The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
DANIEL Lasker, the director of The Signal, the first Zimbabwean sci-fi movie done exclusively in isiNdebele, says the hardest thing about bringing his groundbreaking idea to the big screen was trying to make sure that the filming of the flick was never on the wrong side of loadshedding schedules in Bulawayo.
When Lasker conceived his groundbreaking idea, Zimbabwe, like most of the world, was gripped by Covid-19, with lockdowns induced by the pandemic wreaking havoc with normal working hours. For Lasker and his motley crew of film buffs trying to break new ground in Zimbabwean cinema, this was a disaster, as they had to film at night, which coincidentally was the same time when there could be loadshedding in the areas where they had chosen to shoot.
“Our biggest challenge when making this film was power cuts,” Lasker told Sunday Life in an interview. “On a film set, you have limited hours to get your scenes done and especially when you’re doing a night scene. We were filming when it was lockdown and people had to be home by 9pm because of the curfew.
You only had a short window from like 7:30pm to 8:30pm which is when it’s dark enough to shoot a night scene but if the power goes during that time, you get nothing,” he said.
Lasker said these and other challenges were only minor birth pangs that were necessary for his idea to be born. A few years later, The Signal is in rude health, with the movie set to premiere on Friday at the Bulawayo Academy of Music.
“Ultimately, I learnt that in making films here in Zimbabwe, you have to make things big with minimal resources because you’re forced to work with what you have. In many ways I view that as a blessing and not a curse because it allows us to evolve as creatives in a way we wouldn’t if we had everything handed to us and if it was easy,” he said.
Lasker said for him, the making of the movie was the culmination of a long-term vision.
“For a long time, I have wanted to make a sci-fi film, I have been a longtime fan of sci-fi, from the time I was a boy. I have made other projects but sometime halfway through last year, I said the next project that I do needs to be sci-fi and it needs to be in Bulawayo. So, my writer that I work with, his name is Oscar Reyes, began exchanging ideas with me and he had an idea for a sci-fi project and I read it and I loved it.
So, I said okay, we are going to do this one but we are going to adapt so that it is set in Bulawayo and it is going to be done in isiNdebele. There’s never been a sci-fi done in isiNdebele and we want to be authentic and set it here in Bulawayo,” he said.
Support of The Signal, at least online, has been overwhelming with most people intrigued by the idea of a sci-fi movie done exclusively in isiNdebele. While he expected people’s minds to be blown away, Lasker said he was also surprised by the reception of the film’s previews.
“I was both surprised and not surprised by the support because I knew, when the story and the ideas were coming to me, that this was going to be something special. Obviously, the response and the excitement are still overwhelming and much more than I expected. It is honour for us to be pioneering the genre and we want not only Zimbabwe but the world to see what we have done,” he said.
With the premiere of the film approaching, Lasker said Bulawayo should be prepared to be dazzled by a new and refreshing approach to cinema.
“Bulawayo, Zimbabwe have never seen anything like this. Whoever is there that night, is going to have their mind opened to the possibilities of what we can actually do if we don’t restrict ourselves and just go for it. This is regardless of the support we have or the resources that we might have. This film is pushing the envelope of what we can actually do, especially in our country and in our environment,” he said.
Actress Natasha Dlamini said making the film had been daunting, as it gave her more responsibilities than she was used to juggling as an actress.
“To be honest with you, it was life altering. This is because we are used to other genres but this one was different. Not only do you have to prepare to live in your character, but you also have to work on your imaginary side. It is like double work for an actor,” she said.
Actor Tawanda Denga said not only had the film forced him to challenge himself, but it also helped him recognise the enormity of his own talent.
“For me it was the best thing ever. For one thing, it took me out of my comfort zone and made me realise that you don’t always have to fit in a narrative that is portrayed about you all the time. You can actually do something different and push the status quo.
As actors in Bulawayo, you’re always limited and told that you can only go this far. For me, it challenged me as an actor and proved to me that my talent is amazing and it’s now being seen. I’m grateful that it’s not only being seen by my city but it’s being seen by the world,” he said.
Actor and director Dumie Manyathela said the making of The Signal had made him realise that acting or the making of any art was a spiritual experience.
“It was challenging but the nice thing about challenges is that they bring growth. I learnt to trust my talent because that’s when I noticed that art is spiritual. During this production I noticed that in acting, you become, you don’t just be. You don’t act a character but you become the character. You show the people a new person, where they are coming from, where they’re going, what their conflicts are like,” he said.