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Zanzibar: Cinematic city

Strolling past the barbecues whose pungent smoke fills Stone Town’s Forodhani Gardens, I overhear a few people still buzzing about having seen Hollywood star Mario Van Peebles promoting his film We The Party.

Zanzibar: Cinematic city
Image: Franz Marc Frei/Getty

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I’ve joined an international crowd, from young Englishwomen in saris to middle-aged Asian men in baggy hip-hop pants, in the sleepy capital for its annual Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), often subtitled the Festival of the Dhow Countries — yet there’s nothing ‘sleepy’ about the town this evening.

Pacing across the gardens, I linger by a screen detailing what’s being shown out in the Old Fort, a venue that seems central to all the action. Tonight it’s the screening of a film from South Africa, but entries have again come in from around the world — previous winners include works from Pakistan, Afghanistan, DR Congo and a team from Nigeria/France.

Locals hang around in the balmy evening air, filled with the scents of cooking and salt from the ocean. Most are holding out for the music show that will be staged at the open-air amphitheatre in the Old Fort later tonight. Music and dance often has more appeal in Africa than film, and Zanzibar is no exception. Tonight’s line-up is unusual in that its four acts form an all-female line-up.

Further along the waterfront, I stop for pizza at the Mambo Club, which is also hosting some live acts. After a day’s swimming off one of the town’s beaches, I’m ravenous; there can be few festivals around the world where you can throw yourself into the Indian Ocean waves by day and mingle with international film buffs by night.

I bump into some friends at the busy bar, waxing lyrical about the screening of some Tanzanian films. The industry there is thriving and Zanzibar is keen to grab a piece of the action and make its own films. The first challenge, though, is to come up with a snappy name to rival the one Dar es Salaam has already seized: Bongowood. Hmmm, that calls for a few more drinks.

www.ziff.or.tz