Escape marks the turning point: Njagu

HARARE - Rising Zimbabwean filmmaker Joe Njagu says the film “Escape,” which was launched during the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) early this month, is the best production he has been involved in to date.

Njagu co-directed the highly rated film with British academic and filmmaker Agnieszka Piotrowska. Shot in Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, the film featured a high-powered cast which included Selmor Mtukudzi, Munya Chidzonga, Jose Marques, Harare International Festival of Arts general manager Maria Wilson, Nothando Nobengula and Eddie Sandifolo.

“Is it the best production so far? Well I have a rule I go by. ‘If it’s not challenging and improving me then the task is not worth it’ so every new task I embark on has to be better than the previous one.

“In that breath, I would say yes it’s the best so far and the next one will be better than Escape again. You are only as good as your last work. From glory to glory,” he said.

The respected filmmaker, who never hides his determination to be Zimbabwe’s best ever film director, thanked locals for endorsing a home-made movie in a very big way.

“The feedback has been overwhelming from the premiere up to now. It clearly shows the hunger Zimbabweans have for home-grown products.

“We filled up two cinema houses at the premiere and still people had to sit on the stairs with no one walking out during the screening so indeed that speaks volumes. The DVD is about to come out and the anticipation is astounding. I thank Zimbabwe for that,” said Njagu.

The fact that the premiere of “Escape” coincided with his 34th birthday made the occasion even more special.

“It was indeed the perfect birthday present for me. The amazing support and response from people, I couldn’t ask for any better present.

“After premiere of Escape comes the distribution. Our job is not yet done until everyone is holding a DVD and has watched the film. That’s a whole entire monster on its own, distribution and marketing.”

Though he conceded that co-directing the movie with Piotrowska was not a bed of roses, he still hailed the British director’s role in making it possible to create a world-class movie.

“With Agnieszka it bitter sweet. We have our moments. But we always work through our madness to create magic. Co-directing was really interesting as film directing is based on a vision and it’s always difficult to see and share the same vision of everything, but indeed we did work through it and found compromise,” he said.

Unlike most local productions, Escape was fairly well-funded, a fact Njagu attributed to “collaboration.”

“The funding for Escape as my collaborator Agnieszka Piotrowska likes to say came from very good friends from Europe and Zimbabwe.

“Filmmaking is collaboration so we had a number of people involved. Our main co-producer was a local company MMX productions which came in to provide all the gear we used for the film. This helped reduce the budget too… most of the money came from investors from Poland and England,” he said.

Njagu and Piotrowska are already working on their next project once again through their company Thinking Films.

“Yes we have projects lined up; more films. We have already started pre-production on the next production which is a movie I wrote. Thinking Films is working on it again yes with other collaborators too.”

Njagu started his filmmaking journey 12 years ago.

“I started working in film in 2004 as soon as I left college with my lithographic printing degree in my hand. I left for Botswana where I stayed there for a year working as an intern at Btv and GBC Tv. Then I came back to Zimbabwe and hooked up with the ex-Studio 263 pair of Tatenda Mavetera and Ben Mahaka.

“These guys were the first people to believe in me and gave me my first break in 2006 when we made my first movie which I wrote called “Bitter Pill.” This became one of the first Zimbabwean movies to be bought and played on Dstv. I have worked on numerous projects locally including Sores of Emmanuel, Lobola, The Gentleman, Salon.com, Escape, Something Nice from London…”

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