What do you get when you combine a killer script, a wonderful cast of actors and an intriguing plot with a powerful message? A filmmaking experience of unparalleled heights! Gonarezhou the film is a deeply moving viewing experience while also sending out a very important message coupled with a great storyline.
Gonarezhou is a film that centres on Zulu (whose real name is Nhamo and is played by Edmore Sandifolo) a rural man who’s hard on his luck. Zulu dreams of becoming a successful musician but when the world has dealt its cards, this honourable man finds himself part of a sophisticated poaching group. The main character’s life is forever changed when he encounters Thulo (Tendaiishe Chitima) a woman who will change him in more than one way.
The screenwriter and director, Sydney Taivavashe, was inspired to write the script in 2013 when he read about three hundred elephants dying from cyanide poisoning at the hands of poachers. Principal photography began in 2018. The movie saw its world premier in early 2020 at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles before premiering in the land of its inception in November.
The movie was aimed to raise awareness about poaching; and to achieve this goal, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority were involved in the movie. The message of the negative effects of poaching was successfully delivered. Audiences are taken into the dark, sophisticated world of poachers and the puppet masters who pull the strings.
The movie was also a love letter to Zimbabwe’s expansive untouched wildlife. The camera falls deeply in love with Zimbabwe’s diverse flora and fauna, resulting in a mesmerising viewing experience. This can surely boost the Zimbabwean Tourism Authority’s desire to showcase the country’s natural attractions.
During the film, Chitima’s character utters the line “Risk is the currency of this town” referring to the city which Zulu has just moved into. Her words run deep and true. This statement is not only true for the city that these characters live in but also the bigger world outside of the film. Most of the characters place themselves in dangerous situations in order to afford themselves livelihoods. Life is a daily struggle not only for our characters but also for the wildlife that surrounds them.
The film’s star, Sandifolo, delivers a powerful performance in what could be his most riveting work to date. Sandifolo is known mainly for portraying villainous characters and the crown jewel in his performance as Zulu is that he is afforded something that his previous characters did not have; moral ambiguity. Zulu is a complex and flawed human like everyone else and Sandifolo is able to elicit empathy from the audience with a grounded honesty. Though Zulu is not fundamentally good, the audience can identify with him as a human being. Sandifolo’s simple gestures and facial expression is the stuff of genius.
Sandifolo’s leading lady is played by Zimbabwe’s new screen darling, Tendaiishe Chitima, who plays the archetypal prostitute with a big heart. However, there is nothing archetypical about Chitima’s performance. She embodies her character with pure honesty coming toe to toe with one of Zimbabwe’s finest actors. Actress and producer, Taririo Washe, plays Sergeant Onai a brilliant park ranger whose past could hinder the success of her job. Washe is certainly one to watch out for in the film, this was her film debut which is hard to believe due to the power she elicits in the film.
Another note worthy performance is the one delivered by Charles Mzemba who plays the ring leader of the poachers. The character is menacing and fun to watch from beginning to end. Zimbabwean songstress, Tamy Moyo, has the opportunity to show off her outstanding vocal ability while enjoying her first feature film. She plays Sarah, a friend to Zulu from his village who holds on to hopes of success under her own terms.
The whole cast gave us characters that were fully fleshed out and true. A great thumbs up to director Taivavashe for bringing out the best from his cast in an industry where it is hard to trust people with a performance. Taivavashe is one who clearly has to deliver more work in the future.
The movie flows smoothly, each transition moving fluidly into the next. Each scene carries with it depth and a live pulse. Sandifolo owns most of the show with his powerful delivery and command of each moment the screen is blessed to behold his talent. Only Chitima comes close enough to Sandifolo’s brilliance. The two leads make for great screen partners.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking scene was when Zulu sees his former friends achieve success while his chosen path has led him into dizzying levels of turmoil. Local music is used throughout the film which gives it an authentic Zimbabwean feel while showcasing some of the most talented musicians in the country. The film also boasts of a well composed score which adds dramatic effect at necessary moments.
The intention of the film of course was to raise awareness about poaching but the film does more than that. It tells a captivating and interesting story while also showing a side of life that most people are unaware of. Taivavashe places a magnifying glass onto the lives of the poachers and the people closest to them.
When all is said and done we are taught that crime doesn’t pay. The movie is rated 16+ due to the violence and some of the dark themes. Art is meant to tickle our thoughts and disturb the mind, Gonarezhou does just that. The film is similar to a piece of tapestry; beautiful while interesting at the same time.