Oscar Glory and Other Film Realities

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By Vickson Hangula WINDHOEK So, this is how being a world recognized film director feels like? All the fancy food, expensive clothes, the rehearsed answers to prepared questions and all the pretence. This is what I felt as I sat in that auditorium, with all these international filmmakers, the who’s who from the best in the industry. The venue is … er … well what is this big venue called again? I had wanted to ask Tom Hanks who is seated next to me, but had to hold that question, for Tom Hanks had just leaped to his feet to go and receive yet another “Best Actor” Oscar award for his brilliant performance in a film called, “Tomahawks”. In this film about America’s second invasion of Iraq, Tom Hanks plays a General trying to redeem himself for the war atrocities that he and fellow comrades have committed years earlier in Cambodia, by exposing the similar atrocities against the Iraqi insurgents at the hands of American troops in ‘Invasion Iraq 2’. So there I was, pressing Tom’s hand hard in mine as I congratulated him for his third Oscar win, and hoping that he will soon reciprocate the congratulation when the winner in at least one of the two categories that I am nominated in, namely, in the “Best Foreign Language Film” and in the “Best Director”, is announced. Hopefully I will be the fifth person seated in what so far is being referred to as the “winners row”, to receive this much coveted little golden statuette, after Scarlett Johanson, seated five seats from me, Cuba Gooding Junior, with whom I ten minutes before the program started, had an intelligent chat about filmmaking in Africa and who had expressed an interest in being directed by me in “another authentic African picture by one of us, for us”, as he had put it in his own words. Cuba had received yet another “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his role as “Hannibal”, the Spike Lee directed epic about the well-known warrior and revolutionary. Then there was another winning by Nazli Ho Nasaki in the “Best Costume” category for the film “Gengis Khan”, another epic directed by Peter Jackson, who is also competing with me in the category of “Best Director”. Maybe tonight is the night for epics on the life of brave non-Caucasian warriors. Maybe my African epic, “King Mandume” also stands a chance then. Well, time will tell. As Tom Hanks walks away to go and collect his Oscar, I sit back in my chair, still clapping hands as everybody else is doing, but with my mind elsewhere, in Namibia, to be exact. I sit there thinking about the chain of events that brought me to here in this auditorium in Los Angeles, seated with 1500 fellow filmmakers, their relatives and big industry names. My mind takes me back to the day two years ago when I got that e-mail from the Sithengi/Hivos office informing me that I had just won a 10 000 Euro project development grant for my feature film, “King Mandume”. Six months later, and with an additional N$150 000 grant from the Namibia Film Commission’s Video and Film Fund, I have the first full-draft in place already. Needless to say, because of the ample time and adequate script development funds, it wasn’t long before I had a well-polished script in my hand. I guess the best compliment is when I received a personal call from Anant Singh, one of South Africa’s best producers and owner of the Videovision Entertainment, a distribution company, who told me that he wanted to distribute “King Mandume” after it was completed. Anant Singh had somehow managed to find time off his busy schedule to read one of the early draft scripts that Joel Phiri, older brother to my Producer, Leo Phiri, had shown him. That had proved a real blessing, for as soon as word got around that Anant Singh was interested in my picture, suddenly I was inundated with all sorts of similar interests from other leading filmmakers, from the best of the DOP’s, AD’s, Line Producers, etc, and all of them were prepared to even have a salary cut or deferrals, as long as they worked on this picture. Another positive thing was that as soon as the financiers and donors read about Anant Singh’s attachment to the film, they gladly and generously opened their wallets. And oh, yes, our own dearest Film Commission was also not going to be left behind, for they gave a whopping N$10 million, which was the four million dollars maximum per feature film from the current year’s N$25 million budget count as stipulated in the criteria, plus another N$6 million dollars that was a surplus from the previous year’s budget. And now, here I am with my producer and other four people of my delegation from Namibia, waiting with bated breath to make history as the first (black) African Director to bring this golden statuette home. If I should win, I would follow in the glory of another great film, “Tsotsi”, the Gavin Hood directed South African film which had won in the “Best Foreign Language” category two years ago. And now here I am, a 38-years old first timer competing against these golden oldies with many years experience and who are very well-known by all the judges in the Academy of Motion Pictures, who decided on who should get an Oscar. If only I could get the “Best Foreign Language Film” award at least. Well, the same thing happened when I got my first international award for “Kauna’s Way” all those years back, who knows…May all the gods of my African ancestors and my ancestors be with me. But even if I did go back to Namibia empty handed, the two nominations are a big