Zimbabwe’s 101 minutes long movie, Cook Off has made history by being the first country’s film to show on Netflix, joining other outstanding African productions such as Shadow, Lion Heart and Queen Sono, amongst many more. With the rising demand of African content, Netflix is surely catering for its audience by taking up some of the best content from the African continent. The movie is set to start screening soon.
Written & Directed by Tomas Brickhill, who also directs Zimbabwe’s Battle of the Chefs and produced by Joe Njagu, the man behind the movies – Lobola, Tete B and The Gentleman, Cook Off is an unlikely romantic comedy that has screened at leading international film festivals and is preparing for general release.
Cook Off follows the journey of Anesu played by Tendaiishe Chitima, a down-on-her-luck single mother from Harare’s Budiriro township, who becomes a national sensation after she qualifies for Zimbabwe’s top reality TV cooking show, but then finds herself out of depth battling against professional chefs. Featuring, popular Hip Hop artist, TEHN Diamond and the much-beloved ‘NERIA’ star Jesesi Mungoshi as the grandmother, the film first played in December 2017 at a homemade cinema on a Harare rooftop.
The movie was filmed on set of Zimbabwe’s real-life cooking television show, Battle of the Chefs. The production of the film endured cash, power and water shortages, riot and the devastating consequences of a countrywide economic crisis. Despite all these many challenges, the feel-good movie, emerged to represent a new generation of talent in Zimbabwean Filmmaking.
“We always felt the Cook Off was something special, and wanted it to do as well as possible. But with our modest resources, we had much more humble expectations of how far we could go with the film. It’s a real testament to the hard work of the entire team that we have managed to get this far. We are really excited to bring this story – which is a Zimbabwean tale, but one that has really resonated in festival screenings across the world and to a much wider audience” said Tomas Lutuli Brickhill, writer and director of Cook Off, and a third-generation Zimbabwean.
As a result of the teams hard work, in 2018, the film had its Africa premier at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) and also won two awards, namely Best Feature and Best Actress at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival, the same year. In 2019, lead actress Tendaiishe Chitima won the Best Actress award at the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe, with the film scooping the Best Feature-length film award. Other notable awards that Cook Off has scooped, are the Audience Award at the Cambria Film Festival in California, as well as the Nancy Green Founder's Award for Best of the Festival.
Soon after it was selected for the prestigious Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR), the first time a Zimbabwean film was screened at Rotterdam in 22 years. Cook Off went on to be selected for international festivals including Seattle, Durban, Nairobi, Leuven and the prestigious Pan- African Film Festival in Los Angeles. The film had the honour of being the first Zimbabwean feature film ever to be selected for Seattle International Film Festival, and placed 38th out of 187 films in the Audience Awards at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2018. The film had its London premiere in July 2019.
Cook Off’s soundtrack features leading Zimbabwean artists, Amy & the Calamities, Ammara Brown, Ryan Koriya and the Djembe Monks. Lead singer of well-known UK-based rock band The Noisettes, Shingai Shoniwa, also appears in a cameo role in the film, as well as on the soundtrack.
“When we began this project, Tomas and I spoke at length about how much stronger we could be together – filmmakers in Zimbabwe have tended to work quite independently of each other, but we felt that we could do something really special by putting all our energies into one film. We look forward to more collaboration in the Zimbabwean film industry, we know that there is great talent here. No single individual can take the credit for the success, the commitment by every member of cast and crew during the whole process and often in challenging circumstances, has been really phenomenal”- expressed Producer, Joe Njagu