Out & about: Dumisani echoes African tales

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Manyathela draws inspiration from the late Botswana-born actor, executive producer and co-founder of Ferguson Films Shona Ferguson, Zimbabwe-born actor and filmmaker Daniel Lasker as well as Zimbabwean actress and TV personality Vimbai Mutinhiri Ekpenyong. 

By Grant Moyo

Visual storyteller Dumisani Manyathela says the desperate need to provide a face, voice and colours for people who bring the African narrative alive allows him to rewrite undiluted and unapologetic stories straight from the sources into motion-picture shows. He has been on an industrious journey of setting a standard in producing high quality film and television productions that can catapult the industry to a whole new level.

Manyathela draws inspiration from the late Botswana-born actor, executive producer and co-founder of Ferguson Films Shona Ferguson, Zimbabwe-born actor and filmmaker Daniel Lasker as well as Zimbabwean actress and TV personality Vimbai Mutinhiri Ekpenyong.

Manyathela attended Centenary Primary School and St Patrick’s Christian Brothers’ College, where he was exposed to arts studies at Ordinary and Advanced Level. He holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Creative Art and Design from the Chinhoyi University of Technology. Having specialised in film and video production, throughout his studies, he developed the appropriate professional skills, knowledge and attitude in creative art that demonstrate well-polished theoretical and practical acquisition.

Not only was he acknowledged with the Best Editor Award in his second year in university, Manyathela garnered accolades for Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Student Film for his efforts in Londisizwe — a short film that he did for his specialisation project in 2017 at the Chinhoyi Film Festival. The latter flick was nominated in the Outstanding Film category at the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards (RoilBAA), where the visual storyteller was also nominated for Outstanding Film/TV Director. With consistent and qualitative experience in the creation of high-end productions in the form of television shows, series, short films and documentaries, Manyathela’s film credits include I Am Creating Jobs, Soulmate and Veza: The Unfolding.

“The late film maestro Shona Ferguson has and will always be someone I look up to in the film and television industry. I respect his dedication to building the industry. He was and is still an inspirational figure whom I often refer to as the industry’s Elijah (a prophet of Israel during the Old Testament period of the Bible). Drifting back, my love for art started when I was just a toddler drawing on my mother’s walls. I am part of a generation that was raised by parents that dictated their children’s career paths, vouching for us to be future doctors and engineers. Little did my parents know that they had brought up an artist in the family, a disclosure which they embraced when I was in Form 3 (High School),” Manyathela said.

“I spent most of my time in a world of imagination, where I became Superman and other heroes I admired. I created my own epic scenes and great moments, which I believe through some kind of spiritual osmosis contributed to the creative storytelling and problem solving that was triggered in my first year at University, when I got exposed to the industry and started getting formal training. I have come to realise that education awakens creatives to be aware of the innovative necessary tools in their craft. Getting a qualification makes creatives more valuable and formal training gives them the necessary real experience in the industry. I remember after completing my attachment at ZBC, I met fellow Bulawayo actor Daniel Lasker and worked a lot with him in his films which helped me a lot to understand the narrative of storytelling.”

The objective of Manyathela’s short film, Londisizwe — a Ndebele word meaning “take care of the nation” — was to promote social change against child marriages in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, by making use of imaginative and dynamic images in appreciation of African literature. The film was screened at his solo student exhibition in 2017 themed ImagiNation Art Exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo and premiered on YouTube, an American online video sharing and social media platform. The Bulawayo-born visual storyteller acknowledges that as much as the short film was created to be a tool used to fight child marriages, the goal of putting an end to child marriage is still far-fetched as it is a war which the African society is still fighting.

Having aired on ZTV (DStv Channel 280), the aims and expectations of Manyathela’s film project titled I Am Creating Jobs Series were to showcase business ventures undertaken by the youth. Spotlighting their good and bad experiences as well as issues to do with acquiring funding, sponsorship or reasonable loans to help young Zimbabwean entrepreneurs to grow and progress in their businesses. As a form of inspiring their peers, the profiled young entrepreneurs got a chance to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, to help manifest their business ideas.

