Joe Njagu is a Zimbabwean filmmaker who directed his debut feature film Lobola in 2010, which paved the way for a new chapter of independent film-making in Zimbabwe. His next feature film, The Gentleman, won him Best Foreign Language Director at the America International Film Festival and Best Film at the NAMA awards in 2012. He has directed several other feature films, including Something Nice from London, Escape, Tete B and The Letter. Joe has also produced the multi award winning film Cook Off - the first Zimbabwean film to be acquired by Netflix. Joe is a YALI alumni and a Mandela Washington Fellow, the flagship program of President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative. In 2014, he was listed among the top 35 under 35 in Media in Africa by the non-profit Young Professionals in International Affairs. Joe was recently awarded with a NAMA legend award in 2021, He runs Joe Njagu films based in Harare, Zimbabwe.
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Vongai: Welcome to another episode of ZimExcellence. Today, my guest is a filmmaker based in Harare, who directed his debut feature film Lobola in 2010, which paved the way for a new chapter of independent filmmaking in Zimbabwe. His next feature film, The Gentleman won him Best Foreign Language director at the America International Film Festival, and Best Film at the NAMA awards in 2012. He has directed several other feature films, including Something Nice from London, Escape, Tete B and The Letter. Our guest has also produced the multi-award winning film Cookoff, which is the first Zimbabwean film to be acquired by Netflix and he is a YALI alumni and a Mandela Washington fellow, which is the flagship program of President Barack Obama's young African Leadership Initiative. In 2014, he was also listed among the top 35 under 35, in Media in Africa, by the nonprofit Young Professionals in International Affairs, and he was recently awarded with a NAMA Legend Award in 2021. If you don't already know, y’all gon learn to day, please welcome Joe Njagu.
Joe Njagu: Haha, almost sounds like you're talking about someone else. I was like ah ah who is talking about?
Vongai: Who is the guy? Who said that?
Joe Njagu: Thank you so much.
Vongai: Yo Joe Welcome to the show.
Joe Njagu: Thank you Vongai.
Vongai: Oh, you are so welcome. So you and I have spoken on the phone at least twice. And we've texted but we've never seen each other face to face. And so this is our first time kind of properly virtual meeting, because that's how it's done these days because it's still a pandemic.
Joe Njagu: This is true.
Vongai: On that note, everyone wash your hands, please.
Joe Njagu: And sanitize
Vongai: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Before we get into the details, so you're at the function, right? It's a Zim gathering. It's a wedding, it's a party, it's whatever. And anything you could possibly want at the party is there food, drinks, whatever. What is going on your plate at the party? What are you putting on your plate.
Joe Njagu: You want me to be all Zimbabwean about it?
Vongai: Just like what you would want on your plate.
Joe Njagu: Like ooh rice and coleslaw. No.
Vongai: I hate coleslaw, that’s another story.
Joe Njagu: Me too, I feel like it's been abused so much in meals.
Vongai: So true.
Joe Njagu: Yeah. I like traditional food. Yeah. I love peanut butter in everything. So it's probably gonna be some some rice with peanut butter in there.
Vongai: Yeah, that's what I said. Yeah rice ne dovi. But, but is it white? Or is it brown?
Joe Njagu: Brown. Brown.
Vongai:Yes. You know, Joe !
Joe Njagu: So brown with Adobe. And I love fish. So much. So probably gonna put like a bream in there. Somewhere. Yeah, yeah, Yeah.
Vongai: What's your drink of choice gonna be?
Joe Njagu: Orange juice I think. I love orange.
Vongai: Okay, look at you then all healthy. Pescatarian meal.
Joe Njagu: And I'm a Shumba, I'm a lion. So we love meat. So there's gonna be some meat in there.
Vongai: So, Joe, I always like to start with origin story, because you are a ZimExcellence superhero. And because I'm a nerd, and I watch way too many superhero movies. So I'd love to know a little bit more about your origin story, whether it's like growing up in Zimbabwe, all this stuff before leading up to movies.