boost for not only me, but also for the entire country and its filmmakers. For at least now many people would know of Namibia and its surprise film hits from a country of only two million people. Not that “King Mandume” was the only film that made international headlines, there was the N$85 million epic, “Nujoma: Where Others Wavered” that won a lot of international awards all over the world and managed to rake in millions in profits from international box office and sales, thanks to the big interest in China, Nigeria and other countries that supported Namibia in its fight for independence. For even though there were also many pirated DVD’s and VHS copies made of the film from especially the Asian countries, of which many VHS especially made it into Africa, “Nujoma: Where Others Wavered” still managed to bring in a whopping N$245 million. Then there was the equally successful Cecil Moller directed movie, “The Paymaster”. This surprise hit that went on to win the “Palme D’Or” Award at the Cannes Film festival in France, is also considered as the trendsetter for Namibia’s young filmmakers. And now this, could “King Mandume” be the ultimate inspiration story for Namibia’s future filmmakers? I guess the partial success of “Meekulu”, my first feature shot in celluloid and that had also “impressed” at the FESPACO film festival in Ougadougodougo in Burkina Faso, was also instrumental in this current glory that I am now basking in right now. The “Best Screenplay” award that writer Kaleni Hiyalwa and I shared for this feature film based on her moving novel, “Meekulu’s Children”, and the acclaim that Meekulu Manasse got for her brilliant performance as Meekulu, at last year’s Sithengi Awards in Cape Town, did not go unnoticed by many. I guess I was so immersed in thinking back at the changes for the best that our industry has gone through since Meme Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah’s surprise announcement a little over three years ago of her Ministry’s commitment to allocate an annual N$25 million budget to the Video and Film Development Fund, that I did not hear my name being mentioned as a winner. I know I looked like a completely bewildered idiot as, open-mouthed and wide-eyed I mumbled, “Hum, what?” as Tom Hanks helped raise me from my chair, smiling as he told me, “Well, young man, welcome to the league of great filmmakers…congratulations.” Only then did I turn to look at all these people around me, all on their feet and clapping hands as those in front of me made way for me to go on to the red carpet that led to the podium on the stage and receive my first Oscar from veteran actor Benecio Del Torro. As I waded through the sea of people, my legs heavy as if made of the same gold that I am on my way to collect on the massive stage, all I could hear is my heart pounding away in my chest, until I walked past my boyhood fantasy, the one and only Halle Berry! This is what happened. Halle Berry casually strolled up in front of me, blocking my way for a few seconds, placed her tender soft hand on my wrist and said, “Best Foreign Language Film” hey … a good beginning for many great things to come, brother…” Then she gave me that wicked wink of her eye … and for even though I clearly heard her call me “brother”, I heard something else, like, “lover” or “honey”, instead of “brother”. And why did she mention the “to come” word …! It was for the second time in less than two minutes that I felt like a complete idiot again. “King Mandume, King Mandume, King Mandume”, the people chanted as Producer Leo Phiri and I made our way to the stage. I found myself praying that I please don’t do anything stupid and remove doubt in these thousand-plus people here and millions others who are watching this event live on TV – of what a complete fool I am … Something like tripping over myself and falling … oh, my God no … too late! I tripped over myself and I am falling! I must stop the falling … I must hold onto something, someone … there is Michael Clarke Duncan, he is big and muscled, he will catch me … And that is how I wake up and realize that all this is just a dream. Yes, here I am in my room in my Katutura home. I am not in Los Angeles nor am I anywhere close to getting an Oscar. And even though I am still entitled to the 10 000 euros Sithengi/Hivos grant to develop “King Mandume”, I cannot even comfort myself with a tiniest hope of getting additional support from the Video and Film Development Fund, for the criteria that would be used to access any funding from this body is not yet in place, some four years after it is due to be functioning normally. I have to accept that I even if I completed the last draft this year still, I might not even dream of seeing “King Mandume” go into production within five years, because it is common knowledge that “as long as ‘Nujoma: Where Others Wavered’ is still in the post-production stages, there is no hope for any other Namibian film to see the light. It is also common knowledge that there is truth in the rumour that has it, that for this and next year at least, the total allocated budget for the Namibia Film Commission per year is N$1 million! I can only guess what amount is allocated to the Video and Film Development Fund, my guess is, zero. If only dreams could come true, I would have liked it to start with Meme Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah making that ‘surprise announcement’ soon. That could place the path to the Oscars well into our sights and our reach. A good start indeed.

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