Orange Studio has boarded “Tanzanite,” a female-centric thriller from Swiss-Rwandan filmmaker Kantarama Gahigiri, Variety has learned exclusively.
“Tanzanite” takes place in the year 2045 in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, a lawless city where temperatures have become dangerously high and the government has imposed a curfew to tame brewing unrest. One day, a bright and feisty 11-year-old girl working in an illegal mine discovers a precious tanzanite gemstone, which is believed to hold the soul of the region and give hope and protection to its bearer.
But the gemstone’s discovery sets off a scramble to possess it and harness its powers, pitting a psychopathic cult leader and his private army against an all-female militia and a jaded detective on the downward slope of her career.
“Tanzanite” is co-produced by Urucu Media (“The Wound,” “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection”) and Close Up Films (“Sing Me a Song,” “The Swallows of Kabul”), with development funding from Orange Studio and Switzerland’s Migros. The film is co-written by Gahigiri and Rwandan writer-director Kivu Ruhorahoza (“Gray Matter”), and was developed through the Realness African Screenwriters Residency and presented at La Fabrique Cinéma in Cannes.
The film is set in the aftermath of an event known as the Great Collapse, examining East Africa through the lens of climate change and neo-liberal economic policies that are already putting a strain on the region today. Gahigiri tells Variety she was inspired by a diverse array of influences, including the works of writers such as Aldous Huxley and Nigerian sci-fi novelist Nnedi Okorafor, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and the swaggering films of the Blaxploitation era.
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But beyond its futuristic trappings, “Tanzanite” is meant to be “a compelling and emotional journey” about a 36-year-old detective, Machachari, who despite her hardened appearance is deeply affected by the injustice and violence that she witnesses each day against her community. “The [futuristic] world is an envelope, but what is at the heart of the story is Machachari’s journey, and how she will be able to make the right decisions for her and her beloved region,” says Gahigiri.
The filmmaker was raised between Rwanda and Switzerland, a fact that she credits with giving her a unique lens onto some of the issues facing East Africa. “I was fortunate to not only have one narrative,” she says. “Having these two different perspectives…has allowed me to challenge either version of what I see. I think it also allows me to have a more global aspect, a more global approach.”
She continues: “Yes, the story is specifically based in Nairobi. But I think the concerns and the themes are more universal than just being East African themes.”
Ribeiro, who met Gahigiri and Ruhorahoza long before they began writing the script for “Tanzanite,” says he had “pestered” the duo to submit a project to the Realness residency, which he co-founded. “There was a really big interest in their voices, even before the project came to the table,” he says.
When the treatment for “Tanzanite” arrived, he wasn’t disappointed. “This excitement about the material has been there from the get-go,” he says. “It’s a world that we haven’t really seen before. The commentary that they’re making with this world is fresh and very current.”
Flavia Zanon, of Close Up Films, was also drawn to the project from the beginning. “I love fiction, and I love new voices, and I really thought that Kantarama and Kivu were bringing something to Swiss cinema that has never been seen before,” she says. “With Kantarama, I think we’re on the same page. We have the same vision as to what it means to produce, what it means to birth a story.”
“Tanzanite” is currently in development as the producers apply for additional funding in Switzerland and Europe. A spokesman for Orange Studio said: “We are very happy to support ‘Tanzanite’ by Kantarama Gahigiri, an ambitious project produced by Elias Ribeiro’s Urucu Media, whose creative universe [and] musical dimension, created by its talented author, immediately seduced us.”