Beneath The Tides: Fives stories that provoke and resonate but do they entertain?

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Beneath The Tides is a collection of five short films that explore critical themes present in families and institutions across African society. PHOTO | POOL

The essence of movies lies in storytelling, primarily because people crave entertainment and the chance to immerse themselves in different worlds and experiences. While not the sole reason, I've always believed that individuals seek out these narratives because of an inherent desire to feel something, to embark on an emotional journey or rollercoaster ride. We often remember movies the same way we remember people, which is how they make us feel.

Films that immediately come to mind for me when it comes to good emotional journeys include the 2007 masterpiece Atonement, Million Dollar Baby, The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas, Up, Dark City, Oldboy, The Irishman, and many others. Some directors deliberately go out of their way to get an emotional response from the audience, I mean look at any Asian film.

You might be wondering where I'm headed with this. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a Kenyan anthology that can best be described as an emotional rollercoaster. Yes, a Kenyan film.

Beneath The Tides

Beneath The Tides is a collection of five short films that explore critical themes present in families and institutions across African society. These films have received international acclaim, having premiered at prestigious festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Canada, the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in the Netherlands, Festival International du Film Panafricain (FIFP) in France, FESPACO in Burkina Faso, and the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) in Tanzania.

The anthology is a blend of different thematic flavours with distinct characters and styles. But we need to be honest with ourselves. When it comes to movies that have won awards at film festivals, some may think they are not accessible to the mainstream audience, perceiving them as pretentious attempts to tackle or present a particular provocative topic rather than primarily entertaining. So, does this anthology somehow find a perfect balance between an artist's impression that is based on a theme that we try to avoid as a society and just basic entertainment? Let's look at each.


The young actors' performances (Malik wandera as baba and Victor makgati as baba’ s cousin) are remarkable, particularly given the requirement to express more through actions than words.

Watching this movie, "symbolism" immediately springs to mind, which gives the film a surreal quality at times. It fearlessly addresses abuse, making it challenging to watch at times.

The filmmakers employ excellent cinematography, framing, and really good editing decision to fully engage the viewer, and while I initially believed I understood the plot, the concluding revelation adds further complexity to the narrative.


Baba is a six-year-old boy who struggles to understand the world around him. With his unusual ability, he tries to escape his harsh reality.

It's directed by Mbithi Masya and produced by Bramwel Iro and stars Malik Wandera as baba, Mbeki Mwalimu as baba’s aunt, Faith Kibathi as baba’s mother, and Victor makgati as baba’ s cousin.


If you're a product of the 8-4-4 education system and a millennial who attended a public school in Kenya, this story will strike a chord with you. The inclusion of captivating props will elicit occasional smiles. Efforts were made to frame scenes creatively, such as "the Spike Lee dolly shot" where the camera centres on the head as background moves. The movie offers more depth than initially presented.


A Kung Fu prodigy navigates school with his imaginarysensei following one simple rule: What would Bruce Lee do?

The film is directed Tevin Kimathi and Millan Tarus, produced by Juliana Kabua, written by Millan Tarus, and stars Lucare Llionyango as the sensei, ustin Mirichii as the head master,and Kaelwa Fubwa as stero.


Have you ever imagined the drama that arises from strained relations between a father and son? This story essentially portrays that, except the two find themselves in the middle of the ocean. The ocean scenes are cinematic and beautiful; at times, I found myself wondering how they achieved such steady shots.

This is a coastal narrative, and the direction and editing effectively immerse you in that environment and the protagonist's mindset. The performances also drive the third act of the film since we spend significant time with the two.


After his mother’s funeral, Kazungu joins his father on a fishing trip during which their strained relationship plays out.

It's directed by Mark Wambui, produced by Ivy Kiru, written by Ian Wanjohi and stars Malikle Muel as Kazungu, and Hillary Namanja as Kazungu’s father.


This film is impeccably shot, but it's evident that it was tailored for film festivals. While it features some impressive shots, moments, and concepts, its premise is clear right from the start, even by the title. However, the enjoyment stems from its narrative approach. It's noteworthy that this film contains more exposition compared to the others.


A chance meeting between an alienated young woman and the village outlier leads to an extraordinary meeting with her dead grandfather.

It's directed by Barbara Minishi, produced by Ivy Kiru, written by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo and stars Pauline Kyallo as Kavaa, Dennis Musyoka as Umau, Mu Kami Njiru as Mukua/ Syomwaa.


Not to say that all the other shorts were bad; they were fantastic, but this particular story was my favourite. Whether you're married or a "side piece", this movie will resonate. I thought it has the best use of close-ups and intentional pacing decision. The performances are fantastic and as with all the previous films, showcasing a strong utilisation of visual storytelling.


Amina wants to reconcile with her dying husband. When his younger former lover arrives to save him and get back together with Manda, Amina plans to stop the woman in her tracks.

It's directed by Samuel Tebandeke, produced by Juliana Kabua and stars Lydia Gitachu as Amina, Pauline Kyallo as Shiku, and Chris Kamau as Manda.


All the short films make a point of doing what is expected of a film, which is to "show, not tell." There is minimal exposition, with the focus being on visual storytelling. At their core, these are stories that will resonate with a lot of people; some themes are dark, and the stories feel like they are geared towards a festival audience (placing emphasis on message over entertainment).

However, by the end of it all, these are stories that will evoke emotions. Beneath The Tides is available in Kenyan cinemas. Get your tickets on KenyaBuzz.

X: @stanslausmanthi

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