Kenya film industry lacks sufficient State support to reach its maximum potential

A scene from ‘‘Nairobi Half Life’’ where the lead character boards a bus to pursue his acting dreams in
Nairobi. KFC’s chief executive recently helped co-ordinate the free screening of the movie at the Westgate Mall for Cabinet ministers, parastatal MDs and permanent secretaries. Margaretta wa gacheru

Business is booming (relatively speaking) for the Kenya film industry. The sale of Riverwood DVDs is on the rise, Kenya’s first gangster movie, Nairobi Half Life, is in the running for an Academy Award and gradually even Kenyan politicians who got to see the Ginger Ink production recently (courtesy of Kenya Film Commission (KFC) are coming to appreciate the financial role that our fledgling film industry can play in strengthening the Kenyan economy.

According to a study commissioned by KFC in 2007, the Kenyan film industry has the potential for earning the country up to Sh60 billion annually and generating thousands of new jobs for Kenyans.

However, that potential is far from being fulfilled despite the annual growth of the film industry and its adding more than three per cent to the GDP between 2009 and 2010.

The dynamism of our film industry is unmistakable, but according to KFC’s CEO Peter Mutie, there are serious constraints holding the industry back. They could be quickly dissolved, however, with a little more government support.

Aggressive lobbying

It’s not as if the government doesn’t value the local film industry. After all, it was the State that established the Kenya Film Commission in 2005 after the painful demise of the Kenya Film Corporation due to reduced attendance in local cinema halls, lower costs of home entertainment systems and the rise of pirated DVDs.

However, as Mutie points out, it was largely due to the aggressive lobbying by stakeholders in the film industry—such as the Kenya National Film Association, Kenya Film and Television Professional Association, Performing Arts Coalition and the Media Owners Association.—that the government conceded to establish KFC.

Nonetheless, compared to the government support given to film industries in other countries such as South Africa, Canada, and South Korea, what the Kenya government budget allocates for Kenyan film is minimal.

“I have seen many film producers come and go; they would have stayed particularly to partner with Kenyan filmmakers, if there had been some sort of ‘incentive scheme’ to provide them with a rebate for working in Kenya,” Mutie said.

Citing the South Korean rebate programme, he said it offers a 25 per cent rebate to foreign filmmakers who come to shoot footage in that country.

“That government understands a rebate pays for itself since film companies spend a fortune on transportation, hotels, food and hiring local casts and crews while in the country,” he added.

“Governments like that of Canada also include a clause in their contracts with the foreign filmmakers compelling them to hire locals at all levels.”

Recently while speaking to American filmmakers in Hollywood at the Universal Studios, Mutie said: “The first thing they asked was if we had a rebate scheme in Kenya. Not having one has proved to be a disincentive to film producers who prefer to go where the governments are more cooperative.” Because the government doesn’t understand it has a role to play in mining the immense economic and employment potential embedded in the Kenyan film industry is a challenge Mutie accepted to take on two years ago when he became KFC’s chief executive.

For instance, he recently helped co-ordinate the free screening of Nairobi Half Life at the Westgate Mall for members of the Kenyan Cabinet, CEOs of parastatals and permanent secretaries.

“Ideally it raised their awareness of both the economic and entertainment value of locally-made films,” he said.

More importantly, Mutie is preparing a Kenyan film policy to outline all that is needed – such as training, institutional arrangements and government support to fulfill the film industry’s potential.

Filmmaking workshop

Working together with his KFC board to complete the policy by early 2013, Mutie is also busy conducting capacity building workshops in various areas of filmmaking, such as scriptwriting

‘We have already conducted workshops for local scriptwriters in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi, and we are still going to Machakos, Kisii and Lamu,” he said.

KFC also supported a week-long workshop for teachers who intend to be involved in filmmaking during next year’s Kenya Schools Drama Festival.

With so many ideas percolating in his head, Mutie says he cannot forget about developing curriculum for film courses to be used in middle level colleges where courses in film are already being taught.

He also wants to ensure that the Kalasha Film Awards Night is sustained as an annual event.

And the one other thing he knows Kenyan filmmakers are clamouring for is marketing and distribution of their films.

One way he has begun addressing that is by designing an eCommerce platform at where people use M-Pesa to pay for viewing a wide array of Kenyan films.

Mutie’s first term expires in June 2013, one month after he’s arranged for three Kenyan film producers to attend the Cannes Film Festival to represent Kenya as its country in focus for 2013.

He said he’d be content to have another go at seeing many of the plans he has initiated advance the industry. Only time will tell.

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