Introducing Dedza Films, A Distributor Highlighting Marginalized Communities and Storytellers

Dedza Films is a film distributor that aims to give exposure to marginalized communities, filmmakers, and promising new storytellers. Its latest project, WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE created in collaboration with Kino Lorber, showcases the works of nine filmmakers from underrepresented communities around the world. Kino Lorber Inc. has been in the business of independent art house distribution for the past 35 years and has released films that received seven Academy Award nominations.  

In conjunction with the release of WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE, Subvrt interviewed some members of the Dedza Films team: Kate Gondwe, Xan Black, and Clementine Narcisse. 

Check out the trailer for the films below, along with our talk with the Dedza Films team. 

Kate Gondwe, Founder of Dedza Films

Kate Gondwe is a Malawian-American and founder of Dedza Films. When she is not involved in film distribution, Kate produces for various productions with the goal of directing future projects as well.

What inspired you and your team to have the film series centered around themes of birth and regrowth?

Kate: It felt natural in our curation process and important for humanity at this moment. We certainly wanted our films to reflect our reality, which I think shows when you watch WWSAF. Cinema has too much power for acquisitions not to consider the impact of a film in relation to current times. 

We’ve already got a sense of the kinds of specialty films we wanted to bring to an audience. Through this release, we’ve discovered the kinds of stories and filmmakers we want to work with. WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE represents the next generation of emerging and international filmmakers not connected to the industry. We’re showcasing films we hope people feel seen by and prioritizing communities who oftentimes have been misrepresented by gatekeepers. 

I’ll add that the most challenging part was feeling as though my perspective was valid and sometimes I still feel that way in acquisitions and interviews like this around Dedza. Being young and not seeing many Black women in this position contributes to my lack of confidence at times. I’m learning to have more confidence and looking more at my mentors respectfully as equals. You have to trust yourself and the team that you’re making the right decisions for the film and audience. 

Still from Like Flying by Peier Tracy Shen

What are Dedza’s intentions for this film series? What audiences is this series supposed to speak to?

Kate: It becomes limiting and you can pigeonhole yourself into one demographic, which is the opposite of what we stand for. We challenged the audience and brought them a new experience. Showing shorts theatrically for many is new but we add subtitles, longer runtime, and no star power. 

“Black” films have historically been a challenge to distribute not because they don’t hold the same value, but the lack of exhibitors and distributors that connect with our communities. I think Ava Duvernay, Byron Allen, and Haile Gerima have all inspired me in many ways as I continue to learn about the efforts Black filmmakers/executives have done to change this. I hope Dedza can be part of that movement in bringing cinema for us to the screen.  

Ideally, we want to engage with a diverse younger-skewing audience interested in arthouse and subtitles. However, again I think it can be limiting to set a singular demographic to our series. During the opening weekend at Lumiere, I saw the screenings with young people, older people, men, women, and all from various backgrounds. 

To me, that is the ultimate community and a good distributor aims to be the tastemaker that asks the consumer to take a chance on a new product that then expands their taste. 

Within our distribution, we hit regional markets which was something important to me and how I see us expanding into creating large campaigns for our shorts. 

WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE created by Dedza Films showcases the works of underrepresented communities from around the world.

Still from Not Black Enough by Jermaine Manigault

What can fans of WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE expect from the Dedza team next?

Kate: I think as a team we learned a lot through this release even beyond what films we plan on acquiring next. Fans can expect more in how we engage with them, different ways to view the film, and WWSAF is only the beginning. We hope to further support emerging filmmakers and find good films we believe in. 

One of my favorite films from the series is Troublemaker. I appreciated getting to know Obi and the hardships of his community in such a short period of time. What resonated with you most about this film, which highlights generational trauma through the silence of one’s elders? 

Kate: Troublemaker stood out to me because I appreciated the way Olive Nwosu told a generational story from the perspective of the younger generation. As a Malawian-American, I understood and felt connected to the African familial traditions. Olive is an amazing storyteller— she explores beyond, and her own way of using cinema to tell stories of back home is so powerful. I can’t wait to see more of her work on the big screen. 

WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE created by Dedza Films showcases the works of underrepresented communities from around the world.

A still from Troublemaker by Olive Nwosu

In 2017 you did an interview with Jacalyn Evone for “Directed by Women,” where you stated that directing was your main passion out of the numerous other film talents you possess. Has your fondness for directing changed over the last couple of years? If so, why?

