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Why Nyanja film will irk politicians

By | March 4th 2011

Fr Kaiser’s murder continues to inspire. A new film’s political and religious undertones will rattle many, writes Kiundu Waweru.

Ministers were shaken, the audience was left asking for more when The Rugged Priest premiered in October last year during the opening of Kenya International Film Festival at the Junction.

The film, by veteran director Bob Nyanja depicts the life and death of the Mill Hill Missionary priest, Fr John Kaiser, who was found murdered on August 24, 2000. The Rugged Priest stars Collin Simpson, with his young assistant, Fr Ian who impregnates a schoolteacher. After the premier, the film, depicting political injustices and corruption in Kenyan and US government, elicited heated debate in the film industry.

Then the excitement waned.

Nyanja and his team at Cinematic Solutions went back to rework the film, which opened for the first time to the public Thursday at the Nu Metro Cinemas, Westgate and Prestige.

It has high quality cinematography and sound effects

"What I presented at the KIFF was the director’s cut," explains Nyanja adding: "It was in digital format and the final product is on celluloid format."

After the final grading, the film which in October ran for two hours and 15 minutes is now 25 minutes shorter.

"We cut some scenes and sequenced them to add artistic value. Its now a more engaging film," he said.

Factual material

Collins Simpson plays the role of Fr Kaiser in the movie. PHOTO: COURTESY/STANDARD]

Though based on fictional characters, Nyanja says that he was inspired "by factual material." The result is a gripping picture that paints a larger than life priest committed to caring and pushing for the less fortunate peoples’ rights.

He takes two girls raped by a prominent politician, Shompole (Ainea Ojiambo) to a safe house besides escorting them to Nairobi to seek justice at a human rights firm.

However, the priest is marked by politicians who use ruthless police officers to intimidate him. The priest later testifies in a commission of inquiry and Shompole plans his execution.

The priest is unmoved but later runs for his dear life together with Fr Ian but not for long. A bullet blasts his head.

During the October premier, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and the Information Minister Samuel Poghisio did not stay to the end and people felt it had to do with how it captures the real story of Fr Kaiser’s murder.

Nyanja says he has not received any official warning, nevertheless.

"I have heard ministers were not so pleased for airing the film in their presence," he says.

Nyanja says he was exercising his freedom of expression and hopes Kenyans can go back to the cinemas and be reminded that injustices still exist.

"As long as political injustice was done, the wounds will never heal and we can never wish the facts away. We should never fear. If we don’t do what we must, we cannot find peace," he insists.

The opening on Thursday was unique as JM Kariuki’s family was present. Kariuki went missing on March 2, 1975 and his remains were found several days later. The Rugged Priest is dedicated to him and others who were assassinated.

"To date, JM’s family has not found justice. We must keep his memories alive. This film also commemorates other victims of assassinations like Tom Mboya and Robert Ouko,"says Nyanja.

Religious undertones

So why would he zero in on Fr Kaiser? He says the story of the priest symbolises martyrdom and it captures people’s imagination as it has religious and political undertones.

"Kenyans are more religious than political, Fr Kaiser’s story is their story," he explains.

By use of Cinema to elicit public debate, Nyanja believes justice will prevail and that is why the film is purely a Kenyan affair from the cast to the crew. Iconic Kenyans like Oliver Litondo, Francis Imbuga and John Sibi-Okumu made a special appearance giving it a classic appeal.

The film has high tempo drama, suspense and intrigue.

In a break from the political undertones, the film captures the theme of social ills plaguing the Catholic church. The priest’s assistant, Fr Ian (Lwanda Jawar), gets into an illicit affair with a teacher named Alice (Sarah Ndanu) and impregnates her.

"The whole thing of vows and celibacy in the Catholic church has been brought to question. Also this must be explored," Nyanja says.

If anything, The Rugged Priest is a daring, courageous, ambitious and professionally rendered work of art. Bob Nyanja tells it as it is and he is not about to run for the hills.


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