Mthabisi Tshuma, showbiz reporter
Filmmaker Zoe Ramushu nee Chiriseri recently put the country on the map when her production Intelligent/Botlhale screened at the New York African Film Festival.
It premiered at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan, New York on May 14.
South Africa-based Zoe, who is also a multimedia journalist, has done very well in the industry as her film productions have caused a sensation abroad.
His production, To The Plate, was shortlisted last year for the BAFTA Student Film Awards.
Another, It Takes A Circus, on which he worked alongside directors Gopika Ajan and Annick Laurent, was a finalist for the 48th Student Academy Awards (Oscars).
Chronicle Showbiz caught up with Zoe last weekend.
He had just returned home to Cape Town from the UK.
During the interview, he talked about how he has been able to use cinema as a source of happiness.
Zoe, who was born in Bulawayo and grew up in Harare, said that the inspiration to focus on film was a result of the encouragement she received from her father.
“I knew I wanted to do something that would impact the people around me.
I always liked books, but I realized that film and television were more accessible means of talking to the average person,” said Zoe.
“My first project was a movie called My Perfect Date which was shot in Harare in 2015.
It was a reality series that I shot in Zimbabwe using my aunt’s newly renovated kitchen.
I asked my local butcher and Spar to sponsor the project and that’s how we got the project off the ground,” said Zoe.
He said that premiering his film on an international stage was a dream come true as he gave details of a real event.
“The film is called Smart or Botlhale, the direct translation.
This is the name of the main character in the film and the name was chosen by the film’s director, my business partner Rea Moeti.”
Sharing the synopsis for the film, Zoe said, “Bothlale, who suffers from mental illness, makes new friends and finds love while institutionalized.
The friends plan an escape to a fast food joint, where they will live out their fantasies of being high society people, but the day of their escape collides with the closure of their institution.
Their lives collide with tragedy and death.
“The story is fictional, but it is based on the real crisis that occurred in Life Esidemeni (a tragedy that involved the deaths of 144 people in psychiatric facilities in Gauteng province from causes including starvation and neglect),” Zoe said.
Reflecting on her film career, Zoe said breaking into the industry was no walk in the park.
“It’s a pretty tight network of professionals who know each other and continue to work together from project to project, so it can be difficult to break into.
It’s also not the most lucrative when you start out.
Many people have to supplement by doing random odd jobs or change careers entirely to keep the lights on.
“However, once you have a sustainable revenue model and a good portfolio of projects, the highs are really high.
Creation is a pure act of will and there is nothing better than seeing something that existed only in your mind come to life and be appreciated by others,” he said.
Zoe said that one of the challenges she has faced as a “young woman of color” is being included in the “emerging filmmaker” category over and over again.
“We are always emerging and have never ‘arrived’.
The labels aren’t the problem, it’s the quotes that accompany the label.
But eventually, your work speaks for itself and I also believe that the grace of God sets you apart.
“I think I’ve done my part since I’ve been nominated for the student Oscars.
I was also selected as a Reuters Fellow at Oxford University,” said Zoe.
As someone who has made a name for herself in the industry, Zoe advised emerging film professionals to be upbeat in their work, something she is doing as she works on upcoming projects.
“Find your tribe of like-minded people and then start doing what you can on set.
I learned to serve my church, His Presence Ministries International, and to be helpful, eager, and available to do the jobs no one wants to do. That’s what gets you noticed and that’s what gets you far.”
As for her plans for this year, Zoe said she is producing two feature films, one for M-net and one for Netflix.
Highly educated, Zoe holds bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor of Laws from Wits, Honors and Master of Arts in African Literature and Film from Wits and Master of Science in Journalism with a concentration in Documentary Filmmaking from Columbia University at New York City.
She is the third daughter of Apostle Carlos (deceased) and Commissioner Petunia Chiriseri, both Bulawayo natives. The 32-year-old is married to Herbert Ramushu.
Zoe, who has appeared in several commercials in South Africa with international brands such as KFC, Grandpa and Soul Candi, runs her own production company, Chiriseri Studios.
He is a member of the Cannes Producers Network and The Gotham (formerly IFP).
It has been successful in several markets, including its Pretty Hustle series, which was selected as the first and only episodic project to be featured at the DFM Financial Forum.
He chairs the committee of the South African Department of Arts and Culture and is a member of the Reuters 2021 Institute at the University of Oxford.
Until now, his work has been recognized on global platforms such as the Berlinale, Cannes, the Moroccan Film Festivals and has been featured in Glamor and Variety magazines.
Before becoming a filmmaker and multimedia journalist, Zoe studied and worked in the legal field.
He was an integral part of the team that prepared the 2018 Framing The Shot: Key Trends in African Film report, the leading analysis of African cinema, with the Goethe Institut and the German Foreign Office.