EXCLUSIVE: CookOff Zim's Tendaiishe Chitima On The Success Of The Film And How It Landed On Netflix

Here is everything you need to know about Zim's latest success story.

By  | Jul 27, 2020, 11:15 AM 

Zimbabwe made history a few months ago when the movie Cook-Off a romantic comedy that was shot and produced in the country made its way onto Netflix. 

The movie is set in contemporary, middle-class Harare where people struggle with finding themselves in the early stages of life throughout until the stage of success and being in love. It is a family film that provides a quotidian impression of the country right before President Mugabe was peacefully deposed.

In another turn of events it is also going to be screened on the national broadcaster ZBC on 11 August 2020 at 9PM.

Zimbolebs caught up with the movie's creator who is also the main actress Tendaiishe Chitima to talk about the success of her film, how it landed on Netflix and her plans for the future. 
Netflix flier

What was the inspiration behind the movie?

Some years ago, Tomas Brickhill was been the director of the reality TV cooking competition produced by Area 46 called, “Battle of the Chefs”. The show aired on ZBC in Zimbabwe. As the finale season came to an end, he was inspired to make his first feature film based on the show – and thus the movie was conceived.

How did the Netflix collaboration come about?

It has been a long process since we finished filming in late 2017. The film was selected for a number of international film festivals, which really helped to raise the film’s profile, and for us to start building a network that would ultimately allow us to approach Netflix and finalise a deal. We also spent a considerable amount of time doing additional post-production work to polish the
film up to the highest possible standard, including cutting it down quite a bit to more commercial length. We were lucky to be able to raise a little extra investment to be able to do this, as well as receive in kind support from post-production facilities in Kenya and the UK. Also we have been fortunate with timing – we had a good quality finished film, with a great and
universal story, right at the moment that Netflix announced its expansion into Africa.

Netflix is kind of a big deal, how did you feel when you were told that your film was going to be streaming on such a massive platform?

Personally, as an actor I was pleasantly surprised! I cried, screamed and smiled – it was definitely one of the biggest highlights of my career. Especially because it was my first feature film that I get to share with the world.

What does this mean to you as a Zimbabwean filmmaker and for the arts and culture sector in Zimbabwe as a whole.

As Zimbabwean filmmakers this is a big opportunity to show tell a different narrative of Zimbabwe. We want to show that besides the tales of gloom in Africa, there are also stories of falling love in our country, of culinary arts and comedy. We are multifaceted and have ambitions and dreams too. Representation matters, and we want to tell authentic local stories. Our films getting onto platforms such as Netflix, means that we can now distribute our content to wider audiences and grow our industry – there is still much work to be done.

You shot the film when the Zim economy was going through a big down turn, how did you fund the movie and manage to execute everything on a small budget?

The level of funding we would have needed up front just wasn't available, so the production team had to ask everyone to take a real leap of faith. We are so grateful that all our talented collaborators chose to do so. Now the producers are working hard to honour the deferred payment contracts as soon as possible.
Similarly had to make deals to be able to use equipment (with MMX), and also were lucky to have a lot of people willing to help with favours and support e.g. Quite Bright Films in Kenya who did the recut and regrade for free to help support an indie film from Zimbabwe; Area 46 who made Battle of the Chefs gave us free use of their set, and other in-kind support. The cash budget of the film was less than $8,000 – that was all that the production team had to work with. Cast and crew agreed to work under deferred payment contracts, which is a common trick in indie filmmaking elsewhere in the world but hadn’t been tried in Zimbabwe. Usually it’s done like this and then people are paid after sales are agreed/concluded – which is where we are now at with Cook Off (the sales phase).
The production team also worked hard to raise additional funds to cover post-production and festival costs – and a lot of this came from private contributions, including from team members themselves. We managed to raise some more funds through a public crowdfunding campaign, which have covered certain technical and administrative costs, and will be partially used in marketing and publicity.

Where do you think the Zim film industry is and how can it be improved?

We often refer to our industry as a film community instead. This is because we are still trying to make Zimbabwe an attractive location for foreign crews to shoot in again (we were a popular location in the 80s and 90s). Locally, we definitely need more skills development and financial investment. That would increase the production quality of our content. Then also we need better organizational structures to support and professionalize our work. Good structures will harness
our capacity to build sustainable careers.

Why do you think many people resonated with the storyline and why is it important that people watch Cook Off Zim?

Romantic comedies aren’t for everyone but Cook Off has been a ray of sunshine for many people watching especially at this heavy time during the pandemic. I believe Africans resonate with the story, because it is an authentic tale woven in family dynamics and social intricacies that most Africans can relate to. From a universal perspective, we have many people from around the world reaching out to tell us that they enjoyed watching a film from another part of the world, that they fell in love with Anesu’s journey and enjoyed the feel good nature of the film.
The universal themes of love, family and pursuit of one’s dreams resonate across cultures around the world.

I would encourage people to watch this film to support African narratives and gain newperspectives of Zimbabwe and its people.

Any future projects you are currently working on?

Yes! A theatre play, TV series and more! All to be resumed once it is safe to do so. Stay tuned. Thank you. I appreciate your support!

Main image Credit:Zinbojam