Joe Njagu: So lightning struck, you know, in Harare, and then
Vongai: as it does
Joe Njagu: But on this night, it was a special night. And my mother was walking in the dark. It was raining. [laughs] I'm kidding. So..So I was born in Harare.
Vongai: You and Sibongile are so fun. Sibongile started her origin story like that too.
Joe Njagu: Really.
Vongai: Yes ! It's only us film people. Anyway, you were born in Harare. Continue, please.
Joe Njagu: Harare Hospital, you know, just after independence. I'm a born free, as they call us. And I'm the second born in a family of four kids, two boys, two girls. And we still still got both my parents, my mom and my dad are still around, my little brother says I was very antisocial. He says I was misunderstood, because I didn't really hang out with with all the other kids. And I'll be that boy, look, staring at the boys playing football in the streets and thinking, Oh, let me go read something, or let me go watch something. From a very, from a very early stage, very early stage. I've been so interested in film. In watching film, y’know, my dad always tells the story of like, we used to have this little 14 inch TV in our house. And you know, when you're watching something so back then there'd be like TV 1, and TV 2. So if TV 1 is boring, people quickly switch off to the TV 2 check what's happening. And let's say we've watched like a nice movie. And then afterwards, immediately, as the credit starts rolling, people want to change to check what's happening on TV 2. And I'm like, No, don't change I want to read that. I remember, I would be reading all these credits, like best boy, gaffer that and I'm in my head like what is that?
Vongai: Grip? What does this do?
Joe Njagu: Exactly! Yeah so from a very early stage, right, I began to think that there is a secret society of people who are behind film that we don't know about. And I became so fascinated by that. Like, like, like, we're seeing all these actors, but there's people who are behind all this stuff, like so. So my fascination with that started like way early, you know, growing up, and, and I used to write a lot, like a lot a lot. Like, I think from primary school, secondary school, no one could write what we used to call composition in English, if you remember. Mine would be the baddest, you know, because, like, my mind would just go crazy. You know? So, I think I was very artistic in a non-artistic environment. My dad was sort of like pushing us veering us towards, like, the formal you know, how society that's something I'm even sort of taking note as I'm raising my son, you know, I have a son is 12. And it's something that growing up it's I think I would call it an African thing, where we're just to go to school, get a degree and find a job. It's not like enterpreneurship or teaching, you know, where you can be a business you can start a business or you can be a can be an artist. It's a conversation I've even had with my dad now when we're grown. Where he has even admitted that he didn't understand that, you know, because he could tell that okay, what is this boy, these interests? Because my dad would call it zvemadrama (drama) [laughs] and to them zvemadrama is Mukadota, Paraffin I don't know if you remember that stuff that would show on ZBC.
Vongai: Yeah I know that.
Joe Njagu: So to them. It's like, no, you’re not going to do zvemadrama, zvema funnyfunny (skits/things that are funny). That's what they would call it. So for me. Vongai: Zvema skits
Joe Njagu: So for me, growing up parents who did not really see art as a profession was kind of tough in that you're being steered away from it a lot, like a lot, lot. Like my dad would be like, no, stop that. And the funny thing was that I was actually very good at school, top three, kind of student, you know.
Vongai: Good for you. I was not, I just wanted to do arts all day. I was so bad at school.
