Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Nick Broomfield: Tanzania is the next movie hotspot

By Laura Allsop for CNN
  • Nick Broomfield supports renovation of Zanzibar cinema
  • Film-maker is shooting next feature in Tanzania
  • Supporting cinema and shooting in country "will boost film industry"
  • Tanzania
  • Zanzibar
  • Movies
  • Sheffield

(CNN) -- It's a country known for its stunning safari landscapes, long beaches and towering Mount Kilimanjaro.

And according to documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield -- best known for films such as "Kurt & Courtney," "Biggie and Tupac" and "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" -- Tanzania is also the perfect natural film set.

With his boom, audio recorder and recognizably extended vowels, Broomfield is journeying into East Africa this week for the Zanzibar International Film Festival, where he will be giving a masterclass in documentary filmmaking.

But though it has its own film festival, Zanzibar is paradoxically without a cinema. Broomfield is pledging his support for the renovation of a dilapidated art deco cinema in Stone Town, which is visited weekly by a small group of locals with a projector and fold-up chairs, intent on reliving the cinema's former glory.

"In the past there were 50 cinemas in Tanzania and there was a film industry," said Broomfield, in the UK for Sheffield's documentary film festival Doc/Fest, where he was honored with the coveted Inspiration Award.

Now there are only a handful of cinemas left, while the last major feature film to be shot in the country was Howard Hawks's 1962 film "Hatari!," starring John Wayne.

"Restoring something like the Majestic is also a symbolic thing, showing that there is a film tradition in East Africa and the cinema can play a part in showcasing films either made in East Africa or in conjunction with the film festival," said Broomfield.

Cinema is a shared experience ... and it would be so great to it going again in Zanzibar
--Nick Broomfield

Tanzanians are very film literate people, he said, and their enthusiasm for the medium is inspiring.

"Cinema is a shared experience, it's something where you go and you talk about the movie afterwards and you share in each other's laughter and tears and it would be so great to it going again in Zanzibar."

Newly enamored of the country since producing documentary "Albino United" --- about an albino football team in Tanzania -- in 2010, Broomfield is shooting his next feature film in the city of Mwanza on the shore of Lake Victoria in the north-west of the country.

It will be an adaptation of Ronan Bennett's novel "The Catastrophist," a love story set against the Belgian Congo's decolonisation in the 1960s.

Actors in discussion to star in the film include Stephen Dorff, Steve Coogan and Mos Def, he said.

"I went to Kinshasa and with the best will in the world you're never going to get it looking anything like it did. It's very unsafe there, I think you'd wind up making a film about how you'd survived there for a week and still return with your trousers," he said.

Mwanza, he said, contains a lot of 1960s architecture that has remained more or less intact thanks to the country's comparatively peaceful recent history.

Though this narrative feature film project will mark something of a departure for Broomfield, fans of his documentary work can rest assured that he will continue to make his famously chaotic documentaries: he is reportedly close to completing a documentary about Sarah Palin.

But Broomfield hopes that filming in Tanzania will encourage other filmmakers to do so as well, thereby encouraging locals to learn the tricks of the trade and make their own films.

"The last film I made, 'Battle for Haditha,' was shot in Jordan, which hadn't had a big feature film shot there almost since 'Lawrence of Arabia,'" he said.

"And once we showed that that it was safe, a whole lot of other films were made there, like 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Redacted' and now the country has a strong and flourishing film industry that gives a lot of scope for local talent."

Broomfield thinks that the same can happen in Tanzania and getting the Majestic Cinema up and running again is an important part of the plan.

"It's an investment of faith that there is a future (there for film)," he said.

For more on Zanzibar International Film Festival: