Exiled in Denmark, author opens up ‘Can of Worms’ at home

Zimbabwean living in Aarhus wins film award at Nice film festival ‘C’est Trop Court’ for his eight minute cartoon about African politics

Every journey starts with an idea, but for some it starts with caviar. Not the expensive type that is. Dictators like Robert Mugabe might dine on $80,000 worth of the gourmet fish eggs, but for the likes of exiled Tendai Tagarira, an exiled Zimbabwean writer living in Aarhus and columnist for The Copenhagen Post, he’ll have to settle for a cheaper version from the supermarket. 

“I never tried caviar, but was appalled that Mugabe would happily splash out on an insanely expensive delicacy for his own birthday,” Tagarira explained. “So my friend decided that for one night, I should eat like a dictator but at a slightly lower price.”

In 2010, Tagarira became the first writer granted refuge in Denmark as a persecuted writer. He had to flee his country for criticising Mugabe. His open criticism of the dictator led to his home being ransacked, threats against his family and his friend’s suicide. 

But it was that lavish dinner in 2010 that led Tagarira’s to a meeting with Portuguese director and animator, Vitor Lopes, with whom he created the short film.

Tagarira - made in Africa, exiled in Denmark, hailed in France

“We just made it,” Tagarira said. “It took a year to put together, but once it was done, we didn’t know what to do with it, so we sent it to the Cannes Film Festival.”

The film missed the submission deadline for the prestigious festival’s short film category, but it made its mark, and was circulated around to other film festivals and organisations in France. Much to his surprise, it won the ‘Special Jury’ award in Nice.

“The film has a real emotional message to it. And its story of liberation, I think, resounds well amongst the French,” he told The Copenhagen Post.

While the message of revolution may be very appealing to Europeans, it’s not a subject that’s easily integrated into African mainstream media.

“Mugabe’s still a hero for many Africans for his neo-colonial chants and hard-line policies against white entrepreneurs,” Tagarira said. “This animation won’t go down well with his supporters. I mean, it has him ejaculating into a cup for example. Not a pretty picture.”

This animation is sure to reignite Tagarira’s PR battle with Mugabe’s press agents, who have routinely written damning articles about the Zimbabwean artist in a bid to belittle his cause. But Tagarira remains defiant.

“The message has to get out. The internet has done wonders to create cracks in Mugabe’s wall of propaganda,” he said. “And if you couple that with political art that has critical recognition as well, those cracks can become crevasses.”

Tagarira likened winning the award to a rural tradition in Africa that represents a boy’s transformation into a man.

“When a boy comes of age, he must go out into the wilderness and hunt a majestic creature, like a rhino. When he has killed this creature, he then goes back to the village, and proudly shows off his prize. Then he is accepted into society as a grown man. This award is my rhino. And now Africa will see me as a value to their society.”

The film has already caused a stir. Independent African newspapers based in London have already taken notice and are writing about it, and Tagarira feels it’s only a matter of time before his message reaches Africa.

“The film festival in Zanzibar turned the film down because of its political nature. But African society is run by a bunch of old guys who’s days are numbered,” he said. “It’s a very different reality amongst the young guys, who are increasingly well-read, educated and see through the BS of politics.”

Read more about Tendai Tagarira.

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