Major buzz as Kenya hosts film festival

Nigerian actress Genevieve signs a fan’s autograph at last year’s festival. courtesy

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A chilling irony, when one remembers the violent land seizures of white-owned land from 2000, which led to the collapse of what was once known as Africa’s breadbasket.

There has been a huge buzz in the Kenyan film circles with the current box office success of the action thriller “Nairobi Half Life. “ With the possibility of a first ever Oscar Award nomination for an East African movie, there cannot be a better time for the country’s premier film event to be taking place.

The Kenya International Film Festival (KIFF), now in its seventh year began this week by screening the latest project by one of the country’s most accomplished filmmakers.

“The Captain of Nakara” is a comedy directed by Bob Nyanja and written by Cajetan Boy and stars Charles Bukeko, best known for his TV role as Papa Shirandula and Lenny Juma, another veteran of the industry who has appeared in movies like “The Constant Gardener.”

Fictional dictatorship

The story is set in a fictional African military dictatorship called Kwetu where a character called Muntu, played by Bukeko, is released from jail as part of the president’s birthday. He falls in love with the pretty daughter of a preacher but doesn’t mention his criminal past. Instead, he adorns a stolen military uniform and becomes the Captain of Nakara.

‘When a small time crook in Africa becomes a president it is a big deal,” says Nyanja. “It is a story of comical proportions as the character tries to impress a woman by pretending to be who he is not.”

“The Captain of Nakara” had its world premiere in February this year at the Pan African Film Festival, America’s largest film and arts festival that was held in los Angeles. This is Nyanja’s third film after “The Rugged Priest” (2011) and “Malooned” (2007).

It has already done the rounds of international film festivals in Montreal, Canada and Warsaw, Poland, besides a nomination for an African Movie Academy Award this year.

Another highlight from KIFF 2012 is the premier of the Discovery Channel production, “The Inside Story.” Directed by South African, Rolie Nikiwe, who is known for his work on acclaimed TV dramas like ‘A Place Called Home”, the film stars Kevin Ndege Mamboleo, a Kenyan actor who has previously appeared in the series “Changing Times”

Mamboleo plays the role of Kalu, a gifted yet cocky footballer who moves from Malindi in Kenya to urban Johannesburg to follow his dream and support his family. He then has to deal with his relationship with the coach’s daughter and confront the fact that the he is HIV positive.

Delivering a message like safe-sex on film is quite a challenge without appearing to be on an NGO-driven mission and “The Inside Story” passes that test by creatively combining social drama, cutting edge film animation and sports to make for an absorbing story.

The cast features international stars like Hakeem Kae-Kazim from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, who plays the role of Kalu’s mentor and coach.

Fana Mokoena who has acted in blockbusters like “Hotel Rwanda” and “Blood Diamond” plays the ruthless team owner while one-time Kenyan TV presenter Regina-Re acts as Kalu’s mother.

Following the film’s premier in South Africa in December last year, it was screened in Washington, DC in January and was also featured at the Pan African Film festival in the US.

Audiences at KIFF will this evening get a chance to watch the first East African showing of a documentary that has been greeted with acclaim at festivals and cinemas in many parts of the world.

Gruesome scenes
“Robert Mugabe…What Happened?” offers a gripping examination of the life of the Zimbabwean President and his transformation from a principled freedom fighter and darling of the Western world to a ruthless dictator who, in 32 years, has succeeded in driving a once abundant nation to the very edge of survival.

One interviewer in the film describes Mugabe as a strange contradiction of a man who is Anglophile in mannerism, including his love of cricket and the music of Cliff Richard, but at the same time hates the British with a passion.

There are gruesome scenes and first-hand accounts from survivors of the bloody purge on Matabeleland in the 1980s, by a special unit of Korean-trained soldiers answerable only to Mugabe.

To be sure, the documentary is not as one-sided as some of the criticism of the Zimbabwean president have tended to be.

Director, Simon Bright who is a Zimbabwean living in exile in the UK remains true to the title of the film with a sharp contrast of some of the progressive policies of the early years of the Mugabe government, particularly in health, education and agriculture to the wanton destruction of these very sectors by the same regime.

The challenge of making a historical documentary is often the sheer paucity of archival footage that often leads directors to rely on talking heads and newspaper clippings.

Surprisingly, “Robert Mugabe…” is packed with archival pieces of film that add a powerful effect to the story itself.

At one point, you see Mugabe addressing a group of white farmers soon after independence in 1980 on the subject of land redistribution: “We are not seizing your land,” he assures the group in whose hands the most fertile land in the country was during the white minority rule.

“We are buying it.”
A chilling irony, when one remembers the violent land seizures of white-owned land from 2000, which led to the collapse of what was once known as Africa’s breadbasket.

The film will be screened at the Alliance Francaise, Nairobi, at 6 pm today, followed by an interactive session with the film’s director.

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