The Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) within the College of Humanities has appointed AFDA Cape Town honours alumni, Ms Chipo Zhou as the new Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) Manager. Speaking to UKZNdaba Online, the bubbly Zhou, with her infectious laugh, gave a glimpse into her childhood memories and her plans for the Festival.
Thirty-year-old Zimbabwean-born Zhou was raised on African folklore and storytelling.
‘I am my father’s daughter, a man who has taught and loved English literature for almost half a century. I was raised in a house strewn with what looked like a maze of a million books to my young curious eyes. My father’s love for storytelling inspired my love for literature and history.’
‘Like clockwork, at 6:30am every weekday morning and 8:00am on weekends, he would sit with his newspapers at the dining room table with his cup of Tanganda tea, and read out loud articles he found salient. His voice, boisterous and animated, would recap stories, as if it was a first-hand account from an eye witness.’
‘Almost three decades into these early memories, I have the exact same routine, only difference being, I no longer purchase a hard newspaper but troll various news channels and social media outlets- an inherited unquenchable thirst for current affairs and a love that has drawn me to research- my favourite part of the documentary filmmaking process,’ says Zhou.
Soon after completing her high school education, she auditioned for a role in a soapie and started her career as an actress on the Zimbabwean small screen.
This subsequently led to Zhou volunteering at the International Images Film Festival (IIFF) for Women. This is where she was mentored by Tsitsi Dangarembga, a prolific Zimbabwean novelist, filmmaker, and gender activist. The tutelage she received influenced the direction her career would later take.
Within a year, she became the Assistant Festival Director at what was then the newly launched Bulawayo chapter of the festival. At the age of 19 she became the youngest executive member of the Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ), when she was invited to serve on its board.
She held that position for three consecutive years, after which she took a step back to enrol for three years of undergraduate study at AFDA (South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance).
To continue to fourth year, she applied and was awarded the AFDA Development Bursary.
‘For my final project, I produced, wrote and directed a documentary, with the support of the Shakespeare High Schools Festival to help second-language learners of English literature study Shakespeare for their exams. The documentary was the basis of my thesis, which was awarded Outstanding 4th year documentary as well as earning me a 1st class graduation mark.’
Through AFDA, she was nominated as the South African Communication Association (SACOMM) Conference Coordinator for 2015, a position that allowed her great insight into the workings of the industry and the role played by academia in its development.
Speaking animatedly about her role as DIFF manager, she said, ‘I will ensure we deliver a film festival that preserves the values of the Centre through a careful selection of the films to be screened. One of the key deliverables for my role will be audience development, as the festival is a celebration of film through the cinematic experience.’
Zhou further explained that her role as DIFF manager will be to also ensure that emerging filmmakers are afforded a platform to advance and showcase their work. She sees this as an imperative step towards developing the industry in Africa.
Armed with experience from IIFF, Zhou also views it as invaluable to her new position.
Her work within the human rights community gave her access to the human face of some of the stories that have been made, as well as potential audiences for these stories that may not have previously been exposed to the film industry.
‘It has unquestionably expanded my worldview and has contributed immensely to my current vision for the future of DIFF,’ she said.
She believes that this year’s Festival audience is in for an exciting surprise. ‘Africa has risen to the occasion this year and we have seen a significant upward jump in not only the number of submissions but also the quality of the films. We have a women’s focus this year, some strong female led films, which is one of our major focus areas this year.’
‘We have expanded our outreach program, with the help of our traditional stakeholders and our new partnerships. We are also looking into highlighting our emerging filmmakers, through our micro budget film section and some film schools in South Africa have also come on board and will be hosting workshops and hopefully showcasing some of their most talented student productions.’
She sees the festival as an important part of Durban Culture, and of the South African film calendar.
‘DIFF proactively promotes the development of the African film industry, and provides a strategic exhibition platform for local products alongside international films within a professionally implemented and reputable cultural experience. It has launched and nurtured young talent through the Talents programme and Durban Film Mart, which are platforms that allow them to develop ideas and turn them into concrete projects of substance.’
‘DIFF brings together the South African and African industry, contribute to expanding filmmaker networks, attracts local and international media, creates public awareness of South African and African cinema, and promotes and celebrates African cinema. This highlights the possibilities of local film production and stimulates the growth of the film industry,’ said Zhou.
To find out more about Chipo Zhou and the Durban International Film Festival, follow her and the festival on social media:
- Durban International Film Festival