Niam Etany and Fatma Naib were chosen to attend the MAISHA 2010 Screenwriting Lab in Zanzibar. In anticipation of the upcoming MAISHA 2010 Documentary Lab in Uganda we asked Niam and Fatma to tell us about their time there. In their own words, here is their experience:
When we received the email from the MAISHA Screenwriting Lab, saying “Congratulations! You have been selected…” we couldn’t believe it.
Fast forward a month and a blue boat sways gently on the surface of the Indian Ocean. The sun has just set and the red light of dusk is creeping in, making the distant islands look like mythical creatures. Arabic music serves in making the setting even more beautiful and assures us that we are not in a dream.
We had never been to Africa before. The furthest we had reached was Egypt, and despite its geographical location, it certainly cannot be considered African in essence. But here in Zanzibar, off the Tanzanian main land, you cannot but remember every second that you are in Africa.
We had a set routine each day; breakfast is served between 07:30 – 09:00, tea break at 10:30. Lunch at 13:00, tea break 15:30 and finally dinner at 19:00. Our day started promptly at 09:00 with either scheduled classes or one-on-one meetings with our respective mentors. By 21:00 we were ready to hit the sack to start the same cycle all over again the following day.
On our first day there we worked from morning till evening with Leonard, one of our two mentors. We read the screenplays we submitted and exchanged our opinions about them. It is always nice to have your screenplay read out loud for you. You can figure out its weak points and strong points. You can visualize it more clearly, identify what needs to be worked on, and what needs to be taken out or added. In addition, we did some screenwriting basics about structure and act breaks, watched few short films and did exercises on plot and conflict.
By the second day of our workshop everybody was getting a better grasp of what this screenwriting thing is about and we were able to have more in depth discussions. In the afternoon we worked on characters, character arcs, and character biographies. It’s important to learn why each character acts the way they do, and talks the way they do.
That weekend we prepared for our Monday one-on-one meetings with Cajetan and Leonard. We spent both days writing and perfecting our final draft. Our mentors were both happy with how our scripts developed and improved between the first and final (or close to final) drafts. While nerve racking, the review process was great. They could see change and liked what they read.
After the meeting, we had more to work on, because you can always make a screenplay better! Every time we looked at our scripts we would think “This is it, I am not going to change anything else” but of course that was never the case and we would end up re-writing our whole script.
On the final day we started by reading our final drafts aloud one last time. One by one we allocated characters for people to read aloud and one person to be the stage director. When our own scripts were read, we had to sit back, relax and listen. We all sat there feeling proud of what we all achieved in the past week. Musarit, the program director, and our mentors, Leonard and Cajetan, gave us their final remarks and it was humbling to listen to what they felt about our scripts. After our final tea break it was time to announce the winner of the two thousand dollar prize that will go towards turning our scripts into films.
Musarit announced that this year there will be two prizes, one will be for Doha film institute DFI participants and the other one is for the rest of the participants. In all honestly though, we already felt like winners by being there and going through the experience. After the prizes were announced our mentors spoke seriously, reminding us that we don’t need permission from anyone to make our films. We should write and write, and knock on every door that may help us realize our dreams and make our movies.
Asanti (Thank you) MAISHA and Doha Film Institute for this amazing opportunity to be part of your family. This is an experience that we will cherish and learn from for the rest of our lives.
For potential screenwriters and film makers out there, just do it!
Niam Etany & Fatma Naib