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MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy for Southern Africa: developing film and TV production

Students in year one of the MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy for Southern Africa have shown positive growth and, as they head into their final four months of training, are looking forward to joining Africa’s ever-expanding film and television industry.

The 20 students in the academy are in one of three groups inducted into three separate MTF Academies last October, after MultiChoice Africa launched the three educational centres as a means of investing in the development of African talent in film and television production. Students from Southern Africa – including Zimbabwe – are based at the Lusaka academy, while East African students are in Nairobi and West African trainees are in Lagos.

The director of the Lusaka academy is well-known Zambian film-maker Berry Lwando, who is upbeat about the MTF project and the impact it is going to have on continental film-making. Lwando is a seasoned professional and has a long history in the industry.

 “I’ve been in broadcasting since 1989 and I’ve done everything from cameraperson to director and producer and have a number of titles under my belt,” he said.

“Before becoming MTF academy director, I was the director of programmes of the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation. I have also worked for agencies, NGOs and as a broadcast trainer.”

He said the MTF initiative had three ‘touch points,’ including the three MTF academies, each training 20 newcomers from different countries in their respective regions for a full year. A second pillar was the MTF master classes, directed at industry professionals to upgrade skills among people at present in the industry.

“These help fill the gaps existing in different countries, such as in lighting, camera work and so on. This will help ensure that when our academy graduates come out of their training fully equipped they do not then view the rest of the industry as lacking,” said Ms Lwando.

 “The third pillar of MTF is the portal, which is a directory featuring as many of the people in the industry as possible in a platform for storing industry information, such as where to get gear and how to link with key people. These three pillars are addressing the major issues in the industry in Africa.”

Mr Lwando said students in his academy were being put into what are immersion sessions, in which they work on productions showing at present on DStv’s Zambezi Magic channel.

“The students are able to work on a number of these productions on a rotation basis and this exposes them to the high standard needed for such productions and given them the opportunity to work with Zambian producers, actors and technical staff in order to give them an interaction that they will rely on in their later development and production exposure for their future projects.

“During this period the students were assigned mentors on each production who supported their work during the immersion and generally supported their growth during this period.”

Mr Lwando said the students were now involved in their final project.

 “This is so exciting. One group is making a horror film. Africa doesn’t do horror usually, so this is a first. Another group is creating an original drama. Both groups pitch their movies to Zambezi Magic, which cannot be lenient to the students just because they are students. It is a tough process, which gives them no illusions about the industry’s demands.”

Mr Lwando said industry response to the MTF initiative had been overwhelming and positive.

“The response has been great. It is an initiative that has been seen as a re-engineering of the development of film and creative storytelling in the region. In Zambia, for example, policymakers view MTF favourably as it is in line with government policy relating to the development and growth of the film industry in the country and they recognise its potential for contribution to GDP,” he said.

Mr Lwando said a key partnership had been created with the University of Zambia, which will provide the certification for the course, and with the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication, which provides accommodation and training space for the academy.

 Mr Lwando said there had been many highlights of the year to date.

“There have been great moments and while there have been teething problems that are part and parcel of a new programme, these great moments have been experienced by everyone involved.”

The two Zimbabweans in the MTF Academy year one programme have been thrilled with being able to take part.

“I’m a storyteller at heart but for the longest time I ignored this gift,” said Nobert Mapfoche. He had previously decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Education and Health Promotion instead of nurturing his creative side but while studying at the University of Zimbabwe he acknowledged his passion for filmmaking.

“I did some soul-searching about what I really wanted in life. I realised that I’m passionate about filmmaking, but since my family didn’t know I would secretly learn more about filmmaking by watching tutorials at university,” he said.

 With just a computer and his curiosity, Nobert started getting into graphic motion effects. After graduation in 2017, he returned home and felt completely disconnected with the health sciences and even a push by his parents into a job interview did not change his feelings.

“I went for the interview, but I wasn’t excited about it. I just knew that if I got it, I would be in a career I wouldn’t be happy in.”

It was during this time at home that the call for entry into the MultiChoice Talent Factory academy appeared on DStv, so he applied and found his purpose.

“I am passionate about film and not health science. Everyone was sceptical about me because all I had was my computer and talent – no camera or anything else. But I believed in me and so did my sister. When I got into the academy, my parents became impressed and they have been supportive of me.”

With no experience or academic background in film, the MultiChoice Talent Factory academy in Lusaka has proved life-changing for Nobert.

“Coming here has triggered my interest in learning more about producing and directing and it has been a real learning curve. The curriculum structure isn’t traditional but rather it is engaging and interactive. We are learning by doing not by watching.”

 The other Zimbabwean in the Lusaka academy is 26-year-old Rutendo Mahofa, who had previously pursued an academic discipline not rooted in the creative industry. However, her passion in life has been geared toward storytelling and using her creativity through the camera lens.

It was while studying for a degree in international marketing that the Bulawayo-born student became drawn to studying people.

“This interest grew while I was an intern at a radio station doing voice overs. It was in that environment that my love for media was sparked and I recognised my love for visual storytelling and my desire to work in the film and television industry,” she said.

 After graduating in 2016, Rutendo focused on her new career path by getting a job at a production company and started a vlog about youth entertainment in Zimbabwe.

“One of my friends helped with the camera for my vlog as I wasn’t very technically savvy at the time.”

After applying and getting accepted into MultiChoice Talent Factory academy, Rutendo has been increasing her skills in behind-the-scenes production in TV and entertainment.

“I can now confidently say that I’m beginning to understand the technical aspects to communicate visual stories.”

With the support of her family and friends, Rutendo is excited about her journey ahead.

 “The learning experience so far has been incredible. When I came to the academy, all I wanted to focus on was storytelling and screenwriting and MTF has been great in helping me craft and centre my thoughts. The best part is that I’m now getting interested in a wider range of film production aspects like cinematography, writing and directing.”

As the two Zimbabweans and their 18 regional colleagues gear up for their final months in the academy, their most prized learning has been connecting with so many different people from all walks of life, cultures and backgrounds.

“Going to school every day presents something new,” said Rutendo.

“We attend exciting lectures by important people and have the chance to interact with students from across Southern Africa. Listening to their cultural and personal perspectives makes the experience even richer and unique.”

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende