On Friday night, I attended the 2015 Kalasha International Film festival, the Kenyan Oscars celebrating TV and film talent, held at Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC). Six years on, Kalasha has taken a bold step forward, albeit with a few hiccups.

There was the not-too-bright idea of parading a bunch of muscled men (Arnold Schwarzenegger throwback), oiled and glittering like fireflies, in most unflattering labourer shorts as ushers. Their chests were so puffed, some had trouble breathing.

Buff chests are so eighties! Unless you are actually applying that girth to functional use, as a competing sportsman or a physically active outdoor man, lugging around mass for aesthetic’s sake is a waste of energy.

Another bad idea was country man Elvis playing a guitar and singing about old town Georgia at a premier Africa film and arts ceremony. Country music has its place and time, and its proponents need to curb their enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, Kalasha festival organisers must be commended for an otherwise successful event packed with plenty of highlights.

MATURE ELEGANCE

Despite the very real challenges of TV and film production in Kenya, there was breadth in content and some refreshing new talent. I sat on a row across from Mary Khavere, better known as Mama Kayai, the other half of

Kenya’s longest serving TV couple. She was flanked by Lucy Wangui, the stern judge from another long running TV drama, Vioja Mahakamani. They both wore floral kimono dresses, holding their own brand of mature elegance amongst the glitzy Hollywood-esque fashion parade.

Kenya’s TV stars were all out that night. In the multitudes, I spotted Fred Omondi “anchor wa power’ of Hapa Kule News, he of the permanent smile. Raymond Ofula, the grand gentleman of TV, Peter King who starred in the Netflix series Sense 8, Robbie Bresson of the Simiyu Samurai fame, celebrated director of photography, Martin Munyua and casting guru, Lenny Juma.

MC Robert Burale played was a good match to Kenya Film Commission’s Chairman Chris Foot, who niftily salvaged the gala from a rocky start with an impromptu speech.

The nominees’ trailers did not always roll on cue, sound levels were erratic and some categories were a blur of names, followed by the announcement of an anonymous winner. Burale ended up becoming a safe pair of hands and managing to roll over the hitches with a sense of calm.

Every time he noticed the audience turning impatient during unexpected lapses in the programme, he unleashed his standard line, “Turn to your neighbour....”
In my case, it was a night where the women left me with the most powerful examples.

Her graciousness, Mama Kayai, the grand lady of TV sitcom scooped the Lifetime Achievement award, standing tall after four decades of always showing up for her audience and delivering the laughs.

In a moving gesture, she dedicated her award to the one and only, the late, Mzee Ojwang’ Hatari. My second impression was Jackie Lebo, filmmaker behind the movie on Kenyan boxers, The Last Fight, that won the Best Documentary.

Jackie has built a solid body of work documenting the human side of Kenya’s sports stories and her award was dedicated to the forgotten talents, Robert Wangila Napunyi, Suileman Bilahi, Omondi Demosh and all the young men in Eastlands keeping the sport alive.

Next up was Ng’endo Mukii, the outlier who scooped the award for the best animation feature, This Migrant Business. She was not on hand to receive her prize, but an emissary read out a speech dedicated to the late Charles Asiba, a pioneer film producer whom she described as her biggest cheerleader.

The last was a young girl, Vivian Wambui from Moi Girls High School Nairobi, who won in the Best Lead Actress  category in the film No Behaviour. Vivian was dressed in school uniform and chaperoned by her headmistress who delivered the sublime message of the night, “Our schools are store houses of talent.”

LIGHTS, CAMERA, SEX TAPE

I certainly hope Prof Kaimenyi was listening! Art is a catalyst for change, but in Kenya, our pearls are thrown before the pigs.

Kalasha brought to the fore three generations of women keeping the arts alive in Kenya, women with the grace to remember that someone held open a door to help them move forward. It was a kind of artistic integrity that we rarely acknowledge, let alone celebrate.

Mama Kayai’s generation may be the last of the pure artistes that we see on our stage. Men and women who devoted their lives to an honest artistic life and self-sacrifice. A far cry from the contemporary fanfare where fame makes people desperate and entitled. Between the sex tapes and the selfies, creative artists are reduced to attention whoring.

In keeping up with the Kardashians, courting controversy has become the only way to remain relevant. When a country’s focus is on short-term escapism as opposed to the search for their truth, the guy with the sex tape will always rule.