Joe Njagu: The Legendary Filmmaker Positively Changing The African Narrative One Film At A Time…….

It’s impossible to talk about the film industry in Zimbabwe and not have the name Joe Njagu pop up once or twice in your conversation. NAMA legend, film producer, director par excellence, Joe is indeed one of the country’s most gifted filmmakers. Since the day film got ‘into’ him, Joe has never looked back. From his debut hit movie Lobola, starring Big Brother star, Munya Chidzonga, to working with renowned South African actor Presley Chweneyagae and former Miss Zimbabwe, Malaika Mashandu, Joe has proven, time and again, that indeed compelling storytelling runs in his blood. His road to fame has been quite the interesting one. The legend himself tells us all about it…

One childhood memory that stands out for you, please take us back to it…

My most memorable childhood moment is actually an interesting one. I think that’s when the film bug bit. I was about 6 years old and they happened to shoot a Surf washing powder advert in our hood. I remember it was this big production with lots of white people as crew. I got cast as one of the kids that runs around pushing a tyre in the video and got to be in the advert. It was an amazing experience for me.

From this experience at just 6 years old to actually getting into the film industry? How did that happen?

I don’t think you get into film, film gets you. *Laughs* I have always been interested in storytelling and film became a medium to use. Since primary school I used to write stories in essay form. I remember in form 1 I wrote an essay that was so crazy that the teacher Mr Munyaradzi  beat me up because he did not believe I had written it. My break in film came when I hooked up with Ben Mahaka and Tatenda Mavetera who both believed in my first project called Bitter Pill which Ben directed and acted in. Tatenda also acted in and produced it. The film aired on Mnet on DSTV and from then I haven’t stopped. I went on to make my first debut film Lobola starring Munya Chidzonga and produced by my partner in crime,Rufaro Kaseke.

Who were your influences growing up?

I grew up watching a lot of Hollywood films so that influenced me a lot. My role models were big American directors and producers… Christopher Nolan, Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino…

You were recognized as a Legend at this year’s NAMAs. Congratulations! What does that status mean to you?

To be honest that was a really big honor that I felt was bestowed on me too early, but I take it as a challenge to work towards being a legend. Or maybe I’m wrong and like a lot of other people, am just used to seeing legends as people that are not young. *Laughs* I must say it is a good feeling though to be appreciated on that level and again I thank NAC, JCMC , GOZ and all those involved in the awards. It’s good to receive your flowers when you are still alive.

You’ve produced and directed a number of movies. Do you have a personal favourite from them?

That’s a tough one because they are all my babies and they are all special in their own way. When you make something you are always watching it and thinking, I could have done better. Lobola could win though as it was my debut and the big springboard for my career.

And your favourite movies of all time not produced by you?

1.Troy

2.Rock n Rolla

3.The Prestige

What makes a film great for you. Are there certain qualities you look for?

Well, for starters it has to be an amazing script and then you compliment that with an amazing cast and crew and boom, magic!

If you were to make a cameo appearance in a movie, which one would it be?

Black panther….as his long lost brother who is back. *Laughs

As a filmmaker, how do you deal with the pressure on set when the going gets tough?

Onset pressure is what drives us. It’s always insane but how you handle yourself is what determines how good a filmmaker you are. You have to have a good team as well. Film is a collaborative process so good synergies are always helpful.

And how do you unwind? What does your down time off set look like?

I barely have any, but when I can I love going on holidays with my family. We love traveling and seeing new places around the world.

From your perspective, how can the Zimbabwean film industry expand?

For one, our industry needs a lot of support from other sectors. The film business is not a stand alone sector; it needs other businesses to collaborate with it. The filmmakers themselves also need to collaborate more. There is this competitive spirit among practitioners and a constant thinking of, “Oh we are competing”. Don’t get me wrong, healthy competition is not bad but I feel at this point we need to collaborate more as we are still developing. Rather have one amazing film that we collaborate on than 20 bad films from 20 filmmakers that could have worked together and made one amazing film. I don’t even think we can call what we currently have a film industry to be honest. It’s still a little film community.

Speaking of collaborations, which international filmmaker would you love to work with?

It would have to be Guy Ritchie. He is a master of the craft.

What’s currently in the works for you?

More films from us. We have a new film coming soon called MiRAGE starring Prudence Katomeni Mbofana and directed by Malaika Mushandu. I produced it. We are also working on a TV series. So more work is definitely coming.

And what’s next for you? What’s the 5 year plan?

Growing from strength to strength. I feel I know my purpose and calling and I am on the right path career wise. My motto is “Positively Changing the African narrative one film at a time”……that is Joe Njagu’s vision so in 5 years I hope I would have pushed more narratives to effect that.

Can you leave us with one lesson you’ve learnt so far that you’d want to share with us?

It was from former American president Barrack Obama actually. We had the opportunity to meet him in 2016 during a fellowship I was part of in Washington. He spoke about finding your purpose and he broke it down simply. He said worry about what you want to DO first and that will lead you to what you are going to BE. So if you figure out what you want DO first, what you are going to BE is automatic.

 

 

By:Chido Kakora

 

 

 

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