Cook Off on Netflix: The amazing story

BY GLORIA NDORO-MKOMBACHOTO

The arts and culture is a neglected sector in Zimbabwe, yet more than ever, we need it now to be thriving.

Arts and culture support national identity and culture.

Culture — history, art and music — occupies a significant place in the theme of national identity.

Throughout the world, national identities are constructed and articulated through history, different types of art forms, like the culinary arts, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre, film, music, etcetera.

Yet in Zimbabwe, that which makes us a nation, that which makes us relate to and identify with each other, our conceptualisations of the “national” and our “national mythologising narratives” and other manifestations of “national and nationalist ideologies” have been somewhat relegated to the back bench. Besides pressing Covid-19 issues, the nation’s focus has for more than two decades, been dominated by bread and butter issues, leading to cultural suppression.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) or advertiser-funded programming (ADF) interventions have played their own part, one way or the other, but their support has not been extensively well co-ordinated nor documented.

Delta Beverages (DB) in collaboration with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) has supported the Chibuku Road to Fame — a music talent identification starting at district level. Delta and NACZ have also collaborated in the Chibuku Neshamwari Traditional Dance Festival — a dance development festival organised with assistance from Zimbabwe National Traditional Dance Association.

Embassies have played a major part in funding arts and culture in Zimbabwe.

Amongst many others, the embassy of Italy in partnership with NACZ holds the Musica Festival every year in October.

The Swedish International Development Agency has been funding the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust project since 2003 and according to the evaluation of the Sweden-funded Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust Project: Changing the Cultural Landscape in Zimbabwe Society, published in October 2014, millions of Swedish krona have been disbursed to the arts and culture sector in Zimbabwe through the Culture Fund.

The Culture Fund is an independent, non-governmental organisation whose overall objective is to “contribute to the growth of the culture sector in Zimbabwe by providing finance and technical support to cultural practitioners, institutions and activities”.

The non-profit cultural sector contributes research and development for commercial cultural providers, while public funding enables them to take risks with creative content and ideas.

When funding is intentional to the arts and culture sector, it can realise immense benefit to branding of Zimbabwe as a country.

CSR is, in a nutshell, a conscious investment, by a corporate being, in the society in which that corporate operates.

The journey of Cook Off, the Zimbabwean romantic movie, produced by Joe Jangu and directed by Tomas Brickhill, that is currently trending on Netflix, was aided through Meikles/PnP arts and culture ADF intervention into Joseph Bunga’s Battle of the Chefs.

It is a big deal for national pride and consciousness when Zimbabwe is catapulted onto the world stage through the underfunded arts and culture sector.

From December 2015 to December 2017, Bunga, through his cooking show, Battle of the Chefs, had the benefit of receiving CSR support from two TM/PnP managing directors — Dharmalingum Dass (now retired) and Malcolm Mycroft (current MD).

TM/PnP were the title sponsors of the cooking show.

The CSR support allowed, amongst other things, Bunga to develop a set where the cooking show would be shot.

A master of bootstrapping, Bunga stretched the budget to include far much more activities, like the year-long training for the team to create new products set around food such as two-minute social media videos.

Brickhill, a previous manager of the Book Cafe, approached Bunga during the shoot of season 2 from January 2016 to May 2016 to have access to the Battle of the Chefs set.

This did not happen at the end of season 2 because the custom-built set had to be relocated to new premises.

When season 3 started in December 2016 up to June 2017, the Battle of the Chefs studio was rebuilt from scratch at great expense not factored into the original budget.

In addition, the lease period was extended by one month to allow for the Cook Off team to shoot the scenes they needed for the movie.

Battle of the Chefs provided to Cook Off access to the studio and all that came with that – props.

BOC also sanctioned the go-ahead for Cook Off to use the Battle of the Chefs as the brand in the show for free and no rights to the movie.

Battle of the Chefs were paying forward to other creatives, the support received from TM/PnP.

Bunga’s rationale is, “for me taking a share of the profits was inappropriate and a simple deal was to get the appropriate credit. The value for us in the credits is that it enables us to create more shows and sell them to the active channels such as Netflix, DStv — what Cook Off has done is open the door”.

For the past four years, every year one student has had their internship and final year of school paid for by the scholarship set up by Battle of the Chefs for this purpose. The recipients include the following:

l Derby Bheta — a brilliant director with his own company: College Central
l Donald Chidamba — currently employed by Zimpapers Television Network
l Yeukai Sithole — studying engineering
l Delyn Lambiki — now back at Area 46 Productions, (the production company for Battle of the Chefs) as producer
What should all funders do to support the arts and culture sector?

Ideally they should sign up for long-term deals like in the TM/PnP transaction with Battle of the Chefs.

Once-off deals do not yield desired results. A minimum of two years and up to five-year deals is more sustainable.

It gives both the funding party and the recipient of the funds adequate time to grow a concept into something huge, ultimately beneficial for the country.

The Battle of the Chefs team has been working tirelessly on taking the cooking show concept to 17 English-speaking countries in Africa and have already developed a 200-page format bible that has documented every part of the process.

If Battle of the Chefs succeeds, the country brand, Zimbabwe, wins.

Zimbabwe needs to rethink the terms of its arts and cultural value debate.

There needs to be widespread political recognition that our nation state is ill without conscious and significant investments in arts and culture.

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