Note of Intention
Dambudzo Marechera, the brilliant Zimbabwean writer, died of AIDS in Harare at 35 years old. He had left Rhodesia for England with a scholarship to Oxford during the civil war that would eventually lead to the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980. Dambudzo returned shortly afterwards.
When I read his novel THE HOUSE OF HUNGER, I instantly recognised the voice. Dambudzo presents an extraordinary, poetic, stream-of-consciousness account of the schizophrenia and brutality of the colonized, the exiled and the post-colonial condition. He powerfully describes that strange duality of feeling at home but alienated, whether it be in Rhodesia, Europe or indeed back in Zimbabwe after years of exile. He has the voice of a young man who left his country before Independence and found, when he returned, a new country, with a new order. Like him, I left Rwanda whilst it was being torn by a genocide. I have yet to go back, but if I do, it would be to a new country, with a new order. Like me, Dambudzo came to perceive himself as an exile both at home and abroad.
Dambudzo watched himself and the world around him. And he was not a mere observer. He wrote what he lived and lived what he wrote. Here was a man who knew all too well how his world worked, and its hypocrisy, corruption and weakness made him spit with fury. Dambudzo seized every opportunity to remind both Western and African Establishments to look in the mirror – and never shrank from placing himself as part of that reflection. Today his writing still holds up that mirror, now more than ever. This is why I want to tell the story of exile through his life and his work. Dambudzo plumbed the depths, and his outspokenness about what he found there had no limit.
The character of a gifted, perspicacious, prophetic, hard working, totally uncompomromising writer whose outsider status drove him to hold up such a clear picture that it ended up killing him, is a fantastic and important subject for a film. It raises questions about art and talent, about integrity and compromise, about colonialism and its influence, about the corruptibility of human nature and, profoundly, about the state of being in exile.
There are several versions of the same events in his life, so this cannot be a documentary re-enactment. The film is based on the memories of those who knew him, and on his writings, particularly his highly autobiographical book THE HOUSE OF HUNGER and his second work MINDBLAST.
Ery left his homeland Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 and subsequently lived in DR Congo (then Zaire), Kenya, Spain, Belgium and UK.
Whilst living in Belgium, Ery did his degree in Dutch and got a BSc degree in Industrial Sciences & Technologies and a MSc degree in Information & Communication Technologies, both at the University of Ghent. For his Master's degree, he spent a year at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain), where he wrote his thesis. After working for a year in the telecom industry, Ery auditioned and was offered a place at the Royal Conservatoire of Brussels, where he started a course in Acting (in French). However two years later (midway his course), Ery decided to try his luck in the English-speaking world. He auditioned and was offered a place at the Birmingham School of Acting in the UK.
Ery now lives in London where he works as a freelance actor.
In early 2008, Ery became a trustee for the Iceandfire Theatre Company.
Ery has also written and directed short films for his production company Maliza Productions.
See also www.nzaramba.com
Zimmedia is an independent film and TV production company based in Zimbabwe. Company directors Simon Bright and Ingrid Sinclair have twenty years of prize winning international experience with sales and commissions from TV stations including M-Net, Arte, Channel 4, Canal Plus, PBS. Our films have been selected for the Cannes Film Festival and shown at the Venice Biennale. Besides making creative documentaries and fiction films, Zimmedia also undertakes Media for Development projects and communications consultancies in Africa.
See also www.zimmedia.com
"A black man who has suffered all the stupid brutalities of the white oppression in Rhodesia, his rage explodes, not in political rhetoric, but in a fusion of lyricism, wit, obscenity. Incredible that such a powerful indictment should also be so funny." Doris Lessing in praise of The House of Hunger
Known as the "enfant terrible of African literature" and "Africa's response to Joyce", Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987) has been dismissed by some as mad and applauded by others as a genius. More than twenty years after his death, his work continues to inspire academic studies, biographies, films, and plays. Famous for his unconventional life as much as for his work, Marechera has become something of a cult figure in certain circles in Zimbabwe, a country whose political developments have fulfilled his prescient political vision. The annual "The House of Hunger Poetry Slam", which takes place in The Book Café in Harare every June, is a witness to the enormous influence Marechera continues to wield over Zimbabwean writers. Among his many followers and admirers are the Zimbabwean praise poet Albert Nyathi, the South African performance poets Lesego Rampolokeng and Kgafela oa Magogodi, or the Zimbabwean rapper Comrade Fatso.
"I don't hate being black. I'm just tired of saying it's beautiful", Marechera famously wrote, expressing his post-racial vision that made some see him as "the man who betrayed Africa". Born into ghetto poverty in colonial Rhodesia, Marechera was expelled from University of Rhodesia for his political involvement. A brilliant student, he received a scholarship to read English at New College, Oxford, to which he responded with extreme alienation and was to be sent down in his second year for a series of provocations, including threats to burn down New College. He wrote his first novella, The House of Hunger (Heinemann, 1978), while camping in Port Meadow near Oxford. This stream-of-consciousness account of the schizophrenia and brutality of the colonized condition went on to win the prestigious Guardian First Book Award in 1979, with Marechera being immediately recognized as an avant-garde minstrel whose search for new ways to communicate placed him in the tradition of modernists such as Joyce, Beckett and Soyinka. The book was said to set a new path in African writing and Marechera was hailed as a witness and a prophet.
Marechera's mistrust of the establishment and high valuation of individual freedom made him resist absorption into London's literary society. Living as a tramp-writer in London's squats and parks, he wrote Black Sunlight (Heinemann, 1980), and Black Insider (published posthumously in 1992), even more experimental works that irreverently parodied African nationalist, Marxist and racial identifications, because he recognized that notions of an essential African identity were being invoked to authorize many totalitarian regimes across Africa. True liberation from oppression, Marechera insisted, could be achieved only through the overcoming of oppositional identity discourses and freeing the imagination to create space for individual reinvention. Such criticism, however, came prematurely early for the newly independent Zimbabwe, where Black Sunlight was promptly banned on charges of "euromodernism".
Seeing the role of the writer as a "chronicler, subversive jester, and a teller of tales", Marechera refused to be co-opted into the nation-building project of independent Zimbabwe, where he returned after eight years in Britain. In his typical iconoclastic style, he wrote: "Either you are a writer or you are not. If you're a writer for a specific nation or a specific race, then f*** you." Living homeless in Harare as he did in London, Marechera came to perceive himself as an exile both at home and abroad. He became notorious for his public criticism of Mugabe's government and eccentric performances at literary festivals. During this time, he wrote a series of plays and short stories that satirized the travesties of the Zimbabwean state often in a dark, surreal Kafkaesque style. They were published as Mindblast (1984) and Scrapiron Blues (1994). Marechera's poetry, written over the course of his life, has been collected in Cemetery of Mind (1992). Ranging between existentialist meditations on violence and surrealist love sonnets, his poems pay silent respects to such greats as T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath, among others. He died tragically young at the age of 35 of an AIDS-related illness. Since his death, Marechera's work has been analyzed in the contexts of (post)modernism, postcolonialism, Bakhtin's carnivalesque, universal humanism, resistance literature, post- and anti-nationalism, queer theory, masculinity theories, feminism, and exilic consciousness, among others. At the same time, Marechera continues to be criticized for his nihilism, his failure to offer opportunities for transcendence while destroying all markers of stable identity, and for his supposed misogyny.