The revolution is here. It will not be televised. It will be on the silver screen. Of course we are not dead to the fact that it came too late, just let us, for now, look at the positive side; that it is finally happening. Our film scene desperately needed an injection of fresh-thinking, young and ambitious filmmakers to save the country from status quo long established and protected by the old guard. The old guard who’s target market is definitely not the urban Kenyan youth weaned on sophisticated western films, and who put out products only ambitious enough to cross county borders, never international ones. The introduction of relatively inexpensive public film schools seven years ago is now bearing dividends going by the buzz going on of works in progress and international awards and nominations among the new breed of ‘learned’ filmmakers starting to roll in and the future of Kenyan film is acquiring some glitter.
The Alice Kombani produced film Angles of My Face won the Best Short Film category at the 2015 Zanzibar International Film Festival. The production of that film was done by Kenyatta University students and this could be the first of many awards considering this was a debut both for Alice and the director, Manu. The organization around the production was commendable and it culminated in a glamorous premiere at IMAX Nairobi. Another former KU student, Biko Nyongesa’s short film Mizizi, is in the post production phase. This film gets an honourable mention here because it is both the most hyped and anticipated Kenyan film on social media, ever. The producers, OFL Group, have consistently kept the public informed on the production phases right from the beginning where they started with a script pitch fest (won by Jediliah Manga) ,to the current phase with a countdown to the trailer release on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
The old order of recouping money entirely from selling copies or from the box office (for the very few that have made it there) has been upset. The OFL Group are into merchandise too and are now selling Mizizi t-shirts and who knows, they could get a significant amount of their cash back even before the film is out! These young people are putting the biz in showbiz. The fact that these high standards are being set by students and freshly graduated filmmakers has excited the industry with a much needed breath of fresh air. Bench marks are getting set here, both in the artistic and the business side and this should be an inspiring call to all young filmmakers: be innovative and creative in your art, and also in the ways of making money from it!
This past week I experienced something rare. I, a man, got to see the world through the eyes of women. I got to see firsthand their fears and hopes, their struggles and victories. All this was in the course of the just concluded inaugural Udada Film Festival. The festival, held in Nairobi, is dedicated to films made by women from all over the world and the second of it’s kind in Africa after International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF), in Harare, Zimbabwe. Udada seeks to highlight women issues as well as celebrate the achievements made by women in the filmmaking arena. It kicked of with a decent opening ceremony at the Kenya Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium and concluded with an award ceremony at Alliance Francaise’s Wangari Maathai Auditorium while most of the screenings took place at the Goethe Institut. Ekwe Msangi’s short Soko Sonko was a fitting start to the festival with it’s discourse-provoking as well as hilarious style, sharp in contrast to the final film Auf Unseren Herzen (Dust in Our Hearts), starring Stephanie Stremler,which was pretty somber.
About 65 of the 150 submitted films were screened in 5 days. Workshops covering areas ranging from copyright issues to film criticism to film distributions were also conducted with actress Stephanie Stremler coming from Germany to conduct the acting workshop. The films showcased were a looking glass into issues affecting women all over the world today.From a sick woman barely getting her husband to take their young daughter to the salon to get her hair braided when all he want is to go watch a Gor Mahia FC match in Soko Sonko, to a young woman overcoming cultural inhibitions to become a flying nurse in Ann Mungai’s 1998 Kenyan classic Saikati The Enkabaani, to Alberto Pernet’s short, Maria, about a broke woman’s pain after a blow to her dignity and pride when she has to beg for food from a cafe. Plenty of heavily themed films that could make watching all of them quite a draining experience( but maybe I’m just being a man) so I just watched a good number of them. For a fist-time festival, I have to commend the three directors; Wanjiru Kinyanjui, one of the pioneer filmmakers in Kenya and a lecturer in film studies at the Multi-Media University, Matrid Nyagah, her former student at Kenyatta University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Film, and Naomi Mwaura, a young champion of women empowerment. I reckon it was a heavy task putting together the festival though I suppose Wanjiru’s experience from being one of the organizers of the now dead Kenya International Film Festival came in handy. That said, the festival had a few hiccups that were too elementary even for a new festival. The computer kept shutting down every five minutes disrupting my immersion into the films and ruining my movie experience. I also missed a workshop because it started more that 2 hours late and I could not wait any more. This though didn’t hinder the general success of the festival. It had been a long time since we had any notable Kenyan film festival, making Udada a much needed breath of fresh air that wields immense potential.
Our film industry does not see a lot of major action. Once in a while a good film drops and we go on and on about it, usually for too long, until the next one comes. I cannot, however, fail to notice that the few films that have been theatrically released have generally crossed new boundaries and given an indication of the promising future of the Kenyan film industry.
After giving Kenya its first ever sex comedy, filmmaker Alexandros Konstantaras has decided to go one better and deliver the first ever Kenyan film on DVD with language selection. The language options include Luo and Kikuyu and this is sure to be a a major talking point not only about this film but also about the exploration of this inclusion by other filmmakers going forward. According Konstantaras, they arrived at the choice of Luo and Kikuyu based on advice of the distributor who has a bigger network within locations where those two tribes are. Produced by Historia Films, House of Lungula, which had fair success in the cinemas earlier in the year, was launched on DVD on the 9th of August at Mo Movies. The event also set itself apart by having the cast available for photo ops with the fans that turned up to buy the film.
I have to salute the timing of the launch coming hot on the heels of the Kalasha Awards where House of Lungula bagged both the Best Script Award and Best Supporting actor for Gerald Langiri. The film featured an ensemble of stars that included Kostantaras’s wife and experienced actress Liz Njagah, Ian Mbugua, Sarah Hassan, Gerald Langiri and Nice Githinji among others.
This is the new and fresh direction the industry is going that has gotten a Kenyan film enthusiast like me super excited. The onus, and the pressure is now on Historia films, to push it further and achieve another milestone with their next sex comedy, Fundi-mentals, (now in post production). They have set the bar, now the real work is ensuring they stay on top of it. House of Lungula is retailing at Mo Movies, Prestige Plaza, Ngong Rd and later will also be availabale at Text Book Centre.