54th BFI London Film Festival-Shungu: The Resilience Of A People (2009), Dir. Saki Mafundikwa

Rating: 4/10

Shungu is the first feature documentary by Saki Mafundikwa; a renowned Zimbabwean graphic designer and educator. The film came out of frustration with Zimbabwe’s terrible economic situation and a desire to show the world what exactly is happening in Zimbabwe, now that the mainstream media seems to have lost interest. Thus the film sets out to show the aftermath of the long queues for bread, empty shelves and political violence, and show Zimbabwe’s long term suffering.

This is done by focusing on the stories of people in Zimababwe who represent the struggle, frustration and determination of the Zimbabwean people, embodying the title Shungu which means all these things. So we learn about the lives of a 30-something metalsmith and opposition supporter trying to keep his business going amidst government supporters attacking and threatening him and his family, and people stealing his equipment or not paying him.

There is also a middle-aged widower, who is trying to manage a run-down farm (empty from looters) she took over from a white owner, but struggling with a lack of resources such as seed and fertilizer, promised by the government. An anaesthetist trying to maintain her middle-class lifestyle in the wake of the healthcare system collapsing, and particularly painful to watch, a 25 year-old girl suffering from AIDs related Kaposi’s Sarcoma without basic medical treatment.

The stories are well-chosen and really illustrate Zimbabwe’s dire situation where there is 90 per cent unemployment and widespread poverty and crime. However I found that how these stories were presented was where it fell short. Mafundikwa’s continuous narration could get pedantic and extraneous, and seemed to be coming from the basis that people didn’t know anything about Zimbabwe. He also kept repeating the same points, for example constantly pointing out the contrast between Zimbabwe as the ‘bread basket’ of Africa and what it is now, which was unnecessary. Sometimes it’s best when the stories just speak for themselves.

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