Zimbabwe’s Cook Off: How a Netflix romcom was made for $8,000

Zimbabwe’s first film to feature on streaming service Netflix is a romantic comedy about a struggling single mother who finds love and good fortune in a TV cooking show contest.

It is a tale of hope that mirrors the production of Cook Off, made in 2017 on a budget of $8,000 (£6,400), amid power cuts and cash shortages.

This month’s Netflix launch comes as the nation continues to contend with spiralling inflation, sharp political differences – and now a coronavirus lockdown that is making life even more difficult for Zimbabweans.

Only a handful of full-length films have been produced in the country since the turn of the millennium, despite a wealth of talent in the industry.

But with an all-Zimbabwean cast of young actors, veterans of the industry, and distinguished figures in music, comedy and poetry, Cook Off has battled the odds, winning awards at film festivals before attracting the attention of Netflix.

Cook Off stars Tendaiishe Chitima as Anesu, and leading hip-hop artist Tendai Ryan Nguni aka Tehn Diamond, as Prince, who meet on the set of a television cookery competition.

Jesesi Mungoshi plays Anesu’s grandmother, encouraging her to follow her dreams.

Mungoshi starred in the 1993 film Neria, the first Zimbabwean film to receive international acclaim, and has experienced the ups and downs through 40 years of independence.