Whatever happens next with PILI, nothing will beat what happened last week with the screening of the film to the cast and communities where it was shot. As with all endings, the return to Tanzania was filled with drama and tension, laughter, and a lot of hugs and gossip. It was without doubt one of the most overwhelming highlights of my career.
All the unpleasantness of government bureaucracy and crew blackmail and threats evaporated at the first shout of ‘Sofia’ from Siwazurio (‘Ana’) as I arrived back in Miono. Over two days I would be going about my business setting up the screening, hear my name called, and turn to see one of the actresses running towards me with their arms outstretched. This was both lovely and hilarious as Faridi (‘Ibrahim’) nearly knocked me out when he ran and jumped into my arms, Mwanaidi greeted me in a gigantic hug with the phrase ‘I got married and you got fat,’ and baby Charles followed his Mum Sesilia by hugging my leg and then promptly burst into tears when he looked up and saw who the leg belonged to. I sat with Bello (‘Pili’) and Sikujua (‘Zuhura’) and caught up with all the local goings on, how all the cast and crew were and what they planned to wear to the screening (Sikujua turned up with a full ponytail, Bello went for her favourite: the red dress, Sesilia put her hair in bunches, Mwanaidi stuck with her classic CM head dress and Siwazurio kept in real in her peer educator t shirt).
The screening itself was something else. At 6.30 the crowd looked like this:
By 7pm when the film was due to start the crowd doubled. There was a child riot to the right of the screen as my friend Duncan became the mandazi (local doughnut) pied piper. Directly ahead of the screen sat the local Doctor from the CTC and a crowd of people on benches. The main actors sat on chairs to the left. Behind the main benches people stood. Behind those standing people sat on shoulders. Once the film started, a massive group of school children joined at each side. Halfway through the audience would be lit up with the lights of motorbikes and buses as more people arrived to watch. As the film played I would walk around the back and see more and more pockets of people who had turned up to watch. I started to count and stopped at 500 people. I have never seen anything like it.
People clapped excitedly when Pili danced with Ibrahim and sang along to Peter Msechu. They laughed at every scene that featured Ana. When one of the Doctors in the film looks up there was a roar of joyous laughter as everyone realised he was played by local legend Justin. Perhaps the biggest cheer was at the mention of Juma Nasolo, the snake man who died earlier this year. At the end I pulled all of the actresses to the front to applaud them, we were then mobbed by children, all proclaiming Faridi and Yaridi (who play Pili’s son) the best actors of the whole thing.
The best bit was not just the audience’s reaction to what they were seeing, but seeing the actors themselves laugh along and smiling throughout. Of all the audiences we would show the film to this was not only the biggest but the most important: if the women didn’t like the final film then it would all be for nothing. All looked proud of what they had achieved and beamed throughout the screening and at the end.
The morning after the Miono Mega event we conducted a bijou screening in Makole – the location for Pili’s house by the side of the busy road. This screening was to thank Mr Karibu and his family for being so awesome and patient when we took over their homes for 5 weeks. The screening was much smaller at 30 people and was inside because of time constraints but it was no less entertaining. The mention of Juma Nasolo again got an applause, everyone got a kick out of seeing themselves, and of course thought Ana was hilarious. One woman in the picture below filmed the entire thing on her phone. If there is a sign your film is any good it’s if it is bootlegged. I saw a few people filming parts of the Miono screening but assumed they wouldn’t be able to capture the whole thing, but I have to put it to the Makole woman, she never put her phone down for the full 80mins!
Now I’m back in the UK the trip felt far too short. It was not quite perfect as Director Leanne withdrew over safety concerns following on from threats received 24hrs prior to our departure which also meant I couldn’t invite Jackson and Anitha to the screening. But as endings go it was as glorious as I could have hoped for. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the women as this time around I have no fixed plans to be back, however as Sesilia said to me mountains and rivers mean nothing when you’re family and this wasn’t the end.
What happens next with PILI is now in the hands of film festival programmers. We are looking to get an international premiere early next year at a film festival. This is ambitious given we have a cast of unknowns, no production company, first feature of Director, and no industry muscle. But then no-one thought we could make a feature film with women working in the shamba living on less than $2.50 a day on a research budget. With PILI anything is possible.