I’m always proud of being in the first ever batch of students to graduate with a film degree from a public university in Kenya having completed my studies at Kenyatta University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology back in 2012. Going through the film program in KU was quite an experience, the kind that can inspire one to write several books, both good and bad, and in my case, blog. Of note today was this one elephant in the room during that entire time; the lack of Kenyan films to be used in lectures for teaching purposes.
Lecturers would come with films in class occasionally that we would watch and engage in discussions about elements such as cinematography, plot, script etc and in all those four years I was there, only about three Kenyan films made it to those lectures including Ann Mungai’s Saikati and Wanjiru Kinyanjui’s The Battle of The Sacred Tree. Both done in the early to mid-90s. Begs the question, what have we been doing since then? Have the quality of our film nose-dived to the point that they have no scholarly benefits or able to withstand stand critical scrutiny? For for how long will Kenyan film schools depend on foreign films for learning materials?
To cut our filmmakers a break though, most filmmakers in this country haven’t undergone any formal training on that vocation. Film schools are just now sprouting in the country after a very sleepy period and it maybe a while until we have local films that someone can write a term paper about.
However, this might also point to a predominantly lazy crop of filmmakers in Kenya. Lazy in the sense that they do not seek to arm themselves with information before they press that ‘Record’ button, in this digital era where you can learn almost from the internet.
‘A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet” said the late American actor and director Orson Welles, a heavy contrast to our industry which is heavily dominated by businessmen and not artists, the ratio could be twenty to one! Elements like cinematography are alien to them and they use play scripts to shoot films. They have no regard for camera angles, creative lighting and their definition of an actor is anyone who can cram a script Add to this the mysterious trend of accomplished filmmakers sending their best work to festivals abroad and immediately thereafter stashing them on a shelf forever and you have a problem in your hands. To prove this, the local films I have just mentioned were brought to KU courtesy of the directors, who happened to be lecturers there, and they even refused to sell the films to us!
Given, someone had to start this industry somehow decades before the film schools came and we are collectively thankful to them as a country and in awe of their audacity and adventurous spirit, but moving forward If we really want to export our films we seriously need to evaluate the situation and improve the quality of our films, not just the quantity. We look forward to the time that we would aim for both critical and commercial acclaim in our works in equal measure as this is the only way we can attract the rest of the world’s attention and make money through film.