John Maxwell, a motivation speaker and author on leadership, describes passion as “the fuel for will”. He says, passion turns “have-to’s” into “want-to’s”. In fact, his position is that if you want something badly, you will find the will power to achieve it and you will not stop trying until you do and achieve it.
Maxwell’s statements are a true description of one renowned Malawian filmmaker, Shemu Charles Joyah, who has never been to a film school yet he directs and produces films that have won international awards and put Malawi on the global map.
Since his active attachment to the film production around 2006—the year he bought his first digital camera—Joyah has released two award-winning films—The Last Fishing Boat and Seasons Of A Life. For example, Seasons Of A Life, which is about a teenage nanny who is impregnated by her employer, who pays for her education to keep her quiet, won seven awards apart from being premiered at different international festivals such as the Zanzibar Film Festival.
“I have never gone to anybody’s school to learn how to make a film. I have trained myself. I developed a culture of reading different books to do with film making and this is how I have acquired knowledge and expertise in making films,” said Joyah.
Joyah, a land surveyor by profession, loves to define himself more as a filmmaker than anything else because he grew up loving movies. He said his persistent passion for films started at a tender age, while in Zimbabwe.
“I was born in Zimbabwe where we were just about 200 metres from a cinema where my sister used to take me to watch movies every Saturday and Sunday. So I used to practice what I saw at home and my mother used to feel bad about this because sometimes I would be a nuisance,” he said.
Joyah did his first primary school in Zimbabwe up to Grade Six before his family returned to Malawi. He continued with his primary education at Misesa Primary School in Blantyre before going to St. Patrick’s Secondary School in Mzedi, Blantyre.
Then he went to Chancellor College where he did degree studies in mathematics and physics and graduated in 1982. In 1985, he went to the United Kingdom (UK) to pursue a course in land surveying.
It was while studying at University of East London in the UK that Joyah took his passion for film making seriously, when he started reading books and watching programmes on Channel 4, on how to make films. When he returned from the UK between 1988 and 1990 he tried to check with the Ministry of Information if he could shoot a movie, but he shelved the idea because it turned out to be expensive.
He said between 1990 and 2000 a film was out of reach because he could not afford the kind of figures he was being told to produce one. But he continued to read books to improve his knowledge in the film industry.
After years of disappointments emanating from poor resources and expensive budgets of making a film in Malawi, Joyah only hatched the idea of his first movie, Seasons Of A Life, around 2004 when he met Maneno Mtawali of Kings Multimedia. However, Seasons Of A Life was not Joyah’s first choice.
“I am a writer who has written so many stories such as Madam Diseh, which was being studied at the Chancellor College. In fact, I really liked to do the film of Madam Diseh, but eventually the storyline of Seasons Of A Life was hatched out,” said Joyah.
He disclosed that most scenes in Seasons Of A Life were shot in his house.
Joyah said: “The filming of Seasons Of A Life was both exciting and inconveniencing with my wife cooking for the actors.”
He said he was surprised with the response his first film received from both local and international audience. He added that Seasons Of A Life broke the ground for his film making career and the second movie called The Last Fishing Boat, which also received overwhelming response. It was also commissioned by Zambezi Channel. However, Joyah bemoaned that The Last Fishing Boat was massively pirated.
Joyah, who has embarked on preparations of two new films this year, said distribution and marketing were major challenges hindering the development of the film making business in Malawi. He said currently Malawian artists, including film makers rely on Filling Stations to sell their products.
“Malawi needs an interface with business-minded people who understand entertainment industry for possible investment. There is enormous wealth in entertainment if the market can be properly regulated,” said Joyah.