The Zanzibar International Film Festival is in full swing with over 30 directors, producers and actors from at least 14 countries in attendance.

The evenings of Tuesday Jun17th and Wednesday June 18th were highlights so far of the festival with the screenings of The Thorn of The Rose, and Half of a Yellow Sun, respectively. The Thorn of the Rose is a powerful and mystical thriller that was introduced by the star of the film, Ady de Batista from Guinnea Bassau. The audience was extremely receptive to this film despite its difficult topics it covers such as pedophilia and incest. The film is also definitely in the running for one of the ZIFF Awards to be presented this weekend.

Wednesday evening was the African Premiere of Half of a Yellow Sun, the internationally acclaimed film based on the novel of 2006 and written and directed by Biyi Bandele. Bandele explained at a press conference on Wednesday that the film was supposed to screen in Nigeria over 2 months ago but was effectively “banned through the back door” by the Censorship Board who refused to classify it as they claimed it had scenes that “would incite violence.” Six years in the making and funded through private investors, the film is a powerful African story starring Thandie Newton. Bandele also explained some of the criticism he received after casting Newton but stands by the decision and saying that he believes “it is possibly the best performance of her 20 year career.”

ZIFF also welcomed top Hollywood producer Mitchell Peck to Zanzibar on Tuesday. Peck is here to facilitate the ZUKU Scriptwriters workshop that will take five Swahili scripts through the rigorous process of development. Peck explained that his specialty is finding and developing scripts “outside the Hollywood system.” He encouraged young scriptwriters “to tell your stories and the market will follow” using his own self-produced film Crooked Arrows as an example. The film could not find funding from the major studios so Peck produced it himself and then successfully sold it to two major studios for distribution.

The Women’s & Children’s Panorama and the Women’s Market have also been highly successful this year with amazing participation and attendance. The Mambo Club has also attracted music fans from across the island with Tuesday evening seeing Sisi Na Wewe, Madame Faki & Kidumbak taking the stage. Wednesday night was all about reggae at ZIFF, with the legendary Tanzanian artist Ras Innocent performing followed by DJ Kaka Kahlil. Highlights of the music programme still to come include Grace Matata on Friday night and the hugely popular J Martins from Nigeria to close the festival on the 22nd.