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25 October 2013

Director Amil Shivji wonders what the Shoeshine guy has to say


By Leonie Wolters

Who are the young filmmakers in this year's Short Film Competition, and what makes them tick? We talk to Amil Shivji, the director of Shoeshine, about his filmmaking process: ‘...the thing that interested me the most is what the shoeshine guy has to say...’

What events or experiences led you to making Shoeshine?
I wrote the script two years ago when I was still in school at York University in Toronto. Many a time I have passed a shoeshine spot in the streets of Dar es Salaam and heard stories being told and experiences being shared on those benches. People crack jokes, discuss the news, gossip about ministers, it's a real hangout spot. But the thing that interested me the most is what the shoeshine guy has to say. I thought it would be very interesting to get into the thoughts of a young shoeshine boy who allows his customers to express themselves to the fullest before we as the audience get to delve into his mind and view a subconsciously painted picture of his setting from his perspective.

Could you describe your favourite scene or moment in the film?
Personally, my favourite scene in the film is when Tambwe, the shoeshine boy, has to make a decision at the end of the film and he looks around for support. The people he looks at are the people he can relate to, there is a sense of class solidarity. I think the framing, music, colour, art design and even weather (!) all came together for that scene perfectly.

If people could take one thing away from the screening, what would you like it to be?
I think there are two things I really hope people take from this film. One is that we can remove the negative connotation 'bongo movies' carry. Bongo movies is the name of our local film industry in Tanzania and is used interchangeably with bad cinema in colloquial conversations. A real shame because there are good films out there but those are not the ones that gain recognition due to a star system mentality in production and distribution of films. This is also one of the main reasons I refused to work with well known faces in Shoeshine, and rather chose to work with newcomers. Secondly, I hope audiences can see Africa in a different light, a more positive one. We’re all sick and tired of the misrepresentations and gross stereotyping in mainstream media. Without romanticising the environment in Tanzania, I hope people can see an honest picture of everyday life in my country.

So far, what has the best response to your film been?
There is one comment that a family friend made which really made me smile. "Many people talk about class struggle and movement for change, but you showed it". I hope that's not too corny, haha. Overall, the response has been overwhelming. We won "people's choice award" at the 16th Zanzibar International Film Festival and we're competing in many other festivals.

Do you already have a new project, or an idea for a project, you could use the prize money for?
Actually yes. I am currently on my way to New York for the Africa First summit, where my script Samaki Barani (Fish of the Land) has been selected as one of five African scripts to be funded by Focus Features’ Africa First programme. It's a short film, but much more ambitious than Shoeshine, storywise and financially, so we are trying to raise money for it. If Shoeshine wins any money, that is where it will be channelled to.


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