Film industry disruptor

Leungo Mokgwathi

Woman on the rise

Mmakgosi Anita Tau is a big name in Botswana’s filmmaking industry. She is all about breaking barriers, shattering glass ceilings and making a positive impact in the world.

Currently completing her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Film at Syracuse University, Tau has made a name for herself as a poet, filmmaker and mental health activist.

The Voice reporter Leungo Mokgwathi sat down with the all-round prolific to explore her life in the creative industry and the impression she continues to make internationally.

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When did you know that making films was your calling?

At the age of 5 I was cast as Simba for a theatre production called The Lion King.

At the age of 8, my crew and I won the first KTV Talent Show.

My first poem was published when I was 9.

I danced and wrote landing on stages across Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana and the United States of America.

After my Spoken Word Poetry performance in 2015, I walked out of a Festival stage to a college stall and applied for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Live Performance with AFDA College, Botswana.

What was your first short film about?

My first film was called Trafficque and its theme was human trafficking.

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What kind of impact do you desire to make with your film productions?

Through my films, I am amplifying the voices of vulnerable and marginalized people subjected to deep suffering.

I am also preserving undocumented historical narratives and helping African and Africans in the diaspora to envision a hopeful rather than a fearful future.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career thus far?

There are numerous highlights I am grateful for.

My current project, Red, Pink and Black which is really close to my heart is my current highlight.

I am grateful for the support I am receiving in raising funds to make this film.

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It was an honour for me to be selected to participate in the John Landis Masterclass and the II Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival in Bologna, Italy.

Participating in the Syracuse University in Los Angeles Semester Program and being nominated for the Gotham Awards fourth annual Focus and JetBlue student short film showcase are also very notable milestones for me.

From your experience, would you say women in the film industry, especially in positions of authority, are taken as seriously as their male counterparts?

My colleagues where I am currently situated respect me and my voice as a Writer/Director/Producer/Actor.

Prior to this, my experience as a writer meant working twice as hard as my male counterparts for unequal pay.

Experience teaches you better and filmmaking is not an isolated process.

As one moves along after every film it’s easier to observe people’s patterns and filter whom to work with on the next.

When it comes to women’s issues, you call yourself a disruptor, and you own the term. How important do you feel it is for women to take up spaces and no longer live life as you say ‘in an eternal state of apology for being women?’

The historical exclusion of African women from cinema has adversely affected the creation of diverse characters.

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I create films that protest against human rights violations and societal injustices to effect change.

For me, film is an inherited passion and a way to reconcile my history.

Taking up space is invalid as lip service, it should be a core tool of survival at this point.

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Women have been left out of a history curated through patriarchal systems.

To survive we must be active participants in the narration and documentation of history now.

You’re also quite an active player in mental health activism, how important is this role for you?

In 2009 I was diagnosed with bipolar which altered the course of my life.

In 2012 I got healed and that’s how the mental health activist in me found alignment.

I chose to volunteer my time and knowledge to teach high school students, women and the general public about mental health.

During my three-year long struggle with bipolar, I was stigmatized in my community for being a Mental Health patient.

While pursuing my film degree at AFDA, I started Mmakgosi Live, Botswana, which sensitizes people on mental health issues using spoken word poetry, fine art, film, dance and theatre.

I carry this activism into every sphere of art I create.

Take us through your current film project Red, Pink and Black

Red, Pink and Black is a film about a young black immigrant woman, Anaya, who grapples with a new bipolar diagnosis.

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Her young brother offers her an opportunity to prove her sanity and she soon realizes that the truth is not enough to keep her out of the psychiatric ward.

Through this film, I explore the stigma assigned to mental illness, sibling rivalry, and validation.

It is important to me as a black female Motswana director to lead a diverse crew and cast of exceptional filmmakers representing different cultures, races, and perspectives.

I have secured a crew of 10 women and 8 men from Iran, United States of America, China, Chile, India, Nigeria and Botswana.

I am currently in the process of raising funds for the film which will be shot mid February.

What would you say makes a great film?

A great vision, attention to detail, quality work speaks for itself.

Depth. style, powerful performances.

A memorable score. Work that lingers long after the audience have watched the film.

What is your current take on Botswana’s film industry and what do you think the future of filmmaking in our country is looking like?

The film industry will be where its stakeholders want it to be.

The onus is on us.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received in your career?

The Calvary is not Coming by Mark Duplass

What would you want your last film to be called?

There cannot be a last film from where I am standing because I have not even begun.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

The Calvary is not Coming my friend. Honor the people you work with. Study.

Don’t be afraid to do what you have not seen.

Discipline is key.

Have a relationship with God.

You need faith because it’s not an easy path to walk.

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