Joe Njagu: I was I was actually good at school. So he’d be veering me. So even when I finished school, right? Because my dad worked for a printing company, Natprint. So he was in, like little graphic printing. It’s like Zim papers and all that. And so when I finished school, he steered me towards doing a degree in that, right. So I spent the next four years doing that. I could say for him, because he pushed me towards it. Right. And I didn't like it. But it you know, he like, Oh, you know what, let me listen to my parents. Maybe I'm just a kid. And I'm just being stubborn. And when I finished it, I think I'm lucky that I sort of like, managed to follow my own heart, but balancing pleasing my parents in the same way. Like where I was like, You know what, I've done what you want me to do. I'm not happy. But I did this for you. And literally, I remember giving him like, the certificate going, Dad this is for you, this is not for me. Like you wanted me to do this. I've done it. And it's done right. And got a job. And then now I'm working. And my dad is happy because like, because now he's like, oh, he steered me towards what he wanted, right. And I remember working and I was earning a lot of money. I was earning more money than my father at the time. Right. And to the point where I didn't even know like I was young. But what steered me to like, sort of, like, follow my heart was, believe it or not like, it's almost like a voice. In my head, I, I've said this story before to, to one of my friends where I would literally hear a voice saying to me, “Follow your heart, this is not what you're supposed to be doing. Follow your heart, this is not what you're supposed to be doing.” I swear every day. And almost like noise in my head, right? But But you're like, Okay, what am I supposed to be doing? Like, and I'll be at work, right? So at some point I made supervisor, I was working at Fidelity printers, right in Musasa. And so I'll be sitting down on a computer and writing scripts, right. And then, like, I had not been trained to write a script or anything. So I would just write almost like in composition, dialogue format, like, but I'll just be writing stories, right? Like I could, I could write for three hours, at work, not working, just writing stories down on a laptop until this one manager came. He comes He's like, what are you doing? I'm like, I'm doing something so quickly, comes to the computer scrolls up and sees what I was doing is like, what is this? Dialogue and a story? [laughs] What are you doing? I'm like, No, is this thing I'm working on? Like, what? What is it? What is the thing you're working on? So I was actually called to a hearing, right? Where, because the guy had been tracking me like this guy is not working he’s busy writing a book. He thought I was writing a book. So [laughs] I get called into the hearing thing. [laughs] Nguva ye basa (writingduring work time) So I get called to this thing. Ans that day, right, so I just decided, you know what, I'm gonna try and follow my heart. But I didn't know how to follow my heart. If you catch my drift. So I've been talking to my cousin. So I had a cousin who was living in Botswana at the time, and in Gaborone. So we've been talking, and he's like, Ah, you can, if you want, you can come to Botswana and check it out. You get even get a nice job. It pays more here than in Zim. That day was the day I decided, you know what, let me go to Botswana and see, right? Because I've always been like this person who likes to explore. I don't like being in the same place for for a long time. Like, like, even I can't even be in Zimbabwe for like a month or two months without even traveling out. I can't, I can't, because I'm of the belief that you learn by by traveling by seeing new things by seeing new places. Something I’m like oh you know what, I want to take him up on the on the Botswana challenge. I left work. I remember I was working with this guy was like my assistant, his name was Maxwell. And so I say to Maxwell. So I'd made up my mind that I'm done with this working stuff. I'm gonna follow my dream. Like I've made that decision right there. And so I say to Maxwell, Maxwell, during lunch, I'm leaving, like, What are you talking about? I'm like, I'm leaving. And you're probably never gonna see me again. And the funny thing is, he's actually never seen me again. Because and this is like, maybe, maybe 2000 and - .
Vongai: He saw you on TV.
Joe Njagu: Yeah, we speak. We started talking now on Facebook. He found me on Facebook and all that. But, and this is like, what, like 18 years ago or something? Right? So I'm like, I'm like, I'm out. And you'll probably never see me again. He’s like, What are you talking about? I'm like, I'm done with this job. He's like, you're not gonna resign. If you don't resign, you're not going to get a reference for the next job. I'm like, dude, I am never getting another job. He didn't, he didn't obviously didn't understand what what tangent I was on. Right? So I’m like walk me out to the gate. So at Fidelity, right, it's like a high security area. There's like different gates, because that's where like, they print money and gold. All that. So we walk out, I cleared my locker. He's like, wait, have you been fired? I'm like, No, I've not been fired. [laughter] That's like, like, that's the definition of a leap of faith. Right? Like, when I when I look back and think on it, that's that was like my, my inciting incident if we can call it that, right?