Kate: I’m trying to navigate a balance between running Dedza and doing my own work. As a filmmaker, I think a large percentage of your inspiration and perspective comes from experiencing life. Distribution, in many ways, demands a lot from you, which sometimes feels impossible to balance. However, there is power in knowing the business as an artist, especially as a Black artist. 

Distribution has helped me see the film industry at large. I now know how powerful the tool of cinema is and what a community can do to further drive your story. 

Clementine Narcisse, Creator of the WWSAF Trailer

Clementine Narcisse is an editor and filmmaker and created the trailer for WWSAF. Clementine is known for her “decade in film: films of the 2010s” 2019 film edit on YouTube.

What inspired you to choose the clips that you used in the WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE trailer? Were those clips your favorite scenes from those respective short films?

Clementine: I really do love all these films so I thought it was really important to find footage that both represented all of them individually as well as WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE as a collection. I will admit some of the clips were personal favorites I wanted to include but there’s just so much excellent footage I wanted to put in there! I really tried hard to not be selfish with that part and instead tried to pick a tone, stick with it, and tried to represent all the films equally as best as I could.

The audio from one short film blends into another during the trailer, which some may think brings new meaning to those scenes. What influenced you to create the trailer this way?

Clementine: It was actually something we eventually all agreed on doing as time went on. For me personally, I think that the sound of all these films being the sole audio of the trailer makes it feel more intimate in a way. When you have such a small time frame to introduce so many incredible films, giving them their own sound is a way to make each one stand out even more. 

Xan Black, Head of Design for Dedza Films

Xan Black is a non-binary graphic designer and filmmaker. Their first film, “A Smaller World”, received immense attention from not only film critics but also from Academy Award Winner Matthew Cherry and Directors Guild of America Award Winner Alma Har’el.

As Head of Design for Dedza, what are your future goals for Dedza after the release of WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE?

Xan: We’re still a very young group of individuals with a strong passion for film, and the advantage of that is the time we have to grow. The rollout for promoting the films was our very first turnaround and along the way, I’ve learned a lot of the do and dont’s of promoting this collection. In the future, I want Dedza to be a visual creative feat with every future collection that is released, bouncing across different themes and concepts that would make Dedza more visually sound than it already is.

WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE is the first film anthology you’ve been a part of. Were there any challenges you faced during the creative process? As a graphic designer and filmmaker, how did your background help you with those challenges? 

Xan: The one goal I had for designing for this collection was spotlighting each film in a fair, condensed manner, which was by far the biggest challenge I faced. And with the limited references I used to piece everything together, it did not make the job any easier. I do key art and film posters outside of doing work for Dedza, and I never handled a job that was on par with making something for nine films.

For the DVD cover specifically, I didn’t think going more minimal would have captured the right visual story we needed to promote this collection. I figured going vague throughout this project was not an option, and yet, it became something me and the rest of Dedza grew fond of.

In the early versions of the DVD cover, the films’ stills were condensed into a grid, which did showcase the colorful nature of the collection, but didn’t read as well as we hoped and that version was canned. Ultimately, when making a poster that would encapsulate the nature of this collection, the challenge of showing each films’ still was thrown out the window. I, for one, am not an illustrator by any means, but I knew it wouldn’t make sense to never step into that realm as Head of Design and adapt quickly. In the end, it became a project I grew proud of.

The Dedza scrapbook for WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE was beautifully made. Where did you look for inspiration in designing it? 


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A post shared by kate (@kategondwe)

Xan: For the front and back cover, we [the Dedza staff] loved the idea of making it look relative to an actual scrapbook and much of the inspiration came from the films themselves. I referred a lot to Filmmaker magazine and how they use their margins to make the text visually sound. And since this is a scrapbook by and for young people, I referred to fashion magazines, like Oyster, Numero, and Acne Paper to inspire the placement of the stills.

For the essays inside the scrapbook, I wanted to emphasize more of the words being written on the films more so the design, since this scrapbook was used to spotlight the great writers who participated. That included adding more spreads for each essay (one spread for the title, and another for the essay), adding a table of contents to introduce each essay, and a Meet the Critics section to see the diverse faces behind the essays.

WHO WILL START ANOTHER FIRE launched on June 11 in select theaters nationwide and is available virtually through, on-demand on, and on limited-edition DVD release. Follow Dedza Films on Instagram to stay tuned with their upcoming projects.

Interview by Chapelle J

Chapelle J

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