Saving the world, from Zambia

Saving the world, from Zambia
Photo: Emmanuel Mwape

Emmanuel Mwape (Lusaka, 1991) is an award-winning Zambian filmmaker and cinematographer for producing fiction and non-fiction films in his native country and abroad. With its own identity and an interesting aesthetic subject, his productions revolve around urban, social, community issues and collective beliefs with powerful and poetic tones almost saturated with human gestures.

Emmanuel is also an academic in the Tobacco Harm Reduction Program at Knowledge Action Change, whose scholarship provided him with producing his latest short film, “Saving Chalo,” which premiered on November 27. We spoke with Emmanuel via WhatsApp.

The Vaping Today: What’s Saving Chalo all about?

Emmanuel Mwape: Chalo is a word in our local language that means “world”; and “Saving Chalo” can be translated exactly as “Saving the world”. It is a short film project that focuses on the character Justina, who lost her husband to cancer due to smoking cigarettes, and who now wants to save the community by introducing safer nicotine products through her cooperative. It is a fictional film that uses visual storytelling to amplify unheard narratives and to encourage conversations and training about tobacco harm reduction.

The Vaping Today: You make a very interesting assumption: to use the filmographic narrative to amplify unheard narratives. How was the creation of the ‘listening’ process during production? Because it is fiction, but it is real at the same time. We have many ‘Justinas’ in the world.

Emmanuel Mwape: I would love to share with you something that happened on set. We had a scene in the movie in which Justina shared information with the members of the cooperative on how to use an electronic cigarette. In fact, most of the actors on set had no idea what exactly an e-cigarette was. And most of them never knew that they are safer nicotine products. After doing this scene, one of the actresses got her son an e-cigarette in the hope that it would help him quit smoking; A few days ago I learned that your son stopped smoking. So we see that through education and information exchange there is hope.

The Vaping Today: That in itself is almost filmic … almost a metalanguage … the promotion of harm reduction that takes place within the set itself … Although it is fiction, reality seems to transcend from history itself … How did the idea for the short film come about?

Emmanuel Mwape: The idea came from the everyday life of the communities here in Zambia. Most of the population is not well informed about the harms of tobacco, much less about the possibility of reducing the harms caused by tobacco. The country registers large numbers of deaths caused by smoking. I thought it would be a good way to educate the masses about the harms of tobacco by telling a story, and I was also inspired by the quote that says not to just “quit or die”, but to “quit and try.”

The Vaping Today: How did the harm reduction paradigm emerge in your life?

Emmanuel Mwape: I was introduced to the topic of harm reduction after I created a short film called “Breath”. A friend from Malawi recommended that I join the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Program when he realized how passionate I was about telling harm reduction stories. He knew that through this scholarship program, I would have more information, elements, and motivation to bring harm reduction from smoking to my work.

The Vaping Today: We have few, but very good films that deal with the subject. How do you see the role and scope of audiovisual language in the field of promoting the reduction of the harm of smoking?

Emmanuel Mwape: Through my experience in creating films promoting human rights, so to speak, one thing that has always been very important to me is amplifying unheard stories; and always after each projection, a film generally generates debates, discussions, and suggestions, it makes people think and dialogue.

The Vaping Today: What are your interests as a filmmaker? What are your references … and what inspires you besides those voices?

Emmanuel Mwape: My interest is to tell advocacy films that evoke discussions and provide solutions for humanity and human rights. The references can be taken from a series of short films that I have made. I am inspired by the daily struggles of human beings; I am motivated by the deepest voice in the film that would provide solutions to some of humanity’s problems.

The Vaping Today: How did your interest in making audiovisuals come about? What is your trajectory?

Emmanuel Mwape: I started as a theater director. My interest in audiovisuals came from the amount of audience that a film can reach.

The Vaping Today: It seems to have been a very successful change: in addition to reaching a much larger audience, many of your productions have been awarded.

Emmanuel Mwape: I have won several local and international awards; I have won the Best Documentary Short Film award with the short Zambian Cab; I have won the Best Short Film award with the films “Breath”, “Sex” and “Confession”, among them the awards of the Moja Film Festival in Italy, the International Real-Time Film Festival, the Mimino Film Festival, the Zambia Short Film Festival, the Sotambe Film Festival and more.

The Vaping Today: How do you foresee the circuit of your short film? Where will it be shown? Where can we see your movies?

Emmanuel Mwape: The film is currently in festival rounds. Some community and school exhibitions have already started since November 27.

The pre-premiere was at the Numetro Cinema here in Zambia for personalities, influencers, and the local media. It is currently going around festivals. Saving Chalo has been selected for the 12Edukino Film Festival, and it will be shown at the Sotambe Film Festival; will have a Lift-off online session, and at the Noble International Film Festival, and at the Open Eye Film Festival, it will also be shown at the uMgungundlovu Film Festival. It will be shown in schools, universities, festivals, bars, television stations. And soon on Youtube and Vimeo.

The Vaping Today: What are your plans after Saving Chalo?

Emmanuel Mwape: I hope to make a feature-length film that focuses on tobacco harm reduction so that I can share a broader narrative on this topic that I consider sensitive.

The Vaping Today: One last question: are you related to your namesake, Emmanuel Mwape, considered the best goalkeeper in the history of Zambian football?

Emmanuel Mwape: No, no… unfortunately we are not related, we just share the same name.


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