Vongai: Yes. We are speaking the same language.
Joe Njagu: So we walk out, and he gets to the gate so he can’t come out because he's still working. So I remember waving at him, they closed the gate. And, and I was, and I was walking like down the road to like, Samora Michel to get to get like a kombi (public transport). I walk. And that was like my, the last day of employment that day. So I get home. My dad is like, oh, you're home early. So I lied to him. And I said, I've taken I'm on leave for for the next three months. But that was actually kind of stupid, because my dad was in the same industry as me. So he would easily find out, you know? So. So the same week, I say to him, I'm going to Botswana. I’m going to see Emmanuel, my cousin. And so he's like, Okay, cool. So I'll be back. So I leave for Botswana. I get to Botswana. And and you know, when when I actually feel like God was directing me towards the path because this was like my leap, right? I've taken the leap of faith. Now. Like, I'm like, okay, God, what's next? Right? And, and the funny thing is, with that voice, right, that kept going on in my head stopped. When I when I did that. I couldn't hear it anymore. Right. I get to Botswana. I arrived. I think it was like 430 in the morning. Right. This is my first time in Botswana. Right and I went by bus. So my cousin and said, Okay, we'll wait for you at the Gabarone bus station. So I’m there, people are disembarking. And I don't see my cousin. Right. So I'm just standing there with my bag waiting. And then I think almost like, an hour later he pitches up. I’m yay, and he’s like yeah let’s go home. We go home. It was still dark at night. So you couldn't I couldn't really see anything. Right. So we get there. But then he was working at Gabarone hotel. So it's like, okay, so he had like a house that he rented. But he didn't really stay there. He would just come Friday, Saturday, because he worked and stayed at the hotel where he worked. So he's like, this is home day that. I'll see you on Friday. Like, huh? It's like, yeah, I'll see you on Friday. So this was like four days later, he's saying I'll see you on Friday. So I'll be on my own. So I sleep I think I got up at like, 11,12 I get up, right? I come out of the house. I'm walking around the yard. And guess what's behind that house? BTV . Botswana television. Like, it's right there. That's like, some looking at it.
Vongai: There was a show that we watch that was on BTV. It was like popular in Zimbabwe. I can't remember it was not it was not passions, but it was like, Really?
Joe Njagu: I remember I remember that. Yeah. from Botswana. Yeah, yeah. See I see BTV and I’m like ‘Huh!’ And in my head, I'm all like, I'm following my dream. I write films. And then I get to Botswana. And we're staying in a house next to BTV. What, what is going on? So now I have nothing to do this guy says he’s gonna come back on Friday, and then I have four days to just chill, right? Because he's like, take this week to rest. And then next week, we can start looking for a job. Some I’m there, then. So the first day I chilled and the next day. I'm like, you know what, let me walk around and see what's up in the area. So I actually go to get to BTV. Right. And I remember getting at the gate, and there was a security guard is like, I'm like, Oh, no, I want to get inside. They're like you want to get inside? What do you want? Like, no, just I'm just curious. I want to find out what happens in there. And the guy could not really speak like English. So so the communication was kind of bad. And it kept speaking to me in Setswana. And I'm trying to explain in English, say, until some lady was coming and he had to open for her, so he opens the gate. It was like an electric gate. So the gate is opening. And then I just walked to the reception. This is insane, so I get to the reception. So there's a lady. Like, I was like, Hi, how can I help you? So before she even says anything a lady rushes in? She's like, how many do we have? Like asking the other lady. She says No, no one yet. Then the lady says, Hi, are you here for _____show? And I’m like uhh before I could answer she’s like Come, right. So we walked to the back, so they were recording like this talk show with like, a live audience. And, and the crowd wasn't enough to fill up a frame. Right? So she's like, find a seat. So I'm sitting, I'm sitting in there. And this is that my first introduction ever to like, a set to like a soundstage, you know, so I'm looking at all this stuff. And I'm like, whaat you know, and lights ,cameras. I'm just in awe, like, whoa. And you know, when you when you have that feeling where you're like, this is what I want. It's almost like you’re a baby walking into a toy store. And you're like, that's the toy I want. That was like the feeling that wow. We’re sitting there they start passing drinks, and snacks. And they're like, Okay, you've got 10 minutes to snack up and do that before we start. And now my heart. I'm like, oh, what did I get myself into? What's going on? [laughter] We record