EVERYONE'S CHILD (1996, Zimbabwe, 90 min.), directed by Tsitsi Dangaremgba, produced by Jonny Persey, John Riber, and Ben Zulu for Media for Development Trust; screenplay by John Riber, Andrew Whaley, and Tsitsi Dangaremgba from the story by Shimmer Chinodya; cinematography by Patrick Lindsell; music by Keith Farquharson; edited by Louise Riber; with Nomasa Mlambo (Tamari),Thulani Sandhla (Itai), Casey Mugabe (Nhamo), Victoria Yuyeqaba (Norah), Walter Muparutsa (Uncle Ozias), Elijah Madzikatire (Shaghi), Nkululeko E. "Chunky" Phiri (Thabiso), Killness Nyati (Ambuya Matongo), Peligia Viaji (Ketiwe), Simon Shumba (Pastor Phiri), Peter Kampera (Zato), Angeline Musasiwa (Social Worker). In English.
Followers of African film know of the severe challenges faced by African filmmakers both in finding the money to make their films, and in securing a distribution network to get them into theaters in their own countries. African movie theaters show almost exclusively films from the United States and Europe, melodramas from India, or action pictures from Hong Kong. There is little support for a feature-film industry.
This week's film is part of an ongoing attempt to change this situation. Everyone's Child is the latest film from an organization called The Media for Development Trust, makers of Neria (1993) and More Time (1994), both of which received their Portland premieres at the Cascade Festival of African Films. The Trust, which is based in Zimbabwe but receives funding from organizations and individuals around the world, has a dual purpose: to produce and distribute films that touch upon crucial social issues facing contemporary southern Africa, and to build an economically viable film industry. Their hope is that the timeliness and accessibility of the issues, together with the quality of the productions, will win wide audiences, as well as promote discussion of the social problems involved. Unlike most films from Africa, these films are seen by many more Africans than non-Africans. They have generated large audiences in Zimbabwe itself, as well as in South Africa, Kenya, and other Anglophone countries.
The primary issues raised in Neria involved the rights of widows in contemporary Africa. The primary issue in More Time was AIDS and the need for young women to retain control of their sexual lives. Everyone's Child shifts the focus from the individual woman to the larger community: it reminds us of the responsibility of communities to care for their own--a traditional value, but one which is being eroded under the contemporary pressures of modernity and the terrible AIDS pandemic.
The film opens in a village setting. Young Tamari is living with her ailing mother, who has been stricken by the disease, her elder brother Itai, and her younger siblings Norah and Nhamu. Their father Gideon has already died of AIDS, leaving the family heavily in debt to his brother Ozias. With no money to pay for school fees, Tamari and Norah have had to leave school. The children struggle to maintain their farm, but they receive no help from the villagers, who fear contact with anyone close to the disease, and particularly none from Ozias, whose traditional responsibility it is to care for them. Instead, he comes and confiscates their oxen as payment for their father's debt, and their mother soon dies. When Uncle Ozias takes their plow as well, Itai decides he has no choice but to go to Harare and seek a job. He has heard from "Uncle Jimmy" (a former villager who comes back to the village for the funeral) that in Harare even garbage collectors earn $1000 a day! He goes to the city, but Uncle Jimmy is now nowhere to be found; he has presumably left for South Africa. Itai soon slips into life on the streets.
From this point on, the film alternates between Itai's troubles in the city and Tamari's in the village. Tamari's boyfriend, Thabiso, would like her to leave with him while he tries to make a living as a musician. Though talented and obviously in love with her, he is a dreamer, and Tamari is unsure. Besides, she must stay and take care of the children. She finds herself pursued by an older man, Shaghi the shopkeeper, who offers her a way out of her financial troubles if only she will succomb to his wishes. She looks everywhere for an alternative--the church, the government, the school, her uncle, her own labor, all to no avail. Forced into a responsibility that is far beyond her, she feels herself completely abandoned. Her only source of support is the elderly woman whom she calls Ambuyo ("Grandmother"), but Ambuyo has no financial resources herself.
