“The Wizard of Zim”–a film about meeting Robert Mugabe

When South African filmmaker Samora Sekhukhune asked her father what he wanted for his 70th birthday, he replied, “I want to meet President Robert Mugabe”.

Amused at first, Sekhukhune realised that she did not know much about her father, who saw, in the controversial leader, a reflection of African ancestors fighting for their land. Her father’s perception, radically different from how the president of 35 years is represented in mainstream media, prompted the filmmaker to think, not only about what she considers to be one-sided representations of Mugabe, but also of African fathers as authoritarian and abusive.

And so it came that she identified the birthday as an opportunity to impress her father by making his wish come true, and to delve further into the complexities of their relationship, as well as that between mainstream media and ordinary people.

More times than she Sekhukhune can remember, people have urged her to “show both sides of the story”. “I think we have seen ‘the other side’ already, and it doesn’t strike me as very balanced”, she says, and continues, “I want to put forward a fresh viewpoint, both about the land reforms and about how African families are portrayed”.

“A quirky yet thought-provoking road movie” is how Samora describes her documentary, which she calls Wizard of Zim. Despite still being a work in progress, it has enjoyed plenty of recognition and support. Samora was a Hot Docs Blue Ice Fellow last year, received development funding from South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation and has won pitching competitions hosted by Zimbabwe International Film Festival.

Wizard of Zim poster

The filmmaking process, Samora says, is as a continuation of a relationship she has had with her father for decades. “We’ve always discussed politics, and now we’ll do it on camera.”

The advantage of filming a close family member, the director/daughter reckons, is that her access to exclusive background information will allow her to dig deeper. On the flip side, she will have to guard against being too protective of her subject. “Remember,” she says, “every documentary is actually about the filmmaker in some way, and when the relationship between filmmaker and subject is this close, the fear of pursuing uncomfortable ground can have an inhibiting effect.”

It is in February that Samora and her father will leave Limpopo, South Africa to meet Mugabe in Zimbabwe. While the recent word from the Presidency confirming the appointment was a relief, it quickly became a source of concern as well. “The challenge I’m currently facing, with the visit only a couple of weeks away, is really about timing. We will receive financial support from other funders and broadcasters, but those things take time that we don’t have right now.”

So Samora Sekhukhune decided to do what every self-respecting filmmaker – first-time filmmakers as well as experienced ones, like the Coen Brothers and Spike Lee – would do in the same situation. To beg! If you want to learn more and perhaps even help her out, visit the film’s Facebook-page.

Katarina Hedrén

Katarina Hedrén, based in Johannesburg, writes about film for Africa is a Country.

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