the show. The whole thing took about two hours. Then afterwards, this lady called Jane, the one who would say to me come. People are leaving. I'm just sitting there still looking. Right? So she's writing stuff down, like at the bottom of the stairs. So I walked down. So I'm sitting. I'm like, Hi, how are you? I'm from Zimbabwe. And she's looking at me like, like, why is this extra talking to me? She's the producer. [laughter] So I'm just telling her this story. And I've got an interesting film and she’s like okay are you staying around here? I’m like I’m just down the road. She’s like okay, every Thursday come. So for the next I think like, three, four weeks, I would go there. And these times she wasn't even speaking to me while you’re like, just sitting in the crowd. Like, that's just watching. So that's sort of like was like my introduction to the film scene.
Vongai: You know, Joe, your story just makes me smile. It just makes me feel so so happy. I was thinking of a couple things as you were talking. I I'm a huge believer in intuition and following your intuition. And so when you talked about having that voice in your head, my mouth dropped. Because I, I've had a similar experience to that, when it came to acting. To summarize, my story was, I always wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be many things in this lifetime. But I know I definitely wanted to be an actress, an actor, a performer, but I was pushed towards doing something else. And because I'm that type of person who's just very opinionated about what she watches I was so like I said, I wasn't the best at school. But I loved to watch TV, I loved to watch films. And I always had something to say, like I was that, that that person where it was like, the friends would come to me be like, what did you think about this? And I would just, like, discuss things like, I would take what I learned from English where it comes to like, analysis, like analyze text analysis, and put that towards a film. And I'd be chasing down free scripts online and just like reciting them to myself and just having the best time. So when it came time to applying for university at the time, I was again, I'm gonna apply to acting I want to go to NYU Tisch, because the summer before I just watched so much TV that I was like, wait, I feel like this person is really good. What school did they go to? So I'd go into IMDb. I was like, Yeah, I was obsessed with IMDb. And sometimes it would tell you which school they went to or like Wikipedia would have it. And I started seeing a lot of the actors that I was drawn to went to NYU Tisch School of Arts. So it's like, I'm going to NYU Tisch, I'm doing musical theater, I love to sing, I love to act, I love to perform. And so I write my personal statement. And then I'm like, this is what I'm gonna apply for. And I'm being told no, because I spoke to your aunt. And your aunt said, like, she knows people who tried to do what you're doing. And they're now waitresses, and you're going to be penniless and blah, blah. And, and as a, as a teenager, mind you, listeners, I am still a teenager. As a teenager, I was like, oh, that doesn't sound awful. Like, yeah, awesome. I'm all in and it was like, no, maybe you should do something
Joe Njagu: Like, like a lawyer or a doctor or a pilot,
Vongai: No, it was like, do something else that you're like, interested in. So I love to write. So I was like, Okay, I'll be a screenwriter and I write this personal statement, you have to do this. Like, I don't know if you do it here. But you have to write this personal statement for all the universities that you're applying for in the UK. And so I write, I write the most beautiful, perfect personal statement on why I should get in for screenwriting, right. And this Dhead of a guy, this a-hole of a guy who was visiting from the UK. This was in China at the time. He comes by he reads my personal statement, and he's like, Oh, this is beautiful. This is wonderful. But you can't apply for that. Because it's a specialized course. I think it's more like you need to get a degree first and then do that. And so Oh, what do I do now? And then he's like, oh, maybe you should go into film production, because then you'll be able to do like, kind of screenwriting. And so then, in my mind, I was like, okay, that's kind of interesting. I think that's kind of close to acting. But long story short, I was pushed towards doing film production, but not actually at the film school I wanted to go to which was in America, it was like, No, you're going to the ones in the UK, because your family's there and all this stuff. And the degree was three years. I was at a school, which is famous for engineering. So it's not like they had the best film program. And the film program was super academic. And we only had two modules that were practical, right? And so I was miserable. I was unhappy. It’s like the time in my life, I've been the most unhappy and it was two years into three years of that degree. I had to write an essay on auteur theory. Are you aware of auteur theory.
