History of Cinema in BOTSWANA
Historical overviewThe Batswana, a term inclusively used to denote all citizens of Botswana, also refers to the country's major ethnic group (the "Tswana" in South Africa), which came into the area from South Africa during the Zulu wars of the early 1880s.
Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name upon independence in 1966. The economy, one of the most robust on the continent, is dominated by diamond mining.
History of cinema from 1896-2000
The earliest known film-making in Botswana and the Kalahari was by the Austrian ethnographer Rudolf Pöch (Poech) in 1907-09. He made four films on San people in the Nossop (Kalahari-Gemsbok) area of Botswana-Namibia-South Africa, and recorded synchronous wax disks of the !Komani or /Auni language-producing the first successful ethnographic "talkie". A further film of San people around the Nossop is said to have been filmed around 1913 by one Fred Cornell.
The writer Sol Plaatje stepped in by presenting an entirely new form of media in the 1920s-30s. His travelling 'bioscope' (cinema) toured villages, apparently using the techniques of combining silent film and live performance which Plaatje had pioneered in London in the early 1920s. He tried to educate the rural inhabitants with his newsreels. (Unfortunately the records on Plaatje's bioscope held in the National Archives were 'automatically' destroyed in the 1970s-80s.)
The first known filming in eastern Botswana was in 1912, when W. Butcher of London was given permission to film a ceremonial parade of marching Bangwato regiments at Serowe, celebrating the opening of the new national church building. Possibly this is the same film which was being shown twelve years later as The Late Chief Khama and his Bamangwato People at Serowe by Sol Plaatje in his bioscope show which accompanied his speaking tours of South Africa and Botswana.
Two types of documentary film-ethnographic study of Khoe and San people in western Botswana and newsreel of an event in eastern Botswana-dominate the filmography of Botswana from the start. Newsreels after 1923 and before the Second World War cover the local receptions of British imperial dignitaries on fleeting railroad trips-the prince of Wales in 1925, the colonial/dominions minister in 1928, prince George of Kent in 1934.
The first theatrical feature-film to capture any aspect of Botswana was Rhodes of Africa (British Gaumont, directed by Berthold Viertel), a "talkie" made in 1935 and distributed in 1936, scripted by Sarah Gertrude Millin-with Walter Huston as Rhodes, plus Oscar Homolka, Peggy Ashcroft, Bernard Lee, Lewis Casson and Ndaniso Kumalo. It was filmed partly in Zimbabwe and possibly contains some shots of Botswana.
The first local filmmaker in Botswana is said to have been chief Molefi Pilane of the Bakgatla at Mochudi in the 1930s. He picked up the cinema habit in Johannesburg, as well as a liking for township music, and gave popular slide and film shows for paying audiences (notably The Arabian Nights) in the Mochudi church hall-much to the disgust of his Dutch Reformed missionaries who considered them pornographic. Molefi possessed and used a small movie camera, but his films (reputedly of bathing belles) appear not to have survived.
The second known local filmmaker in Botswana was Miss Murchison, matron of the Lobatse government hospital, who leaves behind her an illustrious record in two or more hours of Second World War vintage colour film. Her filming was compiled into two roughly edited, mute colour films as part of the wartime propaganda effort, at the behest of the colonial administration. One, titled African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps, is an almost half-hour record of raw recruits arriving at Lobatse army training camp, being trained and accommodated and fed, their passing-out parade before the Resident Commissioner, and their departure by train for the coast.
The other film, Bechuanaland Protectorate, is much longer. Two parts survive, taking us first from Mafikeng via Lobatse and Kanye to Tshane and Ramotswa, and secondly from Gaborone and Tlokweng via Molepolole and Mochudi to Mahalapye and Serowe. A third part, which hopefully will resurface someday, must have gone on to Francistown and Maun and maybe Ghanzi and Kasane. The film was designed to be shown to AAPC troops in North Africa, to assure them that things were okay back home. The plot of the film follows a small group of AAPC soldiers, who have won a trip back to Botswana by lottery in North Africa, peeling off to their home villages. Emphasis is placed throughout on evidence of progressive agriculture, especially that under the supervision of chief Bathoen II of Kanye.
As in other wartime colonies, a mobile film unit "constantly toured the Protectorate showing images of the war and its leading personalities." As well as matron "Murch", there was a South African by the name of Graham Young who was paid £50 a month to tour the country making films for the troops. The resulting film was flown to the troops in 1944, and has previously been believed lost. The recent re-discovery of Murchison's Bechuanaland Protectorate film-made in the same places at the same time for the same purpose-suggests that Young collaborated with her on the film that survives. The cream on the cake for the 1940s is a 20-minute mute but professionally made, good quality colour film made by Lewis of Johannesburg, copyright Bechuanaland Protectorate Government, of the 1947 Royal Visit to the same Lobatse farm location as where the AAPC camp had stood.
The accolade of third local filmmaker probably belongs to Louis Knobel, an employee of South African Information Services but presumably the same as the man of that name from a white trading family at Molepolole, who produced Remnants of a Dying Race (Kalahari Films. 17 minutes) about Kalahari San or Khoe people (Bushmen) in 1953.
The most important filming in Botswana has so far been of wildlife documentaries, including those released through the U.S. National Geographic Society. No major feature films have yet actually been shot in Botswana. The Government's Botswana TV station is scheduled to begin transmission in late 1999.
The biggest fiction film ever made supposedly about Botswana - but not actually made here - was The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), with a sequel (1989) and a further sequel called Fei zhou he shang (1991). All three starred a South African actor called N!xau. The first two were filmed in the Northern Transvaal, and the third in Hong Kong. ("The Gods Must be Crazy" is also the name of the TNT Botswana Travel Page. Also not filmed in Botswana is the fictiona film Sands of the Kalahari starring Stuart Whitman and a troupe of baboons.
Only two full-length general documentaries are known to have been made in Botswana for British television. One is Hugh Masekela: the African Ambassador (BBC-TV, 6 May 1985, 84 minutes), filmed while Masekela lived and worked at a mobile studio near Gaborone. The other is a well-known drama-documentary about Seretse and Ruth Khama in 1948-50, titled A Marriage of Inconvenience (Southern Television, Maidstone, 1991, 2 x 55 minutes). It was made by the late Mike Dutfield, former schoolteacher in Zambia, journalist on the Johannesburg Star and an editor on BBC-TV's Panorama news programme.
Nowadays Botswana has made little or no progress in the film industry. No film has ever entered the film festival circuit be it short or long metrage. No Botswana local has ever won international acclaim. In Gaborone some production have settled, but none have produced an award winning production. Billy Kokorwe and Ken Barlow are the most renowned local documentary producers today. Anno 2000 the TV has found its way in most homes. Wildlife documentaries remain the bulk of the cinematic output, supported by local companies.
Cinema links from BOTSWANA
Extensive news site offering an art section with local film and TV news.