African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) winning writer, producer and director Shemu Joyah says he needs US$2 million (about K880 million) for the production of a film John Chilembwe, the de facto patron of Malawi’s struggle for independence.
Joyah, who has previously struggled to source funds to bankroll his last two films Seasons of a Life and The Last Fishing Boat, says the Chilembwe film is more important than the two as it is crucial to the history of Malawi.
According to a tentative budget that we sourced, Joyah expects to spend approximately $2 million (about K880m at the exchange rate of K440).
This is just K520 million (about $1.3m) less than the annual allocation to the whole ministry of tourism which got K1.4 billion (about $35m) in the 2013/2014 national budget.
“I have already sent a project proposal to several institutions in South Africa, Europe and the United States to help me raise the money for the film. I will not say when the film will be out because it depends on the availability of funds and I would not want to start on such a huge project without the necessary funds in place,” Joyah told Chill in an exclusive interview.
He adds that he is striving to produce a credible feature film that should tell a complete story.
On sources, Joyah says he is banking on already existing literature to tell the story.
“I have enough literature. G. Shepperson and T. Price’s The Independent African: John Chilembwe and the Origins, Setting and Significance of the Nyasaland Native Rising of 1915 gives a very detailed account of Chilembwe and the period he lived in. Also books by DD Phiri, George Simeon Mwase, R. I. Rotberg and articles by people like D T Stuart-Mogg, in the Society of Malawi journal cover John Chilembwe in a lot of detail. I have used these as my sources,” says Joyah.
He adds: “I have to say that what I intend to produce is not a documentary, but a feature film based on John Chilembwe’s life.
Therefore, I have to use my imagination to create a story that will work in the feature film genre. The most important thing is to make my characters real human beings, therefore, in the script, I have not written John Chilembwe as a “Jesus” of some sort, but a very ordinary human being with weaknesses and strengths like all of us.”
The multi-award winner says the story originates from the hero’s childhood to the day he died.
He says he is telling the story of an ordinary person in a conversational style and it associates the people with him and joins him in his emotional journey from the time he leaves school and joins Joseph Booth to the day, 20 years later, when he is shot while trying to escape.
“The feature film genre requires that a story is told in a manner that is visually and graphically compelling. Therefore, I have taken licence to remove or add issues in a way I feel will add to the flow of the story,” he says.
Joyah’s reputation indicates that he is careful in his selection of actors for a film.
Some of the actors that have been featured in his films have won international awards. This creates more anticipation on who he will pick for the Chilembwe film.
Surprisingly, despite developing a 130-paged film script for the film, Joyah is still undecided for who to pick.
“So far I have not yet identified the actors. However, I spoke to Eugene Khumbanyiwa when he visited Malawi during the Christmas season on his possible involvement in the film. As usual, I will audition actors for the film. I would want to work with the best actors Malawians can have so that we produce an outstanding film,” says Joyah.
While wondering why the martyrs and John Chilembwe days are celebrated separately, Joyah says Chilembwe was a man whose thought and deed was well ahead of his time. We need to be proud that we share with him a country, the way South Africans are proud of Mandela.