Independent filmmaker Paul Wilo has joined an exclusive club; he has become one of a tiny group of Zambian filmmakers who’ve had their films screened at the Cannes Festival. He joins Ngosa Chungu and Rungano Nyoni in this club. Cannes is one of the biggest and most prestigious film festivals in the world, held annually, in France. The festival, which began 75 years ago, celebrates the best of cinema from all around the world.

“Maria Kristu: The Buumba Story,” the second feature film by Lusaka born filmmaker, Paul S. Wilo, wowed audiences at Cannes and won three awards: Best African Film, Best Indie Feature, Best Director Indie Film Feature, ahead of the movie’s local premiere which took place on 2nd October at Nu Metro cinema in Lusaka. Maria Kristu is also nominated at this year’s Fespaco Film Festival (the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) inBurkina Faso, Africa’s biggest film festival.

“Buumba is a writer. She’s passionate about writing and everybody’s telling her she can’t do it. Because she’s not allowed to chase a dream or be different…”

Paul’s journey of becoming a filmmaker is one you’d expect coming out of a country where there is no film school and where the film industry is still in its infancy. He’s self-taught and relied heavily on the internet to learn the skills needed for filmmaking. He mostly relied on YouTube and free classes he could find across the web.

Paul Wilo (standing, left) runs lines with the cast of Maria Kristu: The Buumba Story

Growing up, Paul always had an interest in storytelling. Around the age of 12, Paul’s fascination with film grew, motivating him to read a lot of books. By the time he got to high school, Paul’s desire to become a storyteller only grew stronger; especially when he started to take literature classes. At this point he flirted with the idea of becoming a novelist one day.

“When I completed high school in 2011, I wrote and thought up stories, and I continued till around 2012 when it became vividly clear that I needed to share my stories. I didn’t just want my characters to end on paper. I wanted to see them come to life up close, on television. So I started to do a little bit of research on what short films are and what it takes to actually make a movie,” he shares with Nkwazi. There’s so much glee in Paul’s voice as he regales me with anecdotes from his journey, trying to share as much as he can in the limited time we have before his next meeting.

A pivotal scene from Maria Kristu: The Buumba Story. Main character Buumba reacts to some heartbreaking news.

“To be honest, I really didn’t understand what I was getting into. But I started to ask around on who I could talk to if I wanted to break into the industry, and by 2013, I started to do a little more practical research in terms of doing short films and I only developed from there…By 2015, I had already produced my first feature with my friend, Abel Phiri.”

After collaborating with some trusted friends and colleagues who shared the same insatiable hunger for storytelling and chasing a dream, Paul’s dream of seeing the characters he created on screen was realised when Zambezi Magic bought Broken, his first feature. This earned him credibility and access to the resources needed to be able to bring Maria Kristu to life nine years later.

Inspired by real-life events, Maria Kristu is a story about a young girl, Buumba, who’s full of life and curiosity, but is stuck in a system of indoctrination. A system that strips her of her humanity and convinces her that she can’t be anything more than what she’s been taught to be. “Buumba is a writer. She’s passionate about writing and everybody’s telling her she can’t do it,” Paul explains. “Because she’s not allowed to chase a dream or be different, like most women. Buumba is taught to be submissive and is subjugated to this institution of oppression.”

Paul worked as a writer on Nseke, a Zambezi Magic series. He has also worked on the set of Mirrors, another local TV production. Additionally, Paul has worked on a number of short films including Wounded (winner of the Best Script award at the Sotambe Art and Film Festival), Little Humans (nominated at the Lake International Film Festival – Best Movie for Children), Scars and For Racheal.

And while Paul had little choice but to turn to the internet to learn his craft, he is giving other budding storytellers more options. He co-owns Real Image Media Creative Hub, which trains actors and writers. So far the hub has produced two short films directed by Paul’s founding partner, Cecilia Pinky Mwansa.

These up and coming storytellers have Paul to look up to and when asked who inspired him on his path he cites Penelope Kandutu, his former English language teacher at Namukundwe High School in Central Province. “In the process of me becoming a filmmaker I dilly-dallied a little, but I had a teacher who always encouraged me to pursue writing and storytelling, and that really helped. It’s easier when you have someone who believes in you,” Paul tells Nkwazi.

“I ran into my former teacher while in college, and she asked me, ‘What are you studying’? I told her I was doing business studies, and she immediately told me, ‘That’s not your calling. Your calling is film and storytelling! If you’re doing business studies, I don’t think it’s something you’re going to use as a person. But you can still use it as a stepping stone to get to what you were really meant to do.’”

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