Finding Identity

The theme of the festival this year is Finding Identity (Kujitambua). What does it mean to find one’sidentity? Finding identity means defining one’s values, recognizing beliefs that are fundamental to one’s formation and evolution. But identities are not only limited to individuals alone. As individuals are impacted by a variety of internal and external factors like society, family, ethnicity, race, culture, location, opportunities, media, self-expression and life experiences, so too do nations, organizations and other social structures.

At ZIFF2023 we shall foreground films, discussions, forums, activities, events and other common factors that shape identity.

The 24th Festival’s Poster. The poster is an artistic view of the festival from the theme of Finding Identity. This year I visited the Kolo Rock Paintings in Kondoa Central Tanzania, where I discovered a key aspect of human’s existence- communication. 30,000 years ago, that’s how old the Kolo Rock paintings are, 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 are central to defining and finding identity.

ZIFF keeps alive the culture of Stonetown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Supporting ZIFF means Finding Identity with the World!

The festival programme is held in a variety of magnificent venues near the seafront of the historic Stone Town, with a Village Panorama that extends the festival to rural communities, a Women’s Panorama, which provides a focus for women’s issues, and a Children’s Panorama which provides for the participation of children and youths.


Why does identity matter?

Language has always been a key tool of identity. Film as a language, however, has always claimed to be universal but many have questioned that view. If it were universal, how come we find films, even those that have even been highly awarded, quite inexplicable?

Once my son, who could only speak English, heard some children speaking Swahili and he thought they could not talk because all he was hearing from their mouth was “gibberish”! I had to tell him, “son, it is you, who is speaking gibberish, they understand each other. They speak Kiswahili.”

Do we have an African cinema language? One that sounds like an Afro-beat? One that resonates with who we are? One that others will enjoy, but certainly know for a fact, that it comes from a space laden with history and experience?

Identity matters, because, two weeks later my son began speaking Swahili with gusto.


ZIFF is constantly on the lookout for fresh new voices by promising and rising stars, with the programming team providing the widest possible glimpse into the most essential works of the year from East Africa and from the Dhow Countries.

Winning films at ZIFF capture the attention of major film distributors and streaming sites


  • ZIFF 2021 Winner – Binti- Netflix and On Qatar Airways
  • ZIFF 2022 Winner – Vuta N’Kuvute- On Qatar Airways
  • ZIFF Selections- Mpiganaji- On Qatar Airways

The festival celebrates the arts and cultures of the African Continent, India, Pakistan, Gulf States, Iran and the Indian Ocean islands. It features an international film competition, music, theatre and performing arts, workshops, seminars, conferences and other arts related and cultural programmes.

This year with our theme of Finding Identity we reveal ZIFF as a vital platform for finding out what the future of film is like.

The film program includes competitive and non-competitive film exhibitions, in the different formats of Feature and Short Fiction, Documentary, Animation and African Short films, in the unique competition, The Sembene Ousmane Film for Development Section.


The Zanzibar International Film Festival is proud to announce that it will be re-launching the Sembene Ousmane Film Prize competition in 2023. The Sembene Ousmane Film for Development Award Competition is a ZIFF initiative that awards three African short films 3000 Euros each. The Awards have been presented at ZIFF since 2011 following the demise of the Senegalese director Sembene Ousmane, who is also regarded as the “Father of African Cinema”. Throughout the years this section has showcased some truly inspirational works in the fields of Short Fiction and Documentary, by figures such as Ramata-Toulaye SY. (Senegal), Samir Ahmed (Egypt), Ekwa Msangi (Tanzania), Marie-Clementine Dusambejambo (Rwanda).

The Award structure has been designed to reward excellence in short film production and to encourage the production of new short films, including short documentaries.

The festival has also decided to award not just one, but three films to ensure that as many filmmakers as possible are encouraged to make creative films through the Sembene Ousmane Prize.

The Sembene Ousmane Film Prize invites Africans and Africans in the diaspora (working in collaboration with Africans in the continent) to enter their short films into the competition. 15 films will thereafter be nominated to compete for the 3 prizes during ZIFF 2023. Each of the 3 winning films will be awarded with 3,000 Euro specifically earmarked to produce a new short film to be ready by ZIFF 2024. The scripts and a production plan for the new films will have to be submitted to the festival within 4 months of the awarding and funds will then be released. This on-going process will simultaneously acknowledge and reward filmmakers for their efforts, whilst contributing to the sustainability of the short-film format.