Joe Njagu: Yes, yes, yes.
Vongai: So like, for those who are unaware of auteur theory, think of people like Scorsese, or Tarantino or Coppolla, Godard people like that, like they have a certain signature when it comes to their films. So with auteur theory, it's this debate of like, is the director the reason for the film for the signature? Or is it because he works with the same people each time or she works with the same people each time, all of that stuff? So I'm writing an essay about auteur theory and proving whether or not exists, and I've gone down this rabbit hole where I'm starting to, it's gotten to the point where I'm like, whoo, WTF is auteur theory?! I don't know anymore, because I've just buried myself in so many academic books and reading this and this and this and this. I like, freak out and I pause and I was like, none of this matters at the end of the day. This isn't gonna cure cancer. It's like, it's not like. To anyone outside of academia. This is BS. And I just see this vision of myself on a stage performing. And I was like, that's what I want to do. So I was like, You know what, I'm gonna finish this degree because this is what my parents want. They want me to have a degree, people push me to do film and TV. I want to be an actor. I said, I want to be a performer. You saw me in high school I was performing. And so I handed in my last assignment. And here's the interesting thing. It was April 18. Oh, sugar, I'm about age myself is whatever I do it every every episode. It was April 18 2013. I handed in my last assignment that I remember because it was Independence Day, Zimbabwean Independence Day. And I handed my last assignment, and I start looking up acting schools, and I literally tell no one, I'm doing this, I've done all of this in secret. And through this process of applying for acting schools and doing all of this stuff, I had that little voice, that whisper telling me to do this, do this, whatever I was on a phone call with. So I was applying for acting schools. And there was this one school in New York, that I remember, I was interested in way back when, before I ended up at university and I was like, well, I probably can't get in there. It's probably really pricey. But I want to know what they're learning so that whatever school I'm getting into, maybe in London, I'll use that. And I'll apply what they're doing in America to what I'm learning at school. And these are the early days of like marketing where if you put in your email address to get a prospectus, they then give you a follow up call to be like, hey, you're interested in our school! So hours later, I think it was now like am in New York time I get this call from this lady. And she's like, Hey, I yeah, I see you're interested in I school. And so we're gonna, we're gonna be in London for auditions. Are you available? Blah, blah, these dates two weeks. And my mind is like, I don't have enough time. I haven't acted in three years, whatever. But my mouth says, yeah. And then she's like, Okay, do you have some monologues, do you have contrasting monologues, classical, contemporary, or comedic, dramatic. I'm like, YES. I get off the phone, she was like ‘See you in two weeks’. I'm like, I have two weeks to prepare for an audition for school. [laughter] Anyway, I could go on with that story. So that was like, one thing I was thinking of when you were speaking. Yeah. The other thing was, I don't know if you've ever read thinking Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
Joe Njagu: Not yet. Not yet.
