A Zimbabwean romantic comedy, Cook Off the Movie, produced by Joe Njagu and Thomas Brickhill has made history by being the first production to be selected for release on America’s streaming site Netflix.
The development will likely boost confidence in Zimbabwe’s fledgling film industry.
Brickhill, who wrote and directed the movies, said: “We have always wanted the film to do as well as possible, but without our modest resources, we had much more humble expectations of how far we could take this film. It’s a real testament to the hard work of the entire team that we have managed to go this far.”
Njagu said when they embarked on the project, they felt they could produce something great.
“Filmmakers in Zimbabwe have tended to work quite independently of each other, but we felt that we could do something really special by putting all our energies into one film. We look forward to more collaboration in the Zimbabwean film industry – we know that there is great talent here,” he said.
Produced two years ago, the nearly two-hour-long romantic film has continued to break boundaries having previously showcased at a number of international festivals. These include the Durban International Film Festival, Festival International du Film PanAfricain at Cannes in France, The International Film Festival Rotterdam in Netherlands, Seattle Film Festival in Seattle, Washington America and in London at the Mayfair Hotel last year.
The film producers took to Facebook on Saturday to celebrate the achievement which they described as a big moment for the cast and crew who have put so much into making the film.
“Drum roll please. We are so excited to announce that Cook Off the Movie is going to be released on Netflix. This is such a big moment for the cast and crew who have put so much into making this amazing film,” read the post.
“We want to say a huge thank you to all of them for putting so much faith in the process, and to each and every one of you who has cheered us on.”
Media, Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana took to Twitter to congratulate the producers.
“One day we will take the commissioning of local content on Netflix for granted. Whilst that day is not far off, today, right now, we celebrate the achievement of such a milestone. Congrats @joenjagu,” he wrote.
The film producers urged people to keep on supporting them by following their different social media platforms where they promised to be sharing lots of bonus material to whet fans’ appetite ahead of the confirmation of the exact release dates.
In a recent interview ahead of the film’s screening at the 16th edition of the Festival International du Film PanAfricain at Cannes, France, the award winning filmmaker, film and television director Njagu said he was continuously charmed by the international recognition that is being attached to the film.
“It is such an honour to be accepted to such a prestigious festival (Festival International du Film PanAfricain), it’s reassurance that we are doing something right and headed somewhere,” he said.
“The journey for the Zimbabwe film industry is getting shorter and shorter. One day we will get there. To the cast and crew of Cook Off, I say salute we did it. God has really been amazing in this crazy filmmaking journey of ours. A film made by young filmmakers powered by insane passion, crazy willpower and no funding please never stop believing.”
Fellow industry players hailed the development.
“This is what we all have been hoping for, breaking new ground. It means more distribution opportunities for Zimbabwe filmmakers. We need to push this project so that it gets as many views as possible,” said filmmaker Kuda Bwititi.
Shem Zemura said he was excited by the development.
“Now, we can proudly walk with our heads raised high shouting, there is a Zimbabwean film on Netflix! That’s the beginning. Netflix has shown interest in African stories, and I’m happy we are part of the catalogue. This says to all Zimbabwean filmmakers, “it’s possible. We can do it,” he said.
He said Cook Off had challenged them to prioritise quality of productions over making money quickly.
Stephen Chigorimbo said the development was “a pleasant breakthrough” as Netflix did not accept low quality work.
“They have a very high benchmark. Our guys excelled in every important aspect in the production. We can tell the world, we have Netflix quality practitioners. These guys have broken the ice,” he said.
Another filmmaker, Charles Mawungwa, said the production’s success was “definitely a big milestone for our industry” in the last 20 years.
“With Cook-Off making it into Netflix it shows that our films have a place to go, and that means more films can be made. More money will be invested knowing there is a place where the films will be received and bought,” he said.
The romantic film tells the story of Anesu, a determined single mother who is forced to leave school after falling pregnant. She is passionate about cooking, and her son and best friend sign her up for a cooking contest with heart-warming consequences.
It features celebrities, including actresses Jesesi Mungoshi, Anne Nhira and South Africa-based Tendaiishe Chitima, musicians Tehn Diamond and Kudzai Sevenzo as well as poet Chirikure Chirikure and stand-up comedian Michael Kudakwashe.