Criteria and Eligibility:

To be eligible for the prize, filmmakers must ensure their films meetfollow the following criteria:

Films can be Fiction or Documentary or Animation;

Films of 5-20 minutes and are not to exceed 20 minutes in length;

Films have to be produced (or have had 1st public exhibition) after July 2022;

Films to be available for screening on mp4. codec H264 – 10 Mbs – 1920 x 1080

Films can be in any language but have to be subtitled in English.

Films have to be directed by an African passport holder


Films have to be uploaded to our FilmFreeway platform.


ZIFF is a festival that aims at discovering fresh talents in filmmaking in the Dhow Countries. The ZIFF Golden Dhow Award is given to the Best Feature film in the Festival competition. Other awards in competition include:

Best Documentary

Best East African Film

Best Short Film

Best Animation

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Script

The Chairman’s Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award   

SPECIAL SCREENINGS (non-competitive)(over 1200pax each night in the Amphitheatre)

Our Opening and Awards Nights have often been the highlights of our programs, together with several other special events in the festival program. ZIFF has now caught the community’s attention, in open air screenings in Stonetown, in the suburbs and villages. This section continue to be of considerable interest in our program. 

Different countries and film cultures will avail themselves the opportunity to open cultural dialogues with people of the Swahili Coast through films in public spaces.

This year we shall screen films in Stonetown by the Ocean as well as in Kisonge, Michenzani. Other village screenings will be held in Paje, Jambiani, Makunduchi in Unguja and Wete and Mkoani in Pemba.


Women’s Panorama Development Programs (50pax per workshop and 300 viewers)

ZIFF has been identifying and supporting initiatives aimed at creating accessible programs for women’s visibility and education, acknowledging the previous effects of disadvantage and discrimination experienced by children and women.

The program provides films, equipment, and workshop facilitators free of charge. The Women’s Panorama is an integral part of the ZIFF that involves different villages on the islands of Unguja and Pemba through educational, cultural and creative activities.

Different workshops will be held in each locality during the five days of the panorama reaching a total of 250-300 participants at each place, mainly women. The majority of participants from rural areas are small farm holder or members of farmers’ cooperatives or groups. This year we shall focus on the Maendeleo Endelevu Society, a Women Handscraft Group at Amani kwa Mabata whose objectives include to increase their productivity, explore the market and enhance their output through closer entrepreneurial support. We propose to support them through offering them technical support and promotion, offer of basic materials of local reed grass, and assist them in ways to capture the ZIFF festival market and the tourist market.

We shall screen Swahili films in their locale, Amani, and by linking film to development concerns the Women Panorama emphasizes ZIFF’s social development role. It also enables a social outreach program whose impact is more substantial to local communities. The fact that the films shown are in Kiswahili or with Swahili subtitles ease the discussions following screenings.


(5-10 venues/ 15-20 films/300 pax)

ZIFF Goes Mainland European Film Festival is a special screening program in educational settings in Tanzania Mainland where we screen ZIFF winning films and European cultural films to audiences. Our focus is on the cultural exchange value in films, but more important to encourage film analysis. The program has run for two years proving to be very successful in university settings with over 300 students attending at every academic institution. ZIFF Goes Mainland has featured in Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Iringa, Dodoma and Bagamoyo in 2021 and 2022.

FILM WORKSHOPS (25pax per workshop)

Film is one of the most powerful influences on human habits and even belief systems. The media has taken the role of philosophers in society and therefore the role of the media has expanded tremendously. ZIFF has a vision to promote the making, analysis and understanding of life affirming films. In that way we can have a positive impact on media practitioners both here in the region and in Africa in general. Experienced and world-class mentors and trainers are invited to impart their knowledge to thirsty trainees. ZIFF the 2023 edition will have Online Hybrid Workshops where Trainers will be Online engaging with trainees in Zanzibar. This year we have proposed workshops in the following areas but we are still open to discussing other workshops and Masterclasses  should we find sponsors and keen participants. The Workshops include:

Film Script  Development by Multichoice  Film Academy)

Digital Narratives- in Documentary – By Margareth Brown

Film Sound- Embassy of Spain

Social Impact Strategies and Tools in Documentary Production

Digital Narratives- Experimental filmmaking (Ireland)

Special Effects – (Off-Courts- Ireland)

Tanzania Film Festival and Awards (TaFFA) symposium


The 25th Anniversary festival was also an occasion not only to celebrate cinematic excellence in Africa and in the Indian Ocean World but also as a barometer of culture and artistic growth of the East Africa region.  ZIFF has now decided to establish what we call Preferred Country Partners at the Festival. These are countries to be given prominence in the festival through programming opportunities in the festival.