Vongai: It's a book that I always have to come back to again, and again, the edition I have because it's a really old text. But I have a like a modern day edition, which has like, it includes examples from today's pop culture, and how you can apply some of these principles and these ideas in the book. And one of the stories was about Steven Spielberg. He was just like, hanging in. He was on a studio tour. I've never been on the studio tour. But I like imagine the tour bus kind of or the cart with the people stopped. And then that's when people like go out to take photos and all of that stuff. Instead of joining the crowd to take photos of these cool studio lots.
Joe Njagu: I’ve read this story
Vongai: Yeah, he sneaks into like an office.
Joe Njagu: And locks himself in?
Vongai: And then, like, it's nighttime, and then he leaves in the security guard sees him. He's like, bye. And then the security guard thinks he works there. Then every day he's just going to the studio. That’s it you have to be gutsy. Yeah. And like I said, I'm a huge believer of intuition. And if we're going, taking this to a spiritual perspective, I feel like like The Alchemist is my favorite book. I definitely believe that. Sometimes you kind of need to show God/the universe/source that you mean business. And so when you said, I don't want a job anymore, or whatever, and you took that leap, that's when it then revealed to you BTV then revealed to you all these other things similar to me once I moved to New York, like I've never been there before. Like, I just had this idea that I was supposed to be there I felt the day when I moved to New York, I felt like I lived there for months. It’s crazy, and everything made sense. And things started to like unfold and unravel. And then like when I graduated acting school, I started having all these encounters where I would just like bump into actors and performers and people I’ve watched on TV and a voice said to me, yeah, this keeps happening because they're your peers. You're meant to be where they are. So I no longer feel starstruck. I'm like, oh yeah
Joe Njagu: It’s so weird like the voice thing, like the way you're normalizing it. I thought I was crazy. Like, to be honest.
Vongai: Nah uh uh it’s an artist thing.
Joe Njagu: I thought I was going going mad like, and especially like, it wasn't something popular as a career path to say, Oh, I want to be an artist. I want to be a filmmaker, right? I didn't even know any filmmaker, you know, like locally, right? Like, we just, we just know of ZBC. And we, and we just thought, like, everything is done at ZBC. And that's it. Right? It wasn't like now where you're like, we have like prominent film producers and filmmakers that are Zimbabwean, you know. And I remember, so so. So in Botswana. Fast forward. I leave for Cape Town. And so now leaving for Cape Town, I actually decided to say, you know what, I'm pursuing film. And I was looking up stuff like, and this wasn't, this was the days when internet wasn't as big as it is now, like, so you will just try and be like, Oh, it's happening more in South Africa than anywhere else in Africa. So let me position myself in, in Cape Town. And I think around that time, they were they had released, they were working on what was it this South African film that was released that I watched in Botswana. And I was like, Oh, so this is where it's happening. That's where I'm going. After, after after watching that South African film at the time. What was the film called? It had Raphulana in it, something stories, gangster stories or something? A South African film.
Vongai: I can't help. [laughter] I need to watch more African films to be honest.
Joe : So I became so curious, right? And adventurous. Right? And, and that wasn't even scared to like, just take a leap and say, Okay, let me let me go find out. Let me go find out. And I spend so much time there. Finding what's happening. If there is a production, I'll just walk into a into a production company like, I'm like, Hi. I explained my story. And the funny thing is, people were so welcoming, right? On the contrary, right? Oh, yeah. If you can, if you can make your own way. We're shooting for the next 17 days. But obviously, day two, they'll be like, give him busfare why not? Because you're helping around, you're running around. So then in my head again, right? I began to think, like, Okay, if I'm chasing around, traveling around and trying to chase this in different countries, my ultimate goal, and this is something that I decided early on being an artist and being a filmmaker. I want to build a home. Right? I want to build back in Zim. Right. And I remember, there's a time I came to I came back home, my dad was so angry at me. We didn't speak for a month, like literally did not speak like I'll be home. And I'll say morning to him, and he would not respond. Right. So he was angry at me about that whole leaving work and thing, because the company ended up calling home looking for me saying where is he?
