A review of Mzuni’s HIV/AIDS movie Alufeyo: Step ahead for Malawi film industry

It is no longer arguable that, for the past two years or so, Malawi’s movie industry has produced some world class motion pictures – ones that can compete at international film festivals.

Of course, ones that top the list are the two movies from avid short story writer turned movie director Charles Shemu Joyah. His two movies, Seasons of a Life (2010) and The Last Fishing Boat (2012) have created a sensation on the international market, proving sceptics that ever thought that Malawians can never make it in the movie industry otherwise.

Joyah’s movies are great Malawian stories told from great Malawian faces and actions. They are African, mature – boasting of immeasurable creative rigour. Creative rigour and power that may have lacked in Aubrey Kalitera’s To Ndirande Mountain with Love, Malawi’s very first movie produced in 1985.

Estele, one of the main characters in the movie --- Rhita Boaz

Estele, one of the main characters in the movie — Rhita Boaz

Thus, it would be safe to say and, it is, that in a few years time, Malawians should be able to come up with classics. Not the very best, but at least the best in the field.

Mzuzu University’s (Mzuni) recently unveiled movie Alufeyo foreshadows this fact. Done by students and staff of the institution with funding from the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Alufeyo – a one and half hour movie – is breathtaking. The movie would make cotemporary players in the Malawi movie industry envious and, those who are there because they think they just can, down their tools for eternity. Alufeyo, the movie, coming from first timers in the movie production industry does not lack. It is super. Splendid!

Plot

Alufeyo is an imaginary story of a young man – from Chamama Village in Malawi’s Central Region district of Kasungu – with a humble background who must find a way of striking a balance between his traditionally quiet, focused and reserved lifestyle and the seemingly exciting college life.

From the onset of the movie, the protagonist – Alufeyo Gondwe, playedbBy Alinafe Dzanja – proves to be a disciplined and modest character. When his buddies, for example, try to steal some cassava, on their way from their farms, Alufeyo is at the fore to condemn them for their act. He is, to be very precise, the kind of “boy” every parent in the world would want to have for a son.

A brilliant young man, Alufeyo happens to one of the few young men and women in the country who get a scholarship to study at Mzuzu University (Mzuni). Typical of Malawi’s community life, almost everyone in the village is present to bid Alufeyo bye and extend their best of luck wishes. In the group is Esitele, played by Rhita Boaz, a girl who is already betrothed to Alufeyo as a would-be wife. No one doubts about it – for Esitele already fetches water for Alufeyo’s mother plus doing other household chores at Alufeyo’s home.

But things turn upside down when Alufeyo meets Sparo – his roommate at Mzuni. Unlike conservative Alufeyo, Sparo is a man of women, cigarettes and booze – three things that graduate men into stupidest creatures ever. He is a young man who does not look at women with only his eyes. Sparo is a young sex maniac. Overtime, Sparo manages to convert Alufeyo into a womaniser and drunkard too. The latter forgets about everything – including his beloved Esitele and parents. He doesn’t go back to his village again and tells all that he comes from Mbayani in Blantyre which is his uncle’s place. His new girlfriend, Brenda, unfortunately Alufeyo does not know, dates Matola – a business magnate in Mzuzu City whose noticeable role in the movie is to simply sleep with college girls in exchange with money.

Written by Misheck Banda, a lecturer in the department of languages and literature at the institution, the plot boasts of a comprehensive story line and – one enriched with exciting crises, throughout.

Climax

Perhaps the climax of the movie is when Esitele makes an effort to visit Alufeyo, her love, at Mzuni. It has been three years without seeing him, and she takes advantage of a church trip to Mzuzu to visit her beau. With her, Esitele carries greetings from home – including a letter which Alufeyo’s father has written.

She has problems locating the whereabouts of Alufeyo at the magnificent campus. She doesn’t know which programme Alufeyo is doing. With direction from security guards, Esitele is told to seek help at the Porter’s Lodge.

Whew! Teary drama!

While talking to Sparo, whom she meets by fate, Esitele sees his lover and almost flies to hug him. But, unfortunately, Alufeyo who is exaggeratingly dressed in oversized trousers and tops pretends not to know Esitele. Esitele loses. She goes back home heart-broken. Emotionally Stabbed!

Perils of bad company

The movie, Alufeyo, is a typical story of the dangers of bad company and peer pressure among college going students. Alufeyo gets a new girlfriend on campus, Brenda, because of pressure from Sparo. On the day he meets his nightmarish fate, Alufeyo – of course with ill advice from Sparo – borrow a car from Matola in exchange with a first year female student. Their destination is Chikale Beach in Nkhata Bay where Sparo takes with him Zione – a girlfriend to Mzuni’s Student Christian of Malawi (SCOM) chairperson Norman.