The pastor suggests that an upcoming "Kombé" meeting might provide her with the relief that she needs. However, instead of offering work or money, the government representative tells the audience that they must look to themselves for help and support one another. Frustrated and embittered, knowing that she will get no help from the other villagers, Tamari takes to heart the message that she must be responsible for her own.. She finally decides that her only course of action is to give herself to Shaghi and thereby get the money she needs to feed them and to send Norah back to school. When she does so, she is immediately branded a prostitute by the villagers, reviled and treated as an outcast. Also, although it is never openly stated, she is clearly putting herself at great risk of infection by sleeping with this philanderer.
In Harare, Itai has joined up with a gang of street kids dominated by an older boy named Zato. They become a surrogate family for him, roaming the streets, scrounging through garbage cans, sniffing glue, trying to make money however they can. His dream of helping his family slips farther and farther away. Itai is eventually arrested in a botched robbery and sent to a reform school. There, he finds himself alone and full of violent anger, directed at boys who try to bully him or at the attractive young social worker (played by super-model Angeline Musasiwa), whose privileged life is so removed from his own misery.
Brother and sister are eventually reunited and receive the long-overdue support of relatives and villagers, but only after a terrible price has been paid and another funeral is held. As the film closes, rain returns to the parched land, amidst the final message (via the closing song) that the community will survive only if it remains capable of extending faith, trust, and love towards all its members. In the film's final image, we see Tamari's happy face, drenched by the sudden downpour, but then the following sobering statistic is superimposed upon it: by the turn of the century, there will be over ten million children orphaned as a result of AIDS in Africa alone.
Everyone's Child is part of the Children Under Stress project spearheaded by Jonny Persey, which focuses on AIDS-affected children. Work on the film started in August 1994 when Jonny Persey approached John Riber and Ben Zulu of Media for Development Trust with the idea of developing a community-based training package that would revolve around a feature film promoting the idea of empowering communities to care effectively for AIDS orphans. As funding for the project was being lined up from institutions and individuals around the world, MFD commissioned the Zimbabwean novelist (author of Harvest of Thorns) Shimmer Chinodya to write the story. Acclaimed novelist Tsitsi was brought in to the project to direct. She, along with Andrew Whaley and John Riber, adapted the story for screen.
The film was shot on location in urban Harare (Zimbabwe's capital) and rural Domboshawa between October 23, and December 6, 1995. The first rains came on December 7th. The cast was a mix of veterans (Uncle Ozias, the pastor, Shaghi) and first-time film actors (Tamari, Itai). Some of the street gang members were played by actual Harare street children who had gone through a special workshop.
One of the most striking elements in Everyone's Child is its soundtrack. (See the end of this handout for information on the CD version of the soundtrack.) A combination of songs currently popular in Zimbabwe, and songs written expressly for this film by some of Zimbabwe's top musical artists (including Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata, and Andy "Tomato Sauce" Brown), the soundtrack blends a variety of styles. In addition, the song lyrics often offer a running commentary on the action, mourning and clarifying the situation that Tamari and Itai find themselves in. "Chunky" Phiri, the actor who plays Thabiso in the film, wrote the two funeral pieces (the first of which he sings with the talented mbira player and singer, Chiwoniso Maraire), and of course performs the song "Tamari" that we hear at several points in the film.
Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Mutoko, Zimbabwe. She went to England after high school (A-Levels) to study medicine. However, she eventually changed her plans and returned to Zimbabwe. She worked as a copywriter in a Zimbabwean advertising agency for two years, then got a Psychology B.A. at the University of Zimbabwe. She also became involved in the university drama club, and, frustrated with the lack of interesting parts for women, started writing for the stage. Her first play, which she also directed, was The Lost of the Soil in 1983. Dangarembga soon became a member of the theatre group Zambuko, under the direction of Robert McLaren, and at the same time started writing fiction. . In 1985 her award-winning short story "The Letter" was published in Sweden. In 1987 she published the play She No Longer Weeps. Her 1989 novel, Nervous Conditions was awarded the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Africa.
