Kudzai Sisiyanti Sigauke

Written by Kudzai Sisiyanti Sigauke

“Deep within all of us, in the very center of our being, is a longing. In the beginning it is wordless, but as time goes on, it begins to form itself into feelings, then a definite desire. Finally the cry wells up inside us, growing in intensity as the years race by … ”

—Elyse Birkinshaw

Sisiyanti in the studio

Sisiyanti in the studio

 

From an early age since I was born in Zimbabwe, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to make films and music. But the negative perceptions and social stigmas that surrounded the entertainment industry, especially against women, put so much fear in me. Thinking about it now, I can’t believe I wasted so much time listening to such prejudice. I never really invested as much as I was supposed to, and as I really wanted to, in developing my skills in earlier years—mainly out of fear. To make matters worse, the film industry in Zimbabwe has been almost nonexistent for “forever.”

When l turned 22, l chose to leave home for graduate school in South Africa, mainly to escape political and economic persecution in Zimbabwe, as I was an active youth supporter of the opposition party fighting for women’s rights and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, l did not graduate due to outstanding fees.

Sisiyanti and her father

Sisiyanti and her father

My first two years in the beautiful country of South Africa seemed to go so well. I grew connections quickly, working with award-winning directors, actresses, and sound producers in the country. I worked as an assistant producer and music composer. I was headed for the top, so it seemed. Then my mother fell ill and I had to urgently drop everything and go back home to Zimbabwe to take care of her. When she recovered 3 months later, I returned back to South Africa, only to find that the world had moved on and left me behind. I was devastated.

The people I had been working with and had entrusted my work to, which was a big mistake, had stolen it and published it without my knowledge. I was not even credited, and I had no way of proving it was my work and creative property. I just watched from my TV set in my Johannesburg apartment as they won awards.

So here I was, this beautiful, black, broke immigrant with no family dodging xenophobic attacks from fellow Africans, dodging South African police from deporting me back to my 90% unemployment-rated country because my student permit had expired, on the verge of homelessness, pushing for my dream of filmmaking in an extremely male-dominated industry, and also making sure I had enough money from the waitressing jobs I could get for food, shelter, and a little extra to send back home to my parents.

I tried to go back to the connections I thought I had built over the years, but they dismissed or ignored me. It seemed that my powerful, former workmates had sent out word in the industry, blocking me from getting any work. Clearly that door was closed. Now I had to start again.

I tried acting but wasn’t happy with the parts I got, and sometimes I got rejected. I even tried taking the singing, songwriting, and music producing route independent from film in the hopes that I could weave back into the movie industry, as the two industries are intertwined. Nothing really brought significant success. I was always advised to “wait your turn; one day it will come.”

Sisiyanti (far right in the yellow dress) at age 8

Sisiyanti (far right in the yellow dress) at age 8

Two years later, I was done waiting. I figured, why not do it myself? I could get the funding I needed and shoot my own film. I approached local businessmen and other artists to help fund my film project. I guess I asked the wrong people because I was drugged and almost raped on two different occasions. One of my searches led me to a place where I got robbed at knifepoint. The story was reported in the local newspaper in my home country.

Weeks later, I had a not-so-friendly breakup with my then-boyfriend. I was traumatized, scared, and frustrated, mostly because I had so much to say, so much to give, and no way of getting it out. I felt stuck, stranded, and sick and tired of having no progress in my life. In other words, I was on the brink of depression asking God, why? Why is this continuing to happen to me?

So I quit. I threw my scripts in the bin and walked away from the industry. Well, at least that’s what I thought I was doing for 13 months, until the cries of my deep desire to make films welled up and grew in intensity, demanding that I pay attention and take action.

Strangely, even though I had “quit,” I still found myself scripting time and again during those 13 months of retirement. I needed this time to really reflect on what mattered to me the most, and to truly understand why I love this work so much.

Now it’s 2017, and it’s been months since I’ve been actively back to the love of my life—film. I bumped into an old friend on Facebook in November 2016, almost by accident, because I was rarely on social media at the time. We had met only once, about eight years ago, on a bus trip from Malawi to Zimbabwe, and we had exchanged numbers. He called me the same day and we talked about what was going on in our lives, only to find out that he was a successful, local businessman looking to invest in art. I told him my story and he agreed to invest. Like they say, the rest is history!

Sisiyanti before a shoot

Sisiyanti before a shoot

 

Now I am more passionate than ever, and am at my most creative with so much to say. It’s as if I’ve been reborn, more energetic and much stronger, and I’m loving it. Not that it’s become easy, but now I see nothing else but film. I see a brighter light at the end of the tunnel. Things still go wrong or go missing: lightning striking the equipment and crashing the whole computer system, therefore losing all work done toward release day; money disappearing days before shooting the trailer, meaning that I have to stop and re-source money again; heavy rains and floods resulting in us having to change shooting dates; crazy restless nights … and so on.

I have learned that when you fall down, don’t stay there. Let go of past mistakes, quickly get back up, and try again and again and again until the big NO is a big YES. Even Shonda Rhymes has had troubles financing her projects. So who am I to give in? At the end of the day, all that matters is staying true to your passion no matter how hard it gets, staying curious, and staying focused.

Sisiyanti

I am currently working on my music feature film project Monster Women, which blends feminism, gender role reversal, and magic to tell the story of three young South African women. The project has been slowly gaining momentum, though it’s still in its developmental stages. I feel something great is about to happen with this film—exciting times, I tell you.

I’m in love with this work. I’ve come a long way to accept that I am a creator. It’s a must that I create, or die. No more excuses. No more giving in to fear, no more waiting to be given a chance (to create by creators who are just like me), no more “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of not seeing progress. I deserve to be heard.

And so, my journey in film continues.

Make sure to follow Sisiyanti on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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