Mind Games – A Proud Zimbabwean Thriller Epic.

Mind Games Poster

This is excellent African storytelling at its essence. I met Charles Mawungwa the mind behind Mind Games at this years International Durban Film Festival, we were members of Talents Durban, quite a phenomenal and talented Pan-African group. After we went our separate ways, I discovered the page for the feature film Mind Games on Facebook, I liked it and followed its impressive progress over the weeks. Myself and Charles connected and I have been fortunate to see the film, which is mind blowing. Without getting into too much detail and risk some spoilers, the yet to be released Mind Games is about “A man tortured by guilt, he meets a psychopathic killer who forces him to revisit and conquer his personal demons in order to save his only daughter and survive the day”. The ending is ingenious.

I am so proud and Inspired that a film so unique has come out of Zimbabwe, Internationally appealing and authentically African in every kind of way. I was even more surprised to realize that Charles took on the monumental task of shooting this feature film with a crew of under 10 people in it’s totality. Which raised two points for me; the lack of Government support towards the Zimbabwean film community and secondly, In spite of this understanding it shows that ambition and drive can never be stopped, something Charles should pride himself in.  A duo team, the film was produced with his wife Thandiwe Mawungwa, they also run an amazing Multimedia service company called Reelnet.

Below Charles answers my questions relating to his feature film which are quite insightful. What I took away is that, there are no excuses in executing your plan, none whatsoever. Where there is a will there is a way, cliche but true, that’s why they’re cliche’s. Enjoy this amazing read!

Kevin Hanssen & Dax L. Jackson.
Dax L. Jackson & Kevin Hanssen.

The Reel Nthabiseng: Your film was exceptional I was glued to it from beginning till the end. The film I would assume is a Crime-Thriller? Genre films are always Interesting to me and your directing matched the genre. Is this your debut as a Feature Film Director?

Charles Mawungwa: Thank you for the wonderful compliment. Yes, I would say this is my first successfully completed feature film. I have tried twice before to make a feature film, but failed because of financial constraints.

TRN:  When it came to shooting the film, I read the credits and it seems like you did the bulk of the work during the production period: you were the director and cinematographer. It seems to have been an extremely small crew for a film of this nature, which further amazes me because it is not easy shooting anything but you achieved shooting a film with what you had. Please take me through the shooting process, how many people worked on it and how was the production period for you?

CM: It’s true, I deliberately worked with a very small crew. There was me, my wife as the production manager and two production assistants. Over the past 12 years I have had extensive production experience as writer, director, cinematographer and editor. My wife is also quite experienced in directing and writing, so together we could fill in all the gaps. I have also worked on over 40 documentaries for the United Nations, which required me to work as a crew of one or two people. I employed the lessons I have learned to produce this film.
I dedicated most of my time to planning. I planned this shoot for two years, working on every detail to the last dot. We shot for 10 days between the 6th and the 21st of November 2016.

Sandra Chawabvunza eceived a NAMA Award for her role.
Sandra Chawabvunza received a NAMA Award for her role.
Talented Pamela Johnstone.
Talented Pamela Johnstone.

TRN: I can imagine there were challenges during filming, what can you mention have been some of them?

CM: From experience in doing productions I had pretty much anticipated possible challenges and made provisions for them. However there are some unexpected things like, after shooting a fight scene on a rooftop, as I was cleaning up, I fell through the roof and injured myself.

TRN: How long did it take to get the film completed during the post-production period?

CM: Post-production took six months, I had a rough cut in the first 30 days. About 75% of the film required special effects, mostly to make up for things we didn’t have on set. I had to develop 3-D versions of my main characters in order to pull off certain stunts. I did scoring at the end and by May the film was finished.

TRN: You produced this film with your wife, how did you source the funding?

CM: My wife and I decided to finance this film ourselves so we had to find ways to produce a great quality film on a realistic budget. Watching the film, you will not believe that we only used $350 to make the film, that’s excluding the pays for the actors. We already had equipment and production skills. We used our connections to get props and locations. Most of the budget went towards paying the actors. We gave the actors a decent daily rate and worked the schedule in a way that would maximize the time used.

