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Africa is a place rich with culture and art. Zanzibar is specifically noted by many as a place of beauty. Therefore, it is fitting that one of the largest cultural events is held there annually. The Zanzibar International Film Festival was created in 1997 to grow the film industry. It also helped the culture thrive and promote “social and economic growth” (

Zanzibar’s International Film Festival is also known as the Festival of the Dhow Countries. This yearly event is now viewed as one of the biggest events in East Africa. According to, themes change each year. The festival typically happens within the first few weeks of July. The Dhow represents a symbol of “tradition and travel.” “The Dhow is an Arab sailing vessel which has been used extensively for transport and trade” ( It holds a significant meaning, therefore the film festival is extremely important. This is true to the people of Zanzibar as it allows their community to expand.

According to the ZIFF Facebook page, the Zanzibar International Film Festival is:

  • “Largest multi-disciplinary cultural festival of its kind in East Africa.”
  • “Longest running film festival in the region.”
  • “Listed in the top 5 film and music festivals in Africa.”
  • “Has acquired the reputation of a top Cultural Tourism product.”
  • “On average over 40 countries are represented.”
  • “Oriented programme that includes over 30 local, regional and international acts.”
  • “Social aware with ties with cultural, civic, film and social NGO’s across Africa.”
  • “With a strong focus on workshops and outreach.”
  • “With various partners, sponsors and a market driven approach to film, tourism and culture.”

The festival has put a lot of effort into being an event which provides a space for unknown Black artists. Oftentimes, Black artists do not get a chance to have their work displayed publicly. Therefore, a festival which allows them to show their work is important.

In an article from, Emerson Skeens says “The festival is about celebrating cultures often overshadowed by Western entertainment.” Emerson Skeens is the chairman of the festival, having moved to Zanzibar in 1990. Skeens also said “The…purpose of the festival is to make young people and children…happy with who they are…and take pride in that.” Keeping culture and tradition alive is important to Skeens. Therefore, this is why films submitted to the festival have to be “produced or directed by a country visited by dhows at some point.”

Saving traditional African culture is very important to Skeens and those who are involved in with the festival. To see this culture on film allows young Black people to feel connected to their identity. This is very important for people to have, especially in today’s world.

The Zanzibar International Film Festival awards people each year. According to, these awards include the following:

  • “Best Feature Film.”
  • “Best Short Film.”
  • “Best Documentary.”
  • “Best Feature from Dhow Countries Best Short from Dhow Countries Best Film from International.”
  • “Best Animation.”
  • “Best East African Film Best TV Series.”
  • “Best TV Programme.”
  • “Best WEB Series.”

Other guidelines can be found on These include “Films entered can be of any theme or genre. Applicants may submit more than one film. We will only accept films in English or with English subtitles.” Films are allowed to be submitted in another language, however they must contain English subtitles. Contestants are responsible for all translation efforts. also states that films entering the festival “must be directed or produced” from two years prior.

Other guidelines include short films needing to be between 5-20 minutes. Feature length films must be between 60-120 minutes. Therefore, there are a number of requirements for contestants. However, people are free to be creative within these restraints. Everyone involved is allowed to create a unique and personal work that is shown to a large audience. There are also a number of programs that occur throughout the festival. According to, some of these include “film workshops, film outreach projections, children peace camps” and much more. Zanzibar’s International Film Festival not only allows for primarily Black artists to showcase their work, but also provides education and networking opportunities.

Zanzibar’s International Film Festival, or the Festival of the Dhow Countries, is one of the biggest events East Africa offers. This festival is designed to preserve and promote African traditions while allowing young Black people to display their artwork in film. Requirements, while having restrictions, are a way to keep African culture a main part of these creative works. Having a film festival like this is a great way for people to have their work displayed on a large scale.


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