The selected are Uganda, Rwanda and the EU (Italy and Ireland) as this year’s Partners. We want to recognise Italy’s role in ZIFF’s development and the development of East Africa’s film industry and to also raise the profile of your own festivals to East African filmmakers. One of our programmers, Fabrizio Colombo, has been with the festival for over 12 years now!

As to the Nation Day Programme the following are activities that could be envisaged.
1. Film screenings and Panel Discussions and Outreach programs
2. Film Workshops on core cultural inputs into the film industry

  1. Arts Exhibition and other cultural activities

Other proposals would also be countenanced.

Finally, the 8 nations that formed what was a historical unity that led to the liberation of Southern Africa, (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria) will be recognized in a memorial event based on films that spawned new cinematic movements and expressions. The Film Archives: The Frontline States Forum reinforces solidarity as a defining theme of development.

A panel discussion titled “Tangible and Intangible Heritage as Archives for Identity” is being planned to be managed by the University of Dar Es salaam and other partner universities. This panel discussion will centre the rich potential of tangible and intangible heritage assets and the need to conserve these often-fragile resources. Drawing upon case study sites along the coast of East Africa, the discussion will seek to raise awareness of the value of heritage and place-based research. The panel will explore the complementary aspects of natural and cultural resource management, discussing the potential threats (including climate change and neglect) and competing interests that can affect these sites.


Difficult Dialogues

Finding Identity is our theme this year and we propose to hold a public forum on identity in Zanzibar.

Why does identity matter?

Language has always been a key tool of identity. Film as a language however has always claimed to be universal but many have questioned that view. If it were universal how come we find films, even those that have even been highly awarded, un-understandable?

Once my son, who could only speak English, heard some African kids speaking Swahili and he thought they could not talk because all he was hearing from their mouth was “gibberish”! I had to tell him, “it is you who is speaking gibberish son, they understand each other. They speak Swahili.”

Do we have an African cinema language? One that sounds like an Afro-beat? One that resonates with who we are? One that others will enjoy, but certainly know for a fact, that it comes from a space laden with history and experience?

Identity matters, because, two weeks later my son began speaking Swahili with gusto.

Nationalism is where a state seeks to build an identity defined by shared ancestry, language, religion and culture through the process of nation building, but it is never an easy matter.

The Dialogue questions:

  • What is at the base of Zanzibar’s cosmopolitanism?
  • How best can we celebrate Zanzibar’s culture through language, heritage, faith and customs?
  • What are the values that are embedded in being a Zanzibari?

This is the Difficult Dialogue at ZIFF2023, which stops the festival for people to talk.

ZIFF: THE DHOW RACE  (1500+pax)

The Village Panorama is an integral part of ZIFF that involves villages on the islands of Unguja and Pemba through cultural and artistic activities.

The Dhow Race is an integral part of the festival as it adjoins us to communities that share with us the festival’s logo, the Dhow.

A symbol of communication for the thousands of years, this maritime vessel has been used to continue with the tradition of meetings between the East African coast and the Indian Ocean World. The overall objective of the program is to bring together people in the community to share the festival experience and also celebrate Zanzibari cultural and moral ethics.


Nafasi space is a vibrant art centre and platform for artistic exchange where artists come to create, learn, inspire, and share their work with the world. ZIFF sees in Nafasi an able partner to share the ZIFF space as an invaluable East African arts space. We have therefore invited Nafasi to:

Manage the Stonetown Alleys screenings

Collaborate with Zanzibari artists to run an arts exhibition at Forodhani and utilising Mizingani rd and Forodhani Garden as exhibition spaces.
Consider organising Workshops on key subjects that Tanzanian and EA artists would engage with. Online, Hybrid and In-situ.
Assist ZIFF with promoting the festival in general and Nafasi’s programs at ZIFF.
A key event to be managed by Nafasi is the Filmmakers’ Roundtable.

This will be an opportunity for emerging and established filmmakers from different backgrounds, cultures, and disciplines to come together and share their experiences, perspectives, and insights on various aspects of filmmaking.