Kenyan Films Critically Dead

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 crew on location in Nairobi.
A film crew on location in Nairobi.

‘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.

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13 thoughts on “Kenyan Films Critically Dead

  1. Good article! I wouldn’t say that Kenyan films are dead.Maybe they are just a little sick and in need of some vitamins to make them healthier. Vitamins equals more training, more support, more funds and more creativity 🙂

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  2. What I liked about Your article is honesty just because someone crams lines doesnt make him an actor. In Kenya its just people saying lines no character depth. Another great issue You raised is on cinematography its coz the scripts are written in a lazy fashion that dont even set the scene before the characters engage in dialogue. Thanks for this dose of cinematic honesty.

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  3. It is sad that the Kenyan public can’t get to enjoy the artistic endeavors of Kenyan Filmmakers for one reason or another. We hear about prolific Kenyan directors having directed award winning films but the distribution process is wanting as the public can’t get to enjoy their films.

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      1. Thats the lamest comment I have red! Do you know anything about distribution in Kenya and how much does it cost to manufacture and distribute DVD in Kenya? Do you know if there is a clear distribution path in Kenya? Do you know how much it costs to produce and distribute a film together? Do you know how this happens in Nigeria or Tanzania? Do you know how fast Nairobi Half life was pirated? Do you know why pirates affect the pricing game for local DVDs in Kenya? Do you know how a healthy film industry should work? Have you even remotely tried to produce and distribute a Kenyan film? What is the last kenyan film that you bought the original dvd from the market? or went to the cinema to watch? Criticising a whole bunch of film makers and actors without real facts its easy. Its like me saying generally all Kenyans don’t appreciate Kenyan films and haven’t done any research on it. Please before trying to be the judge of anything do your research first and don’t talk with personal assumptions. You may get some likes and positive comments from some of your friends but people who know and people you call lazy will react and see how “naked” you are.

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  4. This article is critically dead. First we need real examples of all the above. Else anyone can say anything without any substance. Somethings written have a bit of reality on then but all of them are debatable to the bone.If kenyan film makers were business men then we will have a working money making film industry. Unfortunately we are far from that. We are far from having something called an industry (I am not talking about TV that people here tend to confuse with film). So just from this I rest my case for the rest…

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