statement in the press from the Censorship Board that government needs to first put the laws that encompass film production in order.
He observed that there are contradictions in the laws that guide media production in the country which therefore renders the Censorship Board irrelevant until the Censorship Act is reviewed.
However, in the same vein National Theatre Association of Malawi (Ntam) president Ian Chitsekula said he has hope in the Film and Stage Play classification which has just been reviewed and waits to be tabled in Parliament.
“I believe if the Classification Policy is passed in Parliament, it will help us in controlling our productions and I think there would be no conflict with the Censorship Act,” said Chitsekula.