From Rwanda, with movies

Wednesday March 11 2020

Zacu

Zacu Tv website. PHOTO | Andrew Kazibwe  

ANDREW I KAZIBWE
By ANDREW I KAZIBWE
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It is an open secret that Rwanda aspires to be the region’s leading information, communications and technology hub, what with the stride it has made in the sector, from availing Internet to learning institutions to enacting ICT-friendly policies that have resulted in digitalisation on a large scale.

However, what is not as yet widely known is how ICT has permeated the entertainment industry, giving rise to Zacu TV, a Rwandan film streaming platform lately being embraced as a sole platform promoting and marketing local creation.

Started about a year ago by Nelly Misango, a film producer, Zacu TV has emerged as a sole platform for the marketing of African film project.

Speaking to Misango, it is clear Zacu has been a rewarding and interesting journey.
“We faced difficulties in not only marketing our films but also earning from them,” Misango says of the initial journey.

In their enthusiasm to enter the sector, Misango and peers did not reckon with the pervasive extent of piracy, which pushed them further back as it swallowed up their investment.

First off his creative stable was The Ugly Side of Us, a 2008 film which addressed the dangers of sugardaddies and sugarmummies.

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Though it premiered at School of Finance and Banking (SFB), where Misango was pursuing a course in business administration, the film didn’t get much recognition.

Not one to give up, Misango was back in 2010 but this time on TV, where he produced a series, Ubu n’ejo. To his shock, TV had its owners and demands.

“I pitched the series to some stations, only to learn that I was required to pay for it to be aired,” he explains.

This discouraged him, seeing as he had invested over Rfw4 million ($4,200) in the production. But he soldiered on, working his production side.

Come 2011, and ever the restless creative, Misango came up with Inshuti  (Friends), a short series. This time, he took to Youtube and posted his work there. This captured Tv 10, a popular local television, which started airing it.

This was a window into the big league for in 2013,  Misango was approached by Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) to have his work beamed on television.

“It wasn’t so easy airing a television series, since it wasn’t a culture within local broadcasting in Rwanda, meaning the stations and the audience needed a lot of convincing,” he explains.

It was around this time that Seburikoko, a rural life television drama was born.

Produced by Afrifame, the captivating series took root, capturing a larger audience and demand.

He later created City Maid, another series airing on national television too.

Seburikoko did not only garner a local fan base, but it also received enquiries from the Rwandan Diaspora, who weren’t accessing it.

A light bulb went on in Misango head: He must find a way to reach the diaspora. An online streaming platform was the way to go and Zacu Tv was that avenue.

“It was another opportunity to create a market for local content,” he explains.

Inspired by already established platforms like Netflix, Misango changed tack, taking to another outlet in a bid to give his content a wider reach… but this time with some money coming his way.

Now boasting over 20,000 subscribers, Misango’s platform has gone a step better, opening the doors to more Rwandan and African content.

“After we found a way of penetrating the African market, we received calls from producers outside Rwanda, who expressed interest in having their films featured on our platform,” he explains.

This ushered in a team of producers, John Kwezi and Joel Karekezi who have provided over 100 films from Rwanda.

Zacu Tv, though dominated by series – which are in high demand – has more than 50 films from Tanzania, including five feature films.

Away from giving producers of rich content a platform, Zacu TV also pays something in return. Based on the quality of items offered, producers are paid acquisition fees then their content is uploaded onto the platform.

Though monetarisation of the platform is still under development, Zacu charges subscribers $5 (Rfw 4,738) a month, to cater for maintenance.

In the meantime, and in a bid to develop a cinema culture, Misango says Zacu Tv is planning to hold monthly film screening within communities.

As with everything worth doing, challenges are the staple of the platform’s existence.

For Misango, a persistent of lack of financial investment into the film industry stand out.

“Banks haven’t yet embraced a solid policy of financing or issuing loans to filmmakers,” he explains.

About Rfw40 million ($42,432) has gone into the platform but more is needed to attract content. That additional investment would go towards marketing the platform at festivals across Africa, where Misango and team can meet and network with other content producers.
And it is not for lack of trying.

At the 2019 Transform Africa, Misango pitched for funding to the tune of $500,000, hoping to use the money to acquire more African content for the platform.

“We didn’t succeed, but still holding our hopes for achieving our dream,” he explains.