TRN: I enjoyed watching the film, the twist was quite amazing. How was Mind Games conceptualized?

CM: I developed Mind Games as a short film in 2009. I wanted to prove that you did not need lot’s of money to make a good quality entertaining film. The short film went on to win Best Director and Best Short Film at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival and the National Arts Merit Awards respectively. All you need is lot’s of creativity. I hate predictable story lines and I love films that can engage you mentally and take you on a psychological adventure, films that are sophisticated but not complicated. I wrote the first draft of the film in 2007. I continued to do several more drafts and in 2016, my wife worked with me to develop the final version.

TRN: Was the film shot strictly in Zimbabwe?

CM: The film was completely shot in Harare, Zimbabwe.

TRN: Let’s talk special effects, there were quite a few car crashes, how was that achieved and the overall use of special effects, how did you pull that off?

CM: Obviously we could not afford to crash cars or blow up Harare. I did that in post-production. The actual filming was quite risky because we had to get as close to a crash as possible and then finish it in post. Aside from the visible special effects there was also lot’s of invisible special effects used to compensate for things we could not do on set. For example when young ‘EX’ steps on his glasses as he walks away. I also had to change the color of Kevin’s Overalls in post which took quite a lot of time. More time was taken in camera tracking and replacing the television. The city destruction scenes proved to be the hardest to do but it came out well in the end.

Tendai Musungo
Tendai Musungo.

TRN: Your cast members were amazing, the main characters did a great job, how was the casting process and how was your working relationship with your cast?

CM: I avoided doing long rehearsals because they can sometimes wear down actors. Instead, I looked for great actors, spent about four days telling them the vision and expounding the characters. Once they understood their characters, that was it. I would do most of the directing during shooting. You get a good take, you lock it in camera. Pam Lewsey is a drama teacher. Kevin Hansen is himself a director who has acted and taught acting in many countries around the world. Dax Jackson is an award winning seasoned actor who also has experience behind the camera. Infact I was humbled to see these great people allowing me to direct them. Great actors will make the director’s job so much easier.

TRN: How has Mind Games been received thus far?

CM: We have not launched the film as yet. It will be launched in 2018. It was screened at Zanzibar International Film Festival where it got a Best Film award, and Best Actor for Kevin Hanssen. The reception was amazing and I received lots of great reviews from those who attended the screening.

Dax L. Jackson & Pam Lewsey as the separated couple.
Dax L. Jackson & Pam Lewsey as the separated couple.
Courtney Antipas.
Courtney Antipas.

TRN: What are the plans for the film in the near future?

CM: We have sent Mind Games to several festivals. We are looking to do an official launch in 2018 and then release it for Cinema and Television.

TRN: As a filmmaker, what are your plans and should it apply: how will you incorporate Zimbabwe in the film making process?

CM: Mind Games is just the beginning; I have several unique stories to tell. However, film making is also a business that must make money. I plan to help map a path that make film distribution easier for Independent Zimbabwean film producers.

TRN: What is film like in Zimbabwe, is there support from Government? Is there a strong film community, how are you producing films?

CM: In Zimbabwe there is a lot of talent but support systems are non-existent. Fortunately, technology has allowed film makers to film high quality films on affordable budget. This year we have several films in production and I have high hopes for the future.

Kevin Hanssen as 'Ex'.
Kevin Hanssen as ‘Ex’.

TRN: Lastly what kind of stories do you want to tell as an African Filmmaker?

CM: Africa has lot’s of untold stories. I believe films must be entertaining, thrilling and relevant. All my stories are thrillers. Crime, paranormal or psychological thrillers. I like to tell stories that have a global appeal but drawing from uniquely African mysteries and conflicts which the world has not yet seen. I love stories that take you from the real world and create new realities from imagination. In the end my films should leave people feeling that anything is possible; life is possible. If my stories can inspire you to do the impossible, then I have succeeded.

Producing couple Charles and Thandiwe.
Producing couple Charles and Thandiwe.

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