Recently, one social media influencer Roy View Banda wrote on his Facebook page about how difficult it is to access local movies.
He noted that Malawi has of late seen a number of local movies produced and premiered, but after that copies are hardly available. His observation was echoed by some who confessed to have searched for the movies in various shops to no avail.
So, where are the movies?
Flora Suya, one of the local filmmakers and actress, disputes this assertion.
“It is not entirely true that local movies are not easily accessible. There are a lot of local movies on the market but maybe we are talking of specific movies,” she said.
Suya said some moviemakers are probably not selling many copies because of prices.
“The market is flooded with pirated Nigerian movies that are very cheap. Now, Malawians expect us to sell our movies at the same prices which is unrealistic since we invest a lot to produce these movies,” she said.
Suya, therefore, said Malawians should first change their mindset and be willing to pay for movies and not expect to get them for next to nothing.
Suya said she has been able to sell copies of her movies because she has specific places where people who appreciate art go and buy.
But in a seperate interview, award-winning filmmaker Charles Shemu Joyah said it is true that his movies are not easily accessible in Malawi.
He said: “I can speak for my films, but I think it applies to all. The main reason these local movies are not easily accessible is because in Malawi we do not have formal distribution channels through which we can sell our movies. I tried using service stations but the results were very disappointing.”
Joyah said after premiering his movies at home he targets the international scene.
He said: “I have always tried to send my films to international film festivals and try external markets first before releasing them at home.
“As I said, due to lack of formal distribution channels, it is hard to release a movie in Malawi and benefit from it as pirates easily make extra copies. I can assure you that many Malawians who watched my movies watched the pirated versions.”
Joyah, who has produced The Last Fishing Boat and The Road To Sunrise, among others, said selling films is the most unenjoyable part of the whole filmmaking experience.
“The Malawi market does not offer sufficient returns for your effort. Ideally, we ought to have cinemas where people can come and pay to watch the film,” he said.
Another filmmaker Cathreen Mlenga, who recently premiered Sowing Seeds, agreed with Joyah that the distribution system in Malawi is a challenge; hence, pirates take advantage of the situation.
“Now with no formal distribution channels, once a DVD is released, Malawians just share by burning and making copies of your work,” she said.
Mlenga said filmmakers are struggling to distribute because they are being cautious of piracy.
On his part, Ashukile Mwakisulu, who recently produced All We Have Is Us, said the challenges exist because the industry is small.
“Piracy is a huge problem in Malawi. Malawians just share films and that is a major reason local filmmakers are hesitant to sell too many hard copies,” he said.
But what is Filmmakers Association of Malawi (Fama) doing to deal with the situation?
Newly elected Fama president Gift Sukez Sukali admits that filmmakers are struggling to find an effective way of distributing local movies.
He said: “Yes it is true. We do not have platforms to access our local films. There is a need to have these platforms like cinemas, theatres, online paid televisions, paid television channels and of course selling points.”
Sukali said there is need for government to help in dealing with piracy by introducing policies that can deal with the vice.
“Piracy is the worst enemy as filmmakers are always afraid to release their movies because government has not shown interest to deal with piracy, but if we can have cinemas and theatres then people who love movies can go and watch with their families and help the movie industry grow,” he said.
Sukali further said film makers are working tirelessly to have local films on international channels such as Netflix and Showmax which target global audiences.
“Selling copies has always been a limitation because of piracy. We are working to have local film watching centres across the country and soon we will be engaging government and private sector to have a special channel for our local films and content,” he said.
From the look of things, Malawians will have to wait a little longer to access movies such as Fatsani, The Road to Sunrise and All We have Is Us.