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Zimbabwe’s Cook Off: How the $8,000 romcom made it to Netflix

Zimbabwe’s “Cook Off” is the first film from the country to feature on the streaming giant; Netflix. Cook Off is a romantic comedy about a struggling single mother who finds love and good fortune while in a TV cooking show contest. How did this movie made in 2017, with a budget of $8,000 (£6,400), amid power cuts and severe financial constraints make it to Netflix?

Only a few full-length films have been produced in the country, despite a wealth of talent in the industry. However, Cook Off features an all-Zimbabwean cast of young actors, veterans, and prominent faces in music, comedy, and poetry. Most importantly, Cook Off has battled the odds, winning awards at film festivals before attracting the attention of Netflix.

Veteran actor, Jesesi Mungoshi plays the role of Anesu’s grandmother – who encourages her to follow her dreams. Not a stranger to fame, she starred in the 1993 film Neria – which was the first Zimbabwean film to receive international recognition. That is to say, she has experienced the ups and downs through 40 years of independence.

Jesesi Mungoshi
Actress

“The industry’s journey from the 1980s until now is very much like Zimbabwe’s own journey as a nation.”

Jesesi Mungoshi

“It was very promising at the beginning. We had the likes of Denzel Washington coming here, and King Solomon’s Mines was shot here in 1985. Most of us learned on the job back then, we had no film school.” She continued; “The industry “thrived” in the 1990s, but it was mostly donor-funded and became “crippled” in the early 2000s as aid dried up because of the political and economic crisis that had hit Zimbabwe at the time.”

New Beginning

Zimbabwe’s Cook Off was only possible because of a large collaboration, financial goodwill from many parties, and the sharing of resources. For example, The main set – which had been used for a show on national television.

The Co-producer Joe Njagu, feels making it on to Netflix is a huge breakthrough. “It’s a big foot in the door, a chance for the world to see what Zimbabwe is capable of, an opportunity for us to introduce our craft, our stories to the rest of the world,” said Njagu.

“The road wasn’t easy, like everything in Zimbabwe, it’s a big fight, especially with the minimal resources that we had. Cook Off is a classic example of what collaboration can bring,” he concluded.

Zimbabwe's Cook Off

“The film shows the talent and the potential that we have, not just in the film sector, but in music too. The soundtrack is also 100% Zimbabwean,” Thomas Lutuli Brickhill said. He co-produced and directed the film.

As well as co-starring, Tehn Diamond’s music features on the soundtrack. He is excited from a musician’s perspective, as the film gives a broad overview of the sounds Zimbabwe has to offer.

Conclusion

Star of the movie; Tendaiishe Chitima says Cook Off is a love letter to Zimbabwe.

“It was literally like a letter of love to Zimbabwe, to Harare, to anyone who’s ever had a dream,” she said ahead of the Netflix release.

Zimbabwe's Cook Off

Through all of the challenges, Mungoshi believes that Zimbabwe has much to give to the world in the arts. Her husband Charles, who died last year, was an internationally acclaimed author.

“Zimbabwe hasn’t even begun to tell its own story. Our stories have always been world-class – I should know through the work of my late husband.” She concluded; “So my hope is that Netflix and other investors expand the search for that African story, because Africa has so many of them.”

Zimbabwe’s Cook Off is a prime example of what can be achieved with hard work, collaboration, and understanding.

Have you watched this romantic comedy? What are you waiting for?

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