What's next for Zimbabwe?

TO WATCH FOR. Camilla Nielsson's 'Democrats' from 2014 toured the festival circuit and was commended by critics as a rare insider's view of the writing of Zimbabwe's recent constitution. Now the director is preparing a follow-up, fresh from pitching at the influential co-production Forum at Nordisk Panorama in Malmö.

Around 750 Nordic and international film professionals met in the Swedish town of Malmö for the 29th Nordisk Panorama (20-25 September), the biggest film festival dedicated to Nordic documentary and short films.

Among the 45 projects presented during the festival's Forum event, considered the main funding venue for the Nordic documentary community, was Camilla Nielsson's follow-up to her well-received 'Democrats' from 2014. 

"Intense is probably the best way to describe the development process so far," says Nielsson after attending the three-day pitching event in Malmö.

Banned in Zimbabwe

Nielsson's first film from Zimbabwe tells the story, over three years, of the processes of creating the country's new constitution.

'Democrats' was widely commended by critics, naming it "a riveting docu study of Zimbabwe's troubled coalition government" (Variety), "a film that deserves to be called necessary" (New York Times) and "as excellent a documentary about politics as you will ever see (Village Voice). Among other accolades, the film won the Best Documentary prize at Nordisk Panorama and top awards at CPH:DOX and Tribeca Film Festival.  

In 2015, 'Democrats' was banned by Zimbabwe’s government. Meanwhile the director, with help from a local human rights organisation, took the case to the country’s Supreme Court, and in February 2018, Nielsson won the lawsuit and the right to show her film in Zimbabwe. Read update Democrats no longer banned in Zimbabwe.

For her new film, with the working title 'Democrats II', Nielsson has been working intensely over the last couple of months.

Democracy after Mugabe

"It has been a hectic summer, or rather winter, in Zimbabwe. We got our filming permit on 28 June. That was a miracle in itself. What made it possible was that I won the lawsuit in Zimbabwe in February, lifting the ban on showing the first 'Democrats.' This also meant that I was welcome in the country again," says Nielsson.

Her sequel focuses on democracy in the post-Mugabe era, with a plot line as follows:

Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The new leader of the opposition party, MDC, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard, ZANU-PF, represented by the acting president Emmerson Mnangagwa, also known as ‘the crocodile’. The election is the ultimate test for both the party in power and of the opposition. How do they interpret the principles of democracy – in discourse and in practice?

Nielsson, a graduate from Tisch School of the Arts in New York, is continuing her close collaboration from the first film with Henrik Bohn Ipsen, one of Denmark's most experienced documentary cinematographers.

"When Henrik arrived on 1 July, we started filming the entire election campaign and its aftermath through to 3 September. Our material has just arrived safely in Denmark, and we pitched at the Nordisk Panorama Forum this week. So yes, it's been intense."

Signe Byrge Sørensen is producing the film for Final Cut for Real, renowned for Joshua Oppenheimer's 'The Act of Killing' and 'The Look of Silence.' Nielsson's 'Democrats' from 2014 was produced by Henrik Veileborg for Upfront Films.

More projects to watch for

A total of nine Danish documentary projects were presented at the Nordisk Panorama Forum co-financing event:

  • A Light in the Dark / dir Cille Hannibal / prod Final Cut for Real
  • Deepali / dir Anne Svejgaard Lund / prod GotFat Productions
  • Democrats II / dir Camilla Nielsson / prod Final Cut for Real
  • Kim Cannon Arm / dir Mads Hedegaard / prod Good Company Pictures
  • Life While We Postpone Death / dir Christine Albeck Børge / prod Klassefilm
  • Reunited / dir Mira Jargil / prod Moving Documentary
  • Senseless / dir Guy Davidi / prod Danish Documentary
  • The Art of Repression / dir Estephan Wagner, Marianne Hougen-Moraga / prod Final Cut for Real
  • Siggi – The Hacker / dir Ole Bendtzen / prod Larm Film