But while chill axing, Zione drowns and dies.

The story gets complicated. They take Zione’s body to Mzuzu Central Hospital pretending it is their sister who is feeling unwell and vanish into thin air with borrowed car from Matola. The nurses fail to trace the two. Fortunately, one of the nurses recalls Zione’s face, saying she comes to collect her Anti-Retroviral (ARV) medication for HIV.

Zione was HIV positive, and Sparo had slept with her condomlessly the night before.

But the story only opens up a can of worms. Before the Chikale Beach trip, Alufeyo and her colleague – a classmate, who is Sparo’s girlfriend – get scholarships to study in the US for performing brilliantly in their academic pursuits. With the new development, Alufeyo is at a loss. He thinks if it is discovered, which is true, that Zione died while with them, he might not go.

Buy nay – it won’t be Zione’s death stopping her. It is the medical report they are supposed to fill. Alufeyo is found HIV positive. Throughout, he thought he had never slept with anyone before but as he tries to dig deeper and deeper into his memory, Alufeyo recalls that he might have slept with Brenda one night at a party – where he was stupidly drunk.

He commits suicide in his room.

Abstinence

On the other hand, much as Alufeyo’s scholarship colleague was girlfriend to Sparo, he is found HIV negative – simply because he avoided sexual intercourse with her boyfriend – Sparo.

On the other hand, Sparo, who does not believe in the language of abstinence, learns from Alufeyo’s suicide letter that Zione, whom he had casual sex with, was HIV positive and that he should go for a test.

Suspense

As the crises in the movie build up, one observes more and more of suspense. For example, while coming from Chikale Beach, one would think Sparo and Alufeyo by a policeman at a roadblock who searches the car. Funny enough, the policeman simply jokes about the girl getting too drunk and lets them go. Typical of the Malawi Police Service!

Symbolism

The movie also aptly puts forth the element of symbolism. The night prior to Zione’s death, strange noises – which even Zione hears – foreshadows bad luck. The same happens at Mzuzu Central Hospital where Zione is pronounced dead.

Moral lessons: HIV/AIDS awareness campaign

Overall, the movie is about HIV/AIDS awareness. The movie tells appositely well how big a problem HIV/AIDS has become in Malawi’s colleges and universities because of lack of awareness. Brenda, Alufeyo’s campus girlfriend infects Alufeyo with HIV which she undoubtedly got from Matola, the business magnate. Sparo gets it from Zione, Norman’s girlfriend. By the way, Norman and Zione were already in the know of their status and are on ARVs. Thus, the movie emphasizes on the need to know one’s HIV status. A lot would have been avoided in the movie if that was the case.

Above all, the movie probably wants viewers to reflect on Alufeyo’s suicide. Isn’t life, after all, supposed to move on even after one tests HIV positive?

Light moments

Much as it is a serious movie, Alufeyo has many light moments which send viewers into stitches of laughter. Throughout the movie, there are two village young men whose job is just to beat drums even during the most unnecessary of occasions. It is funny to learn that the two – possibly because of lack of something to do – have simply turned into drum beaters. It is also laughable when one learns that Sparo, who touts himself as a no-village boy, is actually Sipindulo Aroni. Sparo is a short form for his full name.

And, during interrogation on the death of Zione, Sparo jokingly laughs out loud when the police produce a sim-card to ascertain their allegation that the former was the last person to have called the deceased. “So you mean you are accusing me of having accused a sim-card?” muses Sparo. These, called stage reliefs in modern dramatic play production, do not only make the movie livelier but also very exciting.

Lows

The movie, nevertheless, does not fall short of lows. Firstly, the actors – possibly being new in the industry – have a problem of showing, in a way that gets noticed by the viewers, that they converse with the camera man in the shooting of the movie. The actors also show lack of realism. For example, Esitele – much as she is one of the best stars in the movie – fails to cry like one the moment Alufeyo rejects her right at Mzuni when she visits.

Also, the movie’s quality of pictures is not the best. Something better could have been done. The pictures are dark – something that might have been a problem of lighting.

But; all in all, the movie with background music by Dan Lu alias Dan Lufani and directed by Villant Jana heralds a lot of hope for the crew as far as their movie production exploits are concerned.

According to Misheck Banda, patron of the crew, the movie is being distributed for free to all young people in the country especially college going students.

“It is actually dedicated to all ‘freshmen’ in university/college campuses in Malawi,” says Banda.

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