The Kenyan film industry is just stretching itself out after a heavy slumber during which we lagged behind most of the continent. However, there is a flurry of activity in the industry now; new films and TV shows are coming out more often, acting can sustain you as a career now and the government is pumping money into arts. Moreover, local stations are now required by law to increase local content. Film is slowly but steadily growing to be marketable in Kenya now, and it is against this backdrop that there arose a more urgent need for film schools, a challenge that both the private and public sectors stepped up to tackle.
Before the year 2008, there were only a handful film schools in the country, and you had to be either stinking rich to afford the fees for the few private institutions or ragged poor to qualify for the slum film schools of Kibra and other slums in Nairobi operated by wazungus. Enter Kenyatta University, the first public university to offer film education with a Bachelor of Theatre Arts and Film Technology program and there was excitement in the film sector. Since then, two other public universities have entered the scene. Multimedia University of Kenya introduced a Bachelor of Film and Animation program and the University of Nairobi in partnership with the Kenya School of Mass Communication is rolling out new programs. This is a welcome development that was eons overdue as public universities are a bit cheaper and hence more Kenyans can afford film school. Looking critically at the structures and the modus operandi of these film programs, however, and you begin to see the flies in the ointment.
In a nutshell, after film school, the graduate can write, shoot, direct and edit his or her own film, or at least that is how it should be. From there one can pursue a Masters in screenwriting, animation, cinematography, film production, among others, if they so wish. A BA in film is usually done as a single major and good film schools all over the world know better than to allow double majors. Whre allowed, the program is proffesionally designed not to kill the students. Not in Kenya though. Kenyatta University only offers a BA in Theatre and Film with no option of a single major although their brochures say that you can take a single major. This means that in eight semesters stretching four years, you are not only required to be able to write, shoot, direct and edit a film, you should also be competent in play writing, stage craft and design, acting for theatre, directing a play, theatrical make-up and such! Bad idea. Student are overworked and always lagging behind in projects, they are also fatigued making going through KU’s film program one depressing ordeal. MMUK’s is no better as it is also a double major.
Furthermore, there is a serious lack of qualified film lecturers for these public institutions, understandable for obvious reason. Due to strict paper-oriented policies, experienced filmmakers do not get a chance to teach here. They do not have MAs or PhDs. Consequently, film is taught mostly by mass communication lecturers drawn from other universities. In KU, some lecturers we taken from the literature department to teach film. The end result is a pool of poorly trained and unmotivated students who after graduating know too vaguely what they are capable of. They have a very slim idea of where their filmmaking strengths lie. They have less than adequate knowledge of everything since they were brushed shallowly through the units. The lecturers too are out of their depth, so they read stuff from the internet to have something to teach in class, making them no better than the students.
We should also avoid burying our heads in the sand to the fact that these film departments are also acutely underfunded. MMU and UoN enjoy an advantage because they were media colleges before being converted to university film schools so they are relatively equipped. The same cannot be said about KU though. From 10 students in 2008, the department of theatre arts and film now has over 600 students who have about about five cameras, less lighting equipment, even less boom mikes and a single editing iMac in a tiny room between them! Do not even think of sound recording booths.
We needed film schools, they saw the demand and stepped up, but it seems they enjoy taking the student’s money without giving commensurate value and now we have poorly trained graduates being churned out of these universities. Lack of will, and not money, seems to be the only problem in our public institutions. I wish I could say it is getting better but from where I’m standing it looks like it will get worse before it gets better. I just hope that happens soon.