Hailed by writers such as Doris Lessing and Alice Walker, Nervous Conditions is a coming-o-age story of two intelligent young Shona women, Tambu and Nyasha, caught in a patriarchal society that sends them mixed messages: their education teaches them to be emancipated women of the world, critical and creative; at the same time, they are to be respectful and obedient to their domineering, less intelligent fathers, uncles, and brothers. Dangarembga ends the novel with the following words from the narrator, Tambu: "I was young then and able to banish things, but seeds do grow. Although I was not aware of it then, no longer could I accept Sacred Heart [the exclusive "mixed" school that she attended on scholarship] and what it represented as a sunrise on my horizon. Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long and painful process for me, that process of expansion. It was a process whose events stretched over many years and would fill another volume, but the story I have told here, is my own story, the story of four women whom I loved, and our men, this story is how it all began."
After the publication of her novel, Dangarembga chose to shift her attentions to film, in order ultimately to better reach her people. She moved to Germany to study film at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie in Berlin, where she remained for five years. There, she completed several productions and made a documentary for German television. With the release of Everyone's Child, Tsitsi Dangarembga Dangarembga became the first black Zimbabwean woman to direct a feature film.
The risk with "issue-oriented" films such as those produced by the Media for Development Trust is that the film becomes preachy and didactic, causing the viewer to feel manipulated and lose belief in the fictional world of the film. Neria, More Time, and Everyone's Child walk a fine line in this respect, but ultimately maintain their artistic credibility in various ways. Everyone's Child certainly has a message, and it delivers that message clearly. The changes of heart at the end, and the final cleansing shower, might feel contrived and unnatural to some viewers. However, this film cannot be said to have a "happy" ending. We are not being given a simple message such as "It takes a village to raise a child" or that the solution is a simple return to "traditional ways." The film is clear about the magnitude of the problems, the fragility and difficulty of any solutions, and the fact that social responsibility requires constant vigilence.
Moreover, as with all the films produced by the MFD Trust, Everyone's Child is not intended simply to be viewed, enjoyed, and forgotten. Their goal was not only that the film be popular, but that it engender discussion and reflection. To this end, they have developed a comprehensive package of discussion guides and support materials for their African audiences, designed to help communities address the problems of children living under the stress of AIDS in an ongoing manner. In a very real way, this effort is very much in keeping with the traditional role of story-telling in Africa--to help us remember who we are and how much we need one another.
Notes by Michael Dembrow
Everyone's Child Soundtrack (1996)
The soundtrack album for the 1995 feature film. Tracks listed below without attribution are instrumentals by the film's music director Keith Farquharson.
Tracks: Everyone's Child [Chiwoniso Maraire]; I'm Hungry [Keith Farquharson]; Tamari [Chunky Phiri]; Shiri Yakangwara/Clever Bird [Leonard Dembo]; Zindoga/On My Own [Andy Brown and the Storm]; I Have a Sister; Mukondombera [Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited]; Big Town; Character [Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa and Midnight Magic]; Are You Uncle Jimmy?; Mugove/Reward [Leonard Zhakata]; I've Come For You Now; I'd Rather Be a Gangster [Laygwan Sharkey]; She Needs You; Love Isn't Easy [Louie]; Ketiwe's Funeral Song [Chiwoniso Maraire]; The Fire; Nhamo's Funeral Song [Chiwoniso Maraire]. (71:38)
Available from Dandemutande, "A resource for lovers of Zimbabwean music & culture worldwide"
1122 East Pike Street, # 1163
Seattle WA 98122-3934 USA
phone: 1 (206) 323-6592
fax: 1 (206) 329-9355
web site: www.dandemutande.com
CD (170-C) $16.00 Tape (170-T) $11.00
. (The track Big Town appears on the CD but not the cassette.)
RETURN to HUM199 Page .