Performing his role as a director of cinematography, Manyathela is also involved in a television series called ‘Soulmate’ where he is responsible for making use of light to the narrative as well as coming up with possible visual solutions in telling the story influenced by the director’s artistic taste and vision. Multitasking as a director, cinematographer, producer and editor, he is a part of a film production called Veza: The Unfolding. The latter flick is a chilling action thriller that follows the life of an ambitious and determined new recruit in the Bulawayo police force, who goes undercover with an unreliable and unlikely confidant, as they find common ground with a case that is linked to a company run by a powerful crime ring.

Manyathela pointed out that the whole purpose of Veza: The Unfolding is to bring about awareness on corruption as well as to promote social change. It is a mysterious story relatable not only to Zimbabweans but to the African society as a whole. Putrescence is like a cancer to any economy or country, the only way to kill it is through transparency. The visual storyteller, who reckons that all stories come from truth, whether fictitious, echt, comical or literary genre, applauds the pivotal role played by the crew in determining the success of a reel production.

He described directors as the keepers of a story, who lead the whole narrative in a film and visualise with their artistic taste, guiding the pre-production, production and post-production process, while engaging with the heads of departments known as the collaborators (casting, production manager, script writers, cinematographers, actors, sound engineers, makeup artists and editors, among others).

Manyathela noted that cinematographers are different from videographers in the sense that videographers shoot the world as it is while cinematographers create a new world in a frame. By utilising lighting, composition and framing, cinematographers help contribute to the director’s vision of the story itself in evoking the audience’s mood and emotion. He also said producers are special and loyal people with emotional intelligence that organise the team and necessary resources to successfully produce a film, documentary, TV show or music video. They make sure the ultimate product sees its way to the final stage of production, known as distribution.

“A producer is someone trustworthy who pays attention to where the money acquired to produce is going. There are different kinds of producers namely executive, segment and field producers, among others. The director, producer and cinematographer are usually involved from pre-production where there is script breakdown, casting, location scouting, securing funding, rehearsals with cast actors and actresses, shot lists, camera test shots and any other important production related variables, involved in preparing the team to the next stage known as production. In production all the other key collaborators such as performing artists, make-up artists, stylists, sound engineers, cinematographers, gaffers, best boys and runners, come together and do their best in bringing the script to life, based on the foundation that was laid in the pre-production stage,” Manyathela said.

“Post-production, also known as the editing stage, is where the story is told for the third time after the first stage (pre-production) and the second stage (production). This is where the necessary editors (film editor, sound engineer and music composer) are mostly involved with the post-production supervisor and director, cutting the film together, grading, scoring and adding effects. Moreover, in post-production editors are given loads of time to fix ‘things’ and ensure that the final audiovisual clip is a masterpiece.”

Manyathela acknowledges his involvement in the eMoyeni Digital Storytelling masterclasses — a project that brought together young Zimbabwean content creators between the ages of 18 to 35 — facilitated by Paper Bag Africa and British Council Zimbabwe, in association with Ceca Lifestyle and Amakhosikazi Media, as a major highlight of his career. Through this programme, he got to interact with industry giants in the African and global entertainment and showbiz space and implemented some of the knowledge that was shared in the masterclasses.

The visual storyteller said peer-to-peer sessions with his mentor Mutinhiri Ekpenyong, gave him a clear perspective on the best applicable approaches to enhance chances of building a reputable international career in film and television.

He is glad to have been helped to come out of his comfort zone and actually do what the majority of Zimbabwean filmmakers are not doing in terms of taking their content to the next level.

  • Grant Moyo is a prolific writer, innovative media personality, entrepreneur and a creative artist who is passionate about using his creative mind for the betterment of society. Follow him on Twitter: @TotemGrant.

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