When ALA student Tapiwa Gambura purchased her very first camera in November 2018, she never imagined that less than a year later she would be the winner of a major film festival. Nevertheless, on October 6th, Tapiwa celebrated as she received a $2,500 check for winning the Jozi Film Festival and Discovery Network’s “Real Stories By Real People” award with her short film, Redefining the Road.
Redefining the Road tells the moving story of a woman who works as a bus conductor in Zimbabwe, Tapiwa’s home country. The film was one of more than 200 other submissions from filmmakers across the African continent.
The Jozi Film Festival was established in 2012 and has since grown into one of the leading film festivals in Southern Africa. However, Tapiwa’s journey into filmmaking started much more recently. At the age of 13, Tapiwa dreamed of becoming a writer and was especially passionate about writing with vivid imagery to bring her words to life.
Tapiwa describes herself as naturally curious, and when she joined ALA’s class of 2018, Tapiwa found the Academy to be, “a fertile space for my curiosity to be explored.” After drawing inspiration from her teachers and classwork, as well as fellow students, Tapiwa began to save money to purchase her own camera, despite having never used one before. Soon after, she signed up for ALA’s Creative Arts class, taking the first step on what she sees as her journey from writing to “holding the camera.” As she began to explore photography further, telling stories with still images, she found herself wondering if those stories would mean more to people if they were told via film. As a final project for Creative Arts, Tapiwa shot her first film, Bvudzi, which explored the politics of hair and femininity through the lens of a young woman recollecting her experiences with her hair. She credits this project as a huge learning experience, further fueling her interest in film.
During a trip with ALA over her school holiday, one of Tapiwa’s teachers asked her, “What does travel mean to you and why?,” and the question stuck with her as she returned home to Zimbabwe for the summer. Tapiwa says that she soon found herself “thinking about travel as associated with privilege, but realizing that it’s not.” At that point, her next door neighbor Miriam immediately came to mind as an individual who didn’t fit into any of the stereotypes usually associated with travel, but still felt that she got to see the world through her job as a bus conductor. Miriam’s story, inspired her to create Redefining the Road, and she shot the entirety of the film with her own camera, the same one that she had purchased barely six months prior. She describes the filmmaking process as a whirlwind, ultimately planning, filming, and editing Redefining the Road in a little over a week. Upon returning to ALA, Tapiwa submitted the film to the Jozi Film Festival after encouragement from her mentor and other faculty members.
Redefining the Road was especially meaningful to Tapiwa because she sees it as a crucial way to share others’ stories in a format accessible to as many people as possible. She said that she was, “thinking about how accessible my work was to the people I was speaking about,” explaining that regardless of individuals’ literacy, language skills, or access to written forms of storytelling, “film is just so easy to understand.” Tapiwa plans to continue sharing meaningful stories through film and will put her prize money towards her next filming project.
Here is the video that won Tapiwa the Jozi Film Festival:
If you know of a young leader like Tapiwa, who has the potential to drive change in their country, nominate them for the ALA two-year Diploma Program.