It’s official! There’s no longer any doubt that the Kenyan film industry is on the move.
Leave alone the Kalasha International TV and Film Market which took place last weekend. What matters is that Kenyans are actually making films. And while film sales are critical too, what is primary is creating masterful movies to sell!
That process was confirmed all last week when the Nairobi Film Festival premiered four Kenya-made movies.
Two were world premieres, namely New Moon by Philippa Ndisi-Hermann and Disconnect by Tosh Gitonga; while, the other two had been launched elsewhere before they came back to Kenya.
One was Likarion Wainaina’s Supa Modo which just won the 2018 Berlin Biennale award before returning home for its Kenyan premiere at Prestige Plaza. The other was Silas, an amazing documentary codirected by Hawa Essuman, who’s best known for directing Soul Boy back in 2010.
Watu Wote, the film nominated for an Academy award this year, was also screened at the festival, which was organised for a second time this year by Sheba Hirst, founder-CEO of Rainmaker Ltd. (which runs The Elephant with her husband Eric Wainaina) and Mbithi Masya who won accolades last year for directing Kati Kati.
The overwhelming turn-out for the festival was another indicator that the local film industry is taking off. In fact, local audiences are often accused of preferring Hollywood films to Kenyan ones. But the way all the premieres sold out proves that local interest among Kenyan audiences is on the rise.
Nonetheless, Likarion Wainaina sent out notice after the ‘family screening’ of Supa Modo last Saturday that local cinema sites were still skeptical of booking Kenyan films because they don’t see audiences filling the seats.
Supa Modo officially closed Thursday at Westgate and Prestige Plaza. But if we were able to watch the film, we might have contributed to changing attitudes among the mall owners.
Supa Modo is definitely one film that deserves all Kenyans coming out to see. It’s a beautiful though bitter-sweet story about a little girl named Jo (Stycie Waweru) with a big imagination who’s been diagnosed with a terminal disease.
Her mom (Marianne Nungo) chooses to take her home to die in peace. Yet Jo loved watching movies at the children’s hospital, especially ones with super-heroes in them.
She’s not really happy going back to rural areas. But it turns out to be a blessing as the whole village gets involved in fulfilling Jo’s dream, which is to make a super-hero movie in which she’s the super-hero.
The film is magical and masterfully co-written with Likarion providing the core story idea. Then Mugambi Nthege, Silas Miami, Wanjeri Gakuru and Kamau wa Ngungu crafted the script to create a film that’s already booked to be shown all over the world.
The two documentaries were Silas, an inspiring and important story about a courageous Liberian environmental activist that Essuman codirected with Canadian filmmaker Anjili Nayar; and New Moon, a contemplative autobiographical memoir that rambled from being about the forthcoming construction of the Lamu port to being about Philippa’s conversion to the Sufi branch of Islam.
Both women had to surmount exceptional odds to complete their films. Essuman and Nayar’s choice to travel across the continent to film this man, who was Liberia’s equivalent of Kenya’s Prof Wangari Maathai, posed a huge challenge in itself.
But clearly they believed in their subject and his sterling style of fighting corruption (including that of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s) with carefully researched and well-documented facts. One only wished Ndisi-Hermann had found a comparable conviction before she started making her film.
But the film that capped off the festival and clearly thrilled a whole generation of millennial film-lovers was Disconnect. Applauded for the fashion, high style, fabulous musical sound-track featuring great tunes from Sauti Sol, brilliant cinematography and luxurious lifestyle, Disconnect felt otherworldly.
The paradox of the film is that Gitonga and his outstanding cast have every right to be proud of producing a film made with an-all Kenyan cast and crew.
But at the same time, the filming locations are so ultra-elite that either it doesn’t feel like the film was made in Nairobi or else it’s a Nairobi that’s reserved for the elites, the uber-rich and/or the privileged children who’ve enjoyed the best of Western culture and education.
Perhaps that paradox is the point of Gitonga’s script since the millennials who are his protagonists look like they’re luxuriating but they’re also look lost and ‘disconnected’ from reality.