If we press the refresh button and remember the late 1990s and early 2000 when local film production was at its best, the magnificent artistic works displayed in most movies bears witness to this.
Memories of Shemu Joyahâ€™s Seasons of a Life, which has won several awards on the international scene, come to mind as one of the great works the Malawi film industry has so far produced.
When Nollywood actress Patience â€˜Mama Gâ€™ Ozokwor visited Malawi last year for a series of performances with Rising Choreos, she reckoned that Malawi has brilliant talent in theatre production. She said if more money is invested, Malawi can do well in film making.
â€œMalawi is a blessed country when it comes to art. I have witnessed plenty of talent the country has in theatre production. I see a blue sky in front of the country in film making,â€ said the Nigerian queen of acting before flying back home.
Less films, more stage plays
But given such an enormous talent, why has the industry become dormant of late?
At the moment, most filmmakers are silent and many of them have now become preoccupied with stage plays. A spot-check conducted by Society in most music and video shops in Lilongwe revealed that most movies that are on the market are sponsored works.
Comedian Michael Usi aka Manganya is an example of film makers who have resorted to stage plays.
In an interview early this week, Usi insisted he is not completely out of film making, saying his previous productions have taught him certain lessons which have slowed his pace.
â€œI have produced a number of movies and I tried to interact with international actors to see the route I should take. But I have met various challenges which I have to sort out before going back to the studio for another movie.
â€œFor a good production, you need enough time, know your audience, rate the power of the production if put on the market and also the financial muscle you need for the whole production because it is now expensive.
â€œYou need to judge this against the possible sales that can be made and, to be honest, in Malawi, it is not motivating. It would have been easier if government and the corporate world were investing more into the industry.
â€œBesides, the environment in Malawi is not conducive for film makers as there are a lot of barriers. If you are doing something, you should expect to be told to suspend it immediately and this affects us because by the time this happens, a lot of money and resources have already been spent,â€ says Usi adding that on his return, he will focus on the international scene.
Financing is a problem
Another theatre guru, Lilongwe-based Ian Chitsekula, says the industry has stalled because many actors have poor financial backgrounds and it is not possible for them to source funds for a movie.
â€œMany people whom we call real actors are poor and film making needs a lot of money. Film making is different from stage plays that is why most of us are busy with stage plays. Films need a lot of time and huge investments and, to be honest, most of us are not yet there because we also consider the returns.
â€œTo make good profits, we need to sell a movie at over K2 000 [about $12], but looking at the Malawi market, how many people can afford this?â€ asks Chitsekula who believes the establishment of an Arts Council can give film makers a platform from which to lobby for support.
Says Chitsekula: â€œWe noted these challenges long time ago and we have been pressing government to establish an Arts Council so that we can generate funds for the industry as a team. But all our efforts have so far hit a snag.â€
Quality is vital
But Chancellor College lecturer in drama Smith Likongwe puts the blame on film makers, government and the corporate world.
He points out: â€œFilm production has not literally ceased, but perhaps the opportunities to market the work that is done are not properly explored. Actually, we should be talking about quality. With low quality films, producers shall always end up losing the capital they invested.
â€œThis is because of the proliferation of Nollywood material on the market.Â Some of the Nollywood material is below average in terms of quality, but that is what is available although I suspect most of it could be pirated.
â€œFor whatever reason, the country does not have top-notch film script-writers. In the first place, without a good storyline, the film producer is â€˜nakedâ€™. Looking at some of the films, it looks like there were resources that came before the film ideas and obviously the quality is poor.
â€œThe main problem that I see is that there is little involvement of knowledgeable personnel [although they are in short supply] when film makers are making their productions,â€ says Likongwe
He says the journey should start in the artistâ€™s yard by composing mature works with credible conflicts and with minimal costs and they should be vigorous in seeking funding.
Likongwe further says government should create a good environment by putting in place incentives for both local and international companies that fund film production.
He says the potential the country has in movie production can only yield fruits if the Department of Arts and Craft is given a lot of attention in terms of funding and personnel to enable it carry out its activities of promoting arts.