tsitsi dangarembga, no longer nervous


african women in cinema has a wonderful interview with tsitsi dangarembga online (excerpted below). i can still remember the first time i read nervous conditions and the paper i wrote on it for my african feminisms class in college, the endless inner dialogue of my own nervous conditions since then.

i am rather in awe of this woman. she speaks exactly to the reasons why i both write and study filmmaking, to the african problem of film as 'meaningless entertainment' or a tool for development, with nothing in between. there is much food for thought here. --AL.

"Tsitsi, you have had a parallel trajectory as writer and filmmaker, how did these interests take shape?

'Initially my idea was to develop another skill, besides prose writing, that would enable me to earn a living. At that time, in the mid 1980’s, I could already see that skills in moving images narration were essential to the national agenda. Our then Minister of Finance, Bernard Chidzero also saw a role for motion picture in development. That was good in that he incorporated film as an important medium for sending out development oriented messages (such as Neria) – women’s rights, and many HIV films such as More Time, Everyone’s Child and Yellow Card. The down side of this was that film became identified with social messaging in the minds of the local public. We had a strange dichotomy: film was either frivolous, meaningless entertainment, or it was disseminated of didactic developmental. The study of film theory and the way the medium speaks to the individual and shapes the individual consciousness, was still a specialist area. But I had a premonition about these matters, so I decided to study film as an adjunct to making my living. I was aware I could read up the theory on my own, but needed guidance in practical matters. So I researched schools in filmmaking. It was one of the great blessings of my life that I was accepted at the German Film and Television Academy, Berlin, where I received excellent tuition.'

What relationship do you see between literature and cinema?

'At first I could not see any parallels in prose narrative and film narrative. I was surprised at how my approach to creating narrative simply did not work for film. I think the biggest difference for me was to understand the difference between who and why (prose) and what and why (film), i.e. character against action. It came to the point where I found that writing prose interfered with my learning the techniques of film narrative. But I was determined to conquer it. So I stopped writing prose. With practice and good teachers, slowly and agonisingly, I became proficient in creating for film. Now that I am able to write both fiction and screen, I am more aware of the similarities than the differences. The similarity is in what – character, plot, setting, and so forth – the traditional aspects of narrative. The difference is in how one manifests these to suit the medium.'"

You Might Also Like


  1. I love this interview. I could almost see the way her mind works through her words. She's right about African films. I remember growing up and only associating African films with "social messaging". It took some growing up for me to see that it could be so much more. Heck, I'm still learning.

  2. I love Nervous Conditions, I am sad she no longer writes though. I heard that the sequel to NC was not that good so I haven't read it yet, have you?

    I am glad that she is still creating though through film which is as powerful a medium as books to change perceptions and enlighten :)


Popular Posts


+1 347 857 9224