Art

All-round thespian shifts to filmmaking

Martin Kigondu

Cast and Crew of Martin Kigondu’s short film, ‘Sand Castles’ in Karen, Nairobi in 2019. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Ever since 2014 when the Kenya government ruled that the local broadcasters had to screen at least 60 percent local materials for their programming, the country has witnessed a flood of fascinating films and sit-coms.
  • Among those who have combined all three – scriptwriting, producing and directing short films — is Martin Kigondu.

Ever since 2014 when the Kenya government ruled that the local broadcasters had to screen at least 60 percent local materials for their programming, the country has witnessed a flood of fascinating films and sit-coms all produced, directed and scripted by Kenyans themselves.

Among those who have combined all three – scriptwriting, producing and directing short films — is Martin Kigondu.

Best known for being a playwright of scripts such as Who’s Your Daddy, Of Cords and Discords and Matchstick Men among others, Kigondu began making the transition to filmmaking even before the Covid lockdown.

But given that his fourth short film, Contained, addresses the effects of the lockdown on everything from relationships and family life to mental health and domestic violence, Kigondu has clearly drawn inspiration from both the trials and triumphs of Kenyans’ everyday lives.

“It took me a long time to get into filmmaking,” says the thespian who started his professional acting career when he joined the Travelling Theatre that stages set texts and caught the theatre ‘bug’ in the process.

“I resisted [making films] because I’m devoted to live theatre, especially after working with committed thespians like Millicent Ogutu, Gilbert Lukalia, and Keith Pearson,” says Kigondu who cultivated his directing and producer skills while working with professionals like these.

But when he started teaching Performance and Theatre arts to children in schools like Rose of Sharon Academy, he began recording their performances as a learning tool.

“Red Carpet, my first film, had a cast that was almost all children,” he says, noting he scripted a story that related to the delicate topic of a girl getting her period while in class. “It hasn’t been released to a wider public,” Kigondu adds.

But it was less than a month ago that he released, through his new production company BeeYond Entertainment, his latest short film entitled Contained.

Inspired by both the Covid lockdown and the passing of a dear friend, Contained is just 19 minutes and has very little dialogue. But it reveals a wide array of issues that have deeply affected Kenyans during this pandemic.

“Kui’s passing hit me hard, but ultimately, it had a cathartic effect on my writing. It convinced me that storytelling is so much a part of me that I can do it as well with filmmaking as I can on stage,” he says.

Crediting his cinematographer, Jackson Kangethe, who also helped him make two of his other films, Sand Castle and Gatarashini, Kigondu says he was delighted to make Contained with Akinui Oluoch.

She and Kigondu co-star in a playful yet poignant story of lovers living in close quarters during the lockdown. Initially they illustrate how a loving, happy couple can find limitless things to do and share even in the narrow confines of a one-bedroom flat. But the sudden turn of events is something the public should see for themselves as they now can do by finding Kigondu’s channel on YouTube.

Akinyi also co-stars in Kigondu’s 2019 film, Sand Castle in which she is married to Bilal Wanjau’s character.

“The idea was to illustrate the impact that divorce can have on children,” he says.

The breakup of the parents in his film isn’t physically violent. But the emotional violence affects the delicate minds of the children quickly and cruelly. The little boy and his big sister both are traumatised, making the film serve as a modern-day morality film.

Not that Kigondu moralises in a preachy or pseudo-religious sense. But the message comes clear, that parents need to think twice about the delicate beings they bring into this world.

There’s an implicit responsibility there, and in his Sand Castle one has the sense that modern-day marriage in Kenya is as ephemeral as the sandy mounds that children make which get washed away easily and assuredly once the tide comes rolling in.

The other recent short film that Kigondu made, assisted by Kangethe, is Gatarashaini (‘At the small bridge’ in Kikuyu). It’s a comedy of sorts. It’s also a contest between the manamba (matatu conductor) boyfriend (Collins ‘Ayrosh’ Irungu) and the father (Stephan Kimani) of the tout’s girlfriend (Edith Kanini).

The father disapproves of his young daughter’s infatuation with the tout. But the daughter prefers the guy to her dad, which makes the dad look like he’s in a losing battle.

Again, Gatarashaini’is a short film, just eight minutes, but Kigondu is a master at packing in emotions, experiences, and visual anecdotes in small spaces of time.