On December 17 2021, Danish film maker, Camilla Nielsson’s film, “President”, premiered in New York and other theatres across the United States.
According to Nielsson, the film was based on Zimbabwe’s July 30 2018 presidential elections pitting mainly President Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance (MDC-A) faction leader, Nelson Chamisa.
A film is more than just a film. It is also about the discourse and interlocutors in it.
Although the movie is yet to be officially launched for Zimbabwean audiences, the discourse around it, has already brought to the fore the one-sided and biased nature of the project in favour of the opposition.
Even before one has watched the film in full, its makers’ bias against President Mnangagwa, ZANU PF and Government is so palpable one would cut it with a knife.
A two-minute trailer of the film has been uploaded on YouTube by many organisations and individuals. It shows some of the snippets of the film which indicate its open bias in favour of the opposition.
Within the first five seconds of the trailer, Chamisa is presented addressing a rally. In a bid to convince his supporters that his then party has penetrated most of the country with his message of “change” he says, “Haa! Nyika tasakadza!” which simply means that his party had covered most of the country in campaign rallies.
The English subtitle to this utterance surprisingly indicated that the statement meant that “The country has been ruined.”
Prior to working on “President”, Nielsson had been in the country four years earlier when she was working on another film “Democrats”, which was based on the 2010 to 2013 constitution-making process.
She hails from a country which routinely funds Culture Fund Trust (Culture Fund) in Zimbabwe.
One therefore cannot blame a poor budget for poor translation. This means that the “error” in translating the statement was deliberate and meant to tarnish ZANU PF.
It was calculated to present the MDC-A as the only alternative to the electorate.
In an interview, which is available on YouTube, with DOK.first Munchen, she admitted that she had developed a very close relationship with Chamisa.
In another interview with MDC-A North America Provincial chairman, Tawanda Dzvokora on the MDC-A faction’s Change Radio on the eve the New York premiere, she said that she had allowed everyone who participated in the film to verify that their actions and statements had been captured and rendered correctly.
It is interesting that Chamisa either did not query the “erroneous” interpretation of his statement or consciously endorsed it in a bid to score a cheap political point against President Mnangagwa and ZANU PF ahead of 2023 using the film.
And Nielsson wilfully looked aside as he did so.
During the Dzvokora interview, the MDC-A official told Nielsson that she was expected to be neutral, but her statements and portions of the film seen so far demonstrated that she is not.
She admitted that Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was still within the five-day stipulated period within which presidential election results should be announced, but the opposition activist in her, which has developed over the past years that she has been dabbling with Zimbabwean politics, still justified the MDC-A’s faction youths’ August 1 2018 protests by claiming that a lot of things “were at stake.”
Nielsson claimed she had reached out to President Mnangagwa’s elections team so that he could participate in the film in the same way that she had filmed both ZANU PF and MDC participants to the constitution-making process in the production of “Democrats”, but they were not forthcoming.
The sincerity of her invitation is, however, very doubtful.
She admitted that the film footage was made up of videos from social media and from her own cameras.
If Nielsson was really serious about an impartial film on the country’s 2018 presidential election, the trailer would include video clips of ZANU PF campaigns obtained from various sources like global media houses and social media as well.
The whole two-minute clip is dominated by Chamisa and MDC-A faction footage.
When talking to Dzvokora about the August 1 2018 unfortunate events, she used words such as “war zone” which the MDC-A uses when playing non-existent to ZANU PF and Government using fake attacks such as those which they staged in Masvingo in October.
Interestingly, the faction’s leadership refused to co-operate with the police when the latter sought to investigate the matter.
Nielsson was born in Denmark in 1977 and holds a Master’s degree in Visual Anthropology from New York University.
She has also worked as a media consultant for UNICEF and UNESCO.
She came to Zimbabwe in 2010 to film the country’s constitution making process citing that her own country’s national charter had been crafted many centuries earlier.
Zimbabwe’s case, according to her provided a case study on how the process is carried out.
The process ran from 2010 to May 2013 when the new Constitution was adopted through a referendum.
By 2014, her film, “Democrats” was ready but it was banned by the Censorship Board.
She contested the ban and won the case in 2018 but she was, obviously aggrieved by the banning of the film.
From that time, she nursed a grudge against ZANU PF and President Mnangagwa, who took over the leadership of the party and country in November 2017.
When those around her broached the idea of filming the 2018 harmonised elections as a sequel to the film, Democrats, it presented her with an opportunity to prop up Chamisa and project in bad light his opponent and his party in vengeance.
In her interview with Dzvokora, she remarked: “Kudos to Nelson Chamisa for trusting us completely to tell the story about the elections.”
With hindsight, one realises that ZANU PF’s non-co-operation with her in making the second film was justified if her attitude to the party and its leadership as shown in various interviews with her on the film and the election are anything to go by.
The work on the film was done three years ago and 18 months before the next election it is yet to be screened in Zimbabwe.
It has awards elsewhere, but the subjects and participants in the elections are yet to watch the film.
Its release in Zimbabwe has been strategically withheld until a few months before the 2023 elections.
During the interview with Dzvokora, Nielsson said that she would approach the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) for television screening or pursue alternative distribution channels, but no meaningful reason was given for premiering the film in other countries ahead of Zimbabwe.
Given Nielsson’s grudge against ZANU PF and Government, it is not surprising that she intends to premiere the film in US states with high numbers of Zimbabweans.
She is also targeting Zimbabweans in the region so that the film’s negative depiction of Government using scenes such as the unfortunate August 1 2018 incident can be used to appeal to the emotions of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to respond to the MDC-As’ go-fund-me initiatives to fund its 2023 campaign effort.
The inclusion of such scenes were also meant to emotionally blackmail Diasporan Zimbabweans to convince their relatives back at home to vote for Chamisa and his faction or lose remittances which they send regularly.
Opposition international political commissar.
Nielsson dashed any pretence of impartiality in the film project when Dzvokora asked her whether or not she had met “the President.”
Instead of answering in the affirmative or negative, she betrayed the fact that she has become emotionally invested in Chamisa and the MDC-A’s faction when she responded to the question with another question.
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She asked Dzvokora whether he meant “the people’s President or the ruling President,” an indication that she has been sold hook, line and sinker to the MDC-A’s false narrative that President Mnangagwa allegedly stole the 2018 Presidential poll.
The world knows that Chamisa embarrassingly failed to prove the allegations when he was given the opportunity to do so by the Constitutional Court on August 24 2018.
Apart from shamelessly taking sides in a film project on a presidential election involving two main political parties and their leaders in Zimbabwe, Nielsson sought to be the opposition’s global political commissar.
She told Dzvokora that apart from documenting the 2018 presidential election, it sought to assess the role of the international community in such polls.
She opined that international observers should do more than attending rallies and dig deeper arguing that the Zimbabwean situation is “complex.”
She further submitted that “as a non-Zimbabwean, I think the international community has let Zimbabweans down.”
Her lament readily brings to mind the United Kingdom Parliament’s recent obsession with Zimbabwe and the United States’ continuous and brazen manoeuvres in the opposition’s corner against Government.
This foregrounds the fact that President Mnangagwa and ZANU PF are faced with a whole Western world, which includes a seemingly innocent Danish film maker, during the 2023 elections.
This should remind Zimbabweans that the West will use anything, including a film, to secure an MDC faction win in 2023.
When the film is finally screened in Zimbabwe or uploaded on YouTube for Zimbabweans to watch, they should know that the project is more than film.
It is the West fighting President Mnangagwa and ZANU PF on behalf of the opposition.