Vongai: Because you never resigned. [chuckles]
Joe: And I was never on leave. So he's like, No, he's on leave. They're like, no, he’s not on leave, he just left. So anyway, my dad is not speaking to me. And those were the days when Studio 263 was a big hit. Right? And the lead the lead in it, Anne Nhira. Who is late now.
Vongai: Rest In Peace Anne.
Joe: We were at school together in the same class even from Form 1 to finishing. We're literally in the same class. So she's now making it and I'm looking at this and thinking, Wait, I actually know Anne and look at Anne now. So I'm not crazy, right? And, and I remember like. And I was very good at this like finding out where the shooting studio… Like I was very good at that. So I tracked it down. I visited the set. I didn't know, I only knew Anne then right? And at the time, right Anne was like at the peak of her career. Right.
Vongai: We all looked up to and when I was going to school at Alex Park, we thought she was so glamourous.
Joe: Yeah, so I'd gone there with my with a friend of mine, this guy called Gabriel. And I've been bragging you know, I went to school with Anne. This, I know Anne... And then we get there brah and we see Anne. This is a true story. Like I've never been so embarrassed. And then I'm like ‘Yo Anne!’ right. And Anne goes, aaah where do I know you from? To me. [laughs] In front of my friend. In front of this Gabriel guy. So the guy’s like ‘Aah I thought you said you guys were at school together, right?’ So Anne walks away and we're just standing there and then I think she realizes it and then comes back and then she's like, “Joe. Oh my god. I'm so sorry.”
Vongai: Girrrl Gabriel’s gone now! You had ONE job. [laughter]
Joe: Just one job and one line. And it's something that I understand now. Where back then you think, oh, she's supposed to accommodate me and let me in on what's going on. But it's… she's on a different level as to where I was. And that's something I think you probably understand when you get in the industry. It's almost like now then someone says, Joe put me in your next film. It doesn't work like that. Right? So, so.
Vongai: Yess let them know Joe. [laughter] I get this from my parents as well. They'll be like, why isn’t so and so helping you? And I'm like, that's not how it works.
Joe: It doesn't work like that. Because it's like, you see someone on TV or in a big show? And they’d be like, Oh! and you're like, “Oh, they're my friends” and they’re like, “Oh, really? So why are you not in that show?” That's not how it works. You know? So so so anyway, fast forward I befriend. Tatenda Mawetara who was Tendai in Studio 263. Who was the younger sister. Right? We start talking. I'd been writing a bunch of scripts. I'm giving her to read. She likes one of the scripts that I had written. And then she's like, You know what? I can produce this. We're all excited. And then she she's like, let's, let's get Ben to direct it. Ben Mahaka who was Tom Mbambo in Studio then, right?
Vongai: Yes, yes. Yes. Yes. I'm in connection with Ben.
Joe: Yes yes, very good friend.
Vongai: You know, like, like, I'm trying to get him on the show. He speaks so highly of you by the way. Everyone I've spoken to about Joe, adores Joe and speaks so highly of Joe.
Joe: You're saying that because I'm here.
Vongai: No, it's true. I get it from Ben. I get it from Gideon. I get it from Bongani.
Joe: So Ben. So then Ben reads the script, right. And so I'd never met Ben, I'd only seen Ben on TV. Right? Some I’m like, she's, she wants to get Ben, Tom Mbambo to read my script. So even just him reading my script was enough. I'm like, what Ben is gonna read. I was even cool with just feedback. Not even making the film, right. And so I'm back home. I go back home. I think we've given Ben the script. And this is like, maybe two days later. And then I get home. And my dad is so excited. And we'd not been talking, remember? And he's like, Ah, you're here. So we had a landline. This was the landline era before like cell phones and all that.
Vongai: Yess landline, home phones.
Joe: So he’d put like a message on the fridge. Right? Like, like on a magnet. So I take it out and it says, Ben Mahaka called, he says “Call me back.”