In the 1980s, when cinema theatres and drive-ins in Kenya were the in thing, there was Bellevue Drive-in. The Mombasa Road spot was popular with movie lovers who would spend weekend nights watching blockbuster movies like Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, Dirty Dancing or even Top Gun - films that were a hit then. People would pay Sh5 per car and per person to enjoy the outdoor theatre where films would be screened late into the night. Movie lovers could eat and smoke. The drive-in concept offered more entertainment and flexibility than indoor theatres.
Back then, showing movies outdoors was not really novel to the rural folk, who used to enjoy the government-funded ‘Cinema’ town-to-town shows, where people would walk to open market fields and sit to watch the free shows. Back in the day, back then in America, movie lovers were also treated to silent films on huge screens that could be set up in public places, including beaches. For those who might still be wondering how this works, drive-in cinema is a form of film screening experience that consists of a large outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand, and a large parking area for automobiles. Within this enclosed area, people can view films from the privacy of their cars.
Almost five decades later, on this Friday night, we are at Galleria Mall, Lang’ata Road, Nairobi in the privacy of our lined up cars, eating popcorn and sipping coffee as we enjoy the premier of Uradi, a Kenyan film, on a big outdoor screen. Everybody in town seems to be here; from the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, Joe Mucheru, the former Kenya Film Commission CEO Peter Mutie and Riverwood Chairman Mwaniki Mageria.
“We have decided to redefine the history of the film industry in Kenya by starting these drive-in shows in malls where Kenyans can watch local Kenyan films at the comfort of their cars.
With the launch of the drive-in cinema, the Kenya Film Commission heralds a new era of entertainment experience like no other in modern history in the region. This is an exciting time for us and all movie lovers, as we gear to support the local film industry,” said the Kenya Film Commission CEO Timothy Owase.
“We want to see more of this. This is a very noble concept that not only brings Kenyans together but also promotes our culture and heritage as we promote our film industry,” said Mr Mutie, who is also the Machakos County Government Machawood chairman.
Thanks to Covid-19 and the social distancing rule, the local entertainment industry has transformed itself by switching back to the golden days of film where drive-in shows were the in-thing. And it is not only about films, but music promoters and other recreation events organisers are also joining the bandwagon in this new normal.
With clubs and other enjoyment spots having been closed for close to seven months now, and movie theatres getting restrictions to host a minimal number of people, a rethink on how events can be worked out has been the only solution to an entertainment industry now on its deathbed. On Saturday, a mega drive-in deejays show was held at Kileleshwa Primary School, where hundreds of music lovers converged to enjoy their favourite deejays thrill them from the privacy of their cars. Some of the deejays that entertained the fans were Pierra Makena, Coco, Caril, Metal-Tone and Jay Hand Sos.
“This has been a different thrilling venture for us deejays and our fans. It is a concept we plan to employ in a series of events in different towns as we seek to quench our fans’ thirst and observe social distancing. This is the first of its kind deejay led gig in Kenya that does not involve people mingling,” Pierra said.
Another drive-in mega-concert, a cultural show that will feature indigenous Kenyan music and culture on one platform as a vehicle that promotes and celebrates our unity in diversity, has been planned for Carnivore Grounds this coming weekend. The two-day event (on October 3, and 4) dubbed Kikwetu Festival will have fun-lovers access the grounds in their cars from where they will be treated to performances by top artists. It will feature Jazz, Soul, Genge, Hip-hop, Rock, Benga, Reggae, Ohangla, Bango and Mugithi among other genres.
“Our main aim at Kikwetu Festival is to promote, celebrate, widen appreciation for cultural diversity and quality music that is uniquely Kenyan.
The festival seeks to revive the cultural industry, increase visibility and accessibility for live Kenyan music, develop skills and opportunities for those in the music industry, and strengthen networking for artistes,” Dan Odhiambo, the brains behind the initiative, told The Standard during an exclusive interview.
“This is the first socially-distanced show of its kind and the first to be backed by the government; we are happy to be leading the way and, it is a huge plus for Kenyan music and the industry at large. The expansive venue has a capacity of over a thousand cars and it will be interesting to see how Kenyans behave in this sort of entertainment, which could be the new normal,” he added.
“Even though drive-in concerts might not feel the same as ordinary events where people can mingle freely, the idea is welcome, considering the entertainment world has changed due to restrictions brought about by the social distancing rule,” said David Kioko, an event organiser.