36-year-old Mpho Dintwa is a highly rated filmmaker determined to shine a light on Botswana’s untold stories.
Having honed his skills abroad, working on productions in South Africa and Canada, the Bobonong-born creative returned home in 2014 to set-up his own production company, Boxscreen Pictures.
Dedicated to telling Botswana’s history through documentaries, Dintwa has since recorded a documentary on Tiger Kloof, the South African school where many local leaders studied prior to independence.
In this interview, the esteemed filmmaker tells The Voice’s Portia Mlilo about his love for the arts and what he looks at when coming up with scripts.
Q. How did you end up in the creative industry?
A. Growing up I had always wanted to work for television but without knowing what I would specialise in.
My first degree was in England in 2005 where I studied TV Production.
I developed interest in being the person developing content, which is why I pursued studies that capacitated me with the relevant skills.
In 2008 I completed my studies, came back home and worked at Btv and eBotswana.
Same year I went to Canada doing my Postgraduate but I was more into creative arts.
I worked there in 2011 in different TV production companies.
In 2014 you returned home to start your own production company,Boxscreen Pictures. How did you find it?
It was not easy. I was away from home for years.
I did not know where to start and had lost so many contacts.
With the little savings I had, I managed to start my own business.
I shot my first documentary in 2015 about Tiger Kloof, an institution whereBatswana pioneers did their tertiary studies.
It was basically about the relationship between Botswana and South Africa as far as education is concerned.
My research showed that all leaders in 1966 cabinet went to Tiger Kloof.
I wanted to find out what was so special about the school and tell its story.
Former Minister DrGaositeChiepe, the late former president Sir KeitumileMasire and PotakoMolefe are some of our leaders who went to that school.
Q. I understand it took over two years to finish the documentary? Why the delay?
A. I did not have enough funds.
I had spent a lot to buy the equipment with my savings so I had to stop, raise money then continue to shoot.
It was launched in 2017 and I haven’t found a broadcast partner yet.
We have a problem with our current system of tenders and it doesn’t work for the creative industry, it comes once in a year unlike in South Africa.
I approached the Ministry of Youth and they said I should wait for the tender like everyone else, they cannot buy from me direct.
There are lots of red tapes that if they can be cut then we will be able to tell our own stories!
Q. When conceptualising a documentary, what factors do you consider?
A. I look at the relevance of a story. One of the things about documentary/film-making is that as a producer, you become subjective to the subject.
You have to ask yourself if your product will be able to sell and appeal to the viewer.
It can be a good story but sometimes it won’t be able to sell.
In Botswana we haven’t really had platforms that are telling stories about us.
We keep on talking about how we should package our own storiesbut it’s expensive.
You need money to produce good content!
Q. What makes a good producer?
A. In American language, it is money, box office appeal and how much your movies will make.
If they made a healthy profit then they will say you are a good producer.
However, for me it’s what kind of stories I tell and their impact today and on the next generation.
I realised we know a lot more about things in other countries than our own.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I’m doing two documentaries now – both of them are about the relationship between Botswana and South Africa.
One might ask why I always focus on these two nations but there are untold stories and rich history between the two.
The first documentary is about how Botswana helped during the apartheid era.
I grew up commemorating June 16 (Soweto uprising, 1976) but Batswana died here in 1985.
Not much is said about that yet we are quick to talk about other countries history.
Batswana died protecting South Africans.
Mandela’s first trip outside SA was to Botswana enroute to Zambia.
I have interviewed some people who housed South Africans.
Unfortunately,MrMasife from Molepolole died a few days after the interview.
May his Soul Rest in Peace.
There is another story of our 15 soldiers who were massacred by members of the Rhodesian military during the Ian Smith regime in 1978 but we don’t have a documentary about that.
As a producer I need to tell such stories!
Q. On average, how long does it take to make a documentary?
A. It depends.
Mine took years because I did not have enough funds.
You take much time making ends meet and you need to be patient.
Some people even die in the process!
Q. Apart from lack of funds, what are some of the challenges you face in the creative industry?
A. Accessibility to information!
Most of the time people who have the information on certain topics depart and we end up scratching our heads.
I think people should archive stories told by their grandparents, more so that new technology has made things easier – our cellphones are recording devices.
You never know, you might need that information in the future.
If you go to our libraries, records archives and museum, there is not much information.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. Oooh, I have never thought about that (laughing).
I think everyone in the arts space is my inspiration really.
I learn from the guys I work with, those who have done it for so many years.
I travel a lot and learn new things from different cultures.
Q. What are your future plans for Boxscreen Pictures?
A. My plan is to produce relevant content that has an impact; content that will leave people informed.
I also want my company to be producing content that engages audience so that one can come and pitch for us and share their stories.
Q. Moving on slightly, the country went to the polls last week, with the ruling party once again emerging victorious. How did you view the elections and what can you say about the outcome?
A. Our politics is growing but I still find it hard that we do not talk much about creating jobs – not only for the youth, because I think most of the time we lose it by only focusing on them and forgetting the other population.
When parties sell their ideologies, they should be prepared to come up with statistics not just talking without numbers.
I think that is where we are still lacking.
Also people should be held accountable, especially corrupt officers or leaders who are in power.
Not just to see it on the news and we do not know what measures were taken.
Q. You mentioned that the creative industry is getting relatively little support from the relevant ministry. What are your expectations with the newly elected leadership?
A. I think we need the Arts Commission body and once we have it everything will fall into place.
We currently have the 1977 Cinematography Act, which was recently reviewed and will lead to the Film Commission.
I think it needs to be implemented so that we have a body that regulates the industry.
It will be easy because we will know where to go.As for now, we have Ministry of Youth, Btv that falls under Office of the President and they are failing us.
We need to fall under one body – it works in South Africa.
Q. How do you kill time when you are not busy with your research and filming?
A. I like reading stuff that aligns with what I do.
I watch news to know what is happening around us and the world so that I can be informed.
I also like travelling when I have money and I enjoy cooking.
Q. And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. Fridays I take out my woman Lesedi for dinner at the restaurant.
Saturdays I watch football on television and spend time with my lovely lady.