The indefatigable Zippy Okoth sent out a call last March for films made exclusively in African languages to vie for awards at her Third Lake International Panafrican Film Festival (LIPFF).
By May 30 when the deadline for submissions had come, Dr Okoth and her team at the Legacy Arts & Film Lab, (organisers of the festival) had received no less than 1,983 films with 398 coming from African filmmakers.
“It’s a great improvement from last year when we received 1,508 films in total,” says Kenya’s first female PhD in theatre arts from a Kenyan (Kenyatta) university.
Fresh from producing, directing, scriptwriting and acting in the solo role of Silent Voices at Kenya National Theatre earlier this month, Dr Okoth’s story was undeniably autobiographical. For while she never quite confessed her character (the one whose life is documented in her Diary of a Divorced Woman) was herself, when she said, (after receiving her doctorate in the play), that she was now on her way to ‘building [her] empire’, we knew this was the real Dr Okoth. And for sure, the Legacy Theatre & Film Lab, which she registered in 2015 is a major step in that direction. But even more so is LIPFF, which will take place in Nakuru November 7-10 at several venues.
Out of the 1,983 films submitted, the 145 finalists were announced on her website www.theatrefilmlabkenya.com this week. They will be screened at the Nakuru Players Theatre, at the city’s Kenya National Library Services and in two social halls, one at Bondeni, one at Kaptembwo.
“Films from 14 African countries will be screened during the festival,” says Dr Okoth who noted there are 46 coming from Kenya and 66 from Nigeria.
The rest will be from Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and one that’s a collaboration between Congo and Kenya.
Four categories of films were submitted for selection, namely feature and short films, animations and documentary films.
Vetting all 1,983 films was an arduous process, but Dr Okoth has a veritable army of assistants who support her “imperial” ambitions, knowing she is lifting up a whole lot of people in the process of her artistic rise in Kenya’s vibrant cultural world.
The best evidence of her building up others as she moves ahead is the film Seredo, which grew out of the scriptwriting workshop she held last year during the festival. “Seredo was made by three Kisumu youth groups who wrote the script during the workshop,” she says.
This year, the three-day workshop during the festival will be on acting. One can apply to be in it from September 1.
Criteria for judging which films would reach the festival finals had everything to do with quality of filmmaking. But even before a film’s quality was considered, the big issue in LIPFF is language.
“All the films had to be made in African languages,” says Dr Okoth, who adds that English is not included among the languages that qualified.
“All the films must have English sub-titles,” she concedes. But otherwise, the languages that one will hear during the festival range from Kiswahili and Hausa to Xhosa, Afro-Franco and Maa.