Monday, October 26, 2020

Botswana’s emerging filmmakers thrive despite Covid-19 restrictions

Other industries may be slowly re-opening following the national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Botswana’s film sector is a hive of activity, adhering to all post-lockdown regulations in continuing to create world-class film and TV content.

In particular, the students of the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) Academy for Southern Africa have returned from the academy headquarters in Lusaka, and are working hard, from home, to continue their studies ahead of their graduation later this year.

Lorato Orapeleng and Masego Mohwasa were the two fortunate creatives chosen to represent Botswana this year at the MTF Academy – a MultiChoice initiative that aims to ignite Africa’s creative industries and in so doing, transform the film sector. 

Skilled and experienced professionals in the African film industry are scarce. The MTF Academy wants to be part of the solution by proactively growing this skills base in various Southern African countries, including Botswana, while uniting the African film sector into one formalised, professional industry.

To do this, students from across the region participate in a year-long, paid-for programme that provides them with invaluable skills and hands-on industry experience. Covid-19 lockdowns in Southern Africa may have restricted students’ personal interactions, but it has done nothing to damper their spirits, as Lorato and Masego are fast proving.

The sky’s the limit for Lorato

You could say Lorato was born for TV. Since the age of five, she has dreamt of being on screen, regularly ‘presenting’ TV inserts for friends and family. A failed audition for Mantlwaneng had her second-guessing her passion, and she pursued a course in accounting and business principles at the Botswana Accountancy College.

“But I knew this wasn’t for me, it wasn’t what I wanted, so I dropped out,” Lorato says, adding that time spent with the youth NGO, SkyGirls, which encourages young girls to embrace themselves and their inherent talents, reinforced her passion for TV.

Lorato then travelled to South Africa to complete a short course in TV production, which cemented her career path. When AFDA, the South African film and TV school, opened up courses in Botswana, Lorato instantly enrolled for a Degree in Motion Picture Media, graduating in 2019.

During this time she applied to the MTF Academy, but was unsuccessful. However, fate had other ideas, and last year she was second-time lucky when her application to the academy was accepted. 

“My MTF experience so far has been amazing! It has really expanded my thinking and shown me the wealth of opportunities available in film and TV both in Botswana and beyond our borders. As soon as I’ve graduated, I want to start working on local content for DStv and then content for the region,” Lorato explains.

Aside from building her skills and opening up doors to her future career, the MTF Academy has given Lorato something even more important – confidence in herself and the belief that she has what it takes to follow her dreams.

“Before this experience, I was prepared to settle for a mediocre life. I believed I would have to work for my mom and my TV dreams would never be realised,” she says. “But I don’t believe that anymore. My time at MTF has taught me I can achieve anything I set my mind to, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do!”

Changing the film narrative in Botswana

Interestingly, Masego’s journey followed a similar trajectory to that of Lorato. She also discontinued a business administration course she was doing in favour of pursuing her film and TV dreams. And, in the absence of relevant courses in Botswana, she too looked to South Africa for a way into her future career.

“Nothing scares me more than the thought of working in an office. As a child I loved stories, books and movies, but I never thought film could actually be a viable career option,” Masego says. “As soon as I discovered AFDA and the course it was offering in Johannesburg, I applied and was accepted. When the school opened a branch in Botswana I transferred my admission, and embarked on a four-year Degree in Motion Picture Media, majoring in scriptwriting and directing, which I completed last year.”

Destiny had a hand in Masego attending the MTF Academy as well: she saw a TV advert on the very last day before the deadline for applications cut off, and took a chance and applied. 

“I wasn’t sure of the value it would add to my life as an existing film graduate, but I was wrong! My time at the academy in Zambia showed me that African creative industries can flourish if the narrative is changed from wanting to make money to wanting to tell authentic stories,” Masego adds.

More than this, her MTF experience has reaffirmed her own natural affinity for storytelling, has built her self-confidence, and empowered her to fight for what she believes in.

“I used to believe the benchmark for making it in film was moving to the UK and finding work there. Now I see I can follow my dreams right here in Botswana,” Masego says. “The key is working with people who are just as passionate as you are, and the MTF Academy has shown me that.”

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