The 26TH International Film Festival is scheduled to take place in Zanzibar between June 24th and July 2nd, 2023. The festival is the largest film event in East and Central Africa, foregrounding cinema in Africa and the Indian Ocean world, also known as the Dhow Countries.

The festival aims to raise awareness and promote international cinema as art, entertainment, and industry, fostering dialogue, human rights, and freedom. Through its programs, the festival reaches over 200,000 people, targeting audiences not commonly focused on by film festivals, and that is what sets ZIFF apart.

Through its Women, Children, and Village Panoramas, Music and Arts Platform, Public Forums, and Outreach screenings, retrospectives, and tributes, the festival makes a significant contribution to a better understanding of cinema. As the CEO of ZIFF, Prof Martin Mhando says, “A festival is no longer just about a place, but also about its creative structures, sustainability, and contribution to the multi-colored garden of world cinema.”

 The theme of this year’s festival is “Finding Identity” (Kujitambua).

From left: Irish Embassy Representative Aisling O’Boyle, Ambassador of Switzerland H.E. Didier Chassot, CEO of ZIFF Prof. Martin Mhando, Ambassador of the EU H.E. Manfredo Fanti and Ambassador of Italy H.E. Marco Lombardi, pictured at the press event.

What does it mean to find one’s identity? Finding identity means defining one’s values and recognizing beliefs that are fundamental to one’s formation and evolution. However, identities are not limited to individuals alone. Just as individuals are influenced by various internal and external factors such as society, family, ethnicity, race, culture, location, opportunities, media, self-expression, and life experiences, so too are nations, organizations, and other social structures. At ZIFF2023, we will highlight films, discussions, forums, activities, events, and other common factors that shape identity.

Today, we are also launching the poster for our 26th Festival. The poster offers an artistic view of the festival through the lens of the theme “Finding Identity.” This year, I visited the Kolo Rock Paintings in Kondoa, Central Tanzania, where I discovered a key aspect of human existence: communication. The Kolo Rock paintings, which are 30,000 years old, demonstrate how human beings found places where they defined who they were through communication. This was ZIFF 30,000 years ago. At Kolo and ZIFF, we progressively find our identity. Indeed, the arts play a central role in defining and discovering identity.


The theme will define the festival, from the films we will screen to the workshops we will hold, the Panoramas, and other events, including ZIFF’s major public forum, the Difficult Dialogues Forum, where we will discuss Identity in Zanzibar.

Now, to the selected films.

This year, we received over 2,700 films from every part of the world, and East Africa’s submissions to ZIFF reached an all-time high with over [206] films. Tanzania submitted [63] films, while Kenya had [81], Uganda [51], Rwanda [10], Burundi [1] and South Africa [60]. The 86 films that have been selected generally focus on identity. The selected films include [18] feature films, [22] documentaries, and [45] short films and animations for the competition. In the selected films Tanzania is represented by [15] films. The Sembene Ousmane Films for Development competition, supported by The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Entwicklung (GIZ), will once again take place, showcasing the tremendous creative growth of African films. Sixteen films were nominated for the competition, with three films winning Euro3000 each to produce a new film for #ZIFF2024.

To all those pre-selectors who spent sleepless nights watching and deliberating on the film’s merits and weaknesses we thank you very much.

The National Day program at ZIFF has gained support, and this year we will once again feature four partner nations. We have received confirmation from Italy, Ireland and Rwanda, and are still awaiting confirmation from Uganda. We are excited to screen thrilling Italian and Irish films.

Lastly, to encourage greater participation of filmmakers in the festival, we will enhance our online presence with support from GIZ once again. Apart from our usual onsite Q & A sessions, this year, we will also have an online Q&A session for filmmakers whose films will be screened at ZIFF but are unable to attend, allowing for greater filmmaker participation in the festival.

This year, we have seen increased support from the European Union (EU), thanks to the ACP-EU culture initiative for their support with new equipment, as well as the Switzerland Embassy and GIZ. However, we are still seeking support, especially from local sponsors.

A festival is not only about the events it hosts but also about the location where it takes place. Zanzibar is an incredibly attractive festival destination, and we welcome new partnerships with tourism investors to strengthen our ties with the tourism industry. We call upon more hotels, cafes, and tour agents to follow the examples of Maru Maru and Zanzi Hotel in partnering with ZIFF to host visiting filmmakers in Zanzibar, especially during these challenging economic times.”

It is with glee that we welcome visitors to Zanzibar repeatedly saying,

“Zanzibar ni njema, atakaye naaje”.

(Zanzibar beckons, come one and all)

CEO- ZIFF- 11 May 2023