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Out of Kenya

By | Updated Fri, February 25th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

The African Movie Academy Awards nominations gala goes down tonight in Nairobi with over 300 entries. SHlRLEY GENGA delves into Kenya’s stab at the silver screen

Some of Africa’s top movie actors and actresses will tonight wine and dine with fans during the Seventh Academy nominations gala at Nairobi’s Ole Sereni Hotel. Nollywood star Rita Dominic and celebrated Ghanaian actress Jackie Appiah are expected to join Mercy Johnson, Ini Edo, Mike Monsuruye, Kate Henshaw, Olu Jacobs, Lynda Forson and Ramsey Nouah.

The climax of the night will be a concert at Carnivore to be headlined with award-winning twins P Square and J Martins.

Ida Onyango

As African Movie Academy Awards nominate the stars in African Cinema, Tinseltown will celebrate their own with gongs on Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood where the crËme de la crËme of the film world will come together.

As the 83rd Academy Awards beckon, no Kenyan movie is slated for the coveted awards.

There is only one African film in contention, Hors-la-loi (Outside the Law) from Algeria, which chronicles the life of three brothers fighting in Algeria’s war of independence against France. The film is up against Biutiful (Mexico), Dogtooth (Greece), In a Better World (Denmark) and Incendies from Canada. Dogtooth has a higher chance of winning, as it has appeared on over 25 critics top ten lists and was one of the most acclaimed films at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Sadly, since the inception of the Academy Awards, only three movies— filmed in Africa but not directed by Africans— have won Oscars. They include the 1969 political thriller ‘Z’ from Algeria, which was directed by Costa Gavras from Greece. The 1976 release Black and White in Colour from Cote d’ivoire directed by Frenchman Jean-Jacques Annaud and the South African Tstosi directed by Gavin Hood.

The closest that Kenya has come to winning an Oscar was through its ‘local association’ in two films. Sidney Pollack’s 1985 film, Out of Africa that was shot in Kenya and starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford that won the Best Picture Academy Award. Again in 2002, Nowhere in Africa, a German language film that was shot in Kenya went on to win the 2003 Academy Award for Best Foreign language film. The Academy award was for Germany not Kenya despite being shot here.

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Edi Gathegi

In fact, Kenya seems to be only good as a shooting location for foreign filmmakers. Since the1930s many classic adventure films have been shot in Kenya, including: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, King Solomon’s Mines, Born Free, To Walk with Lions, King Solomon’s Mines, Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, Mugambo, The Wilby Conspiracy, Master of the Game, Kitchen Toto, Cry Freedom, White Mischief, The Life of Hemmingway, Besieged, Forbidden Territory, Constant Gardener, White Maasai, I Dreamed of Africa and Tomb Raider.

Lenny Juma a veteran actor and an International casting director who has been in the film industry since 1970 believes that Kenya has a lot of things going for it in terms of actors and location.

"Yes we have a wonderful location here in Kenya but that is not the only thing we have to offer. The film industry has grown in the past years and we have a fine crop of actors. Recently BBC Films shot the movie, The First Grader, on the life of the late Kimani Maruge, who died at 84. I’m one who picked Oliver Litondo to play the leading role and he was brilliant. The film has won so many awards," asserts Lenny.

One of reasons why the Oscar has been elusive to many African filmmakers is because the awards are not accommodative of African films. The intertnational Academy Awards provides two options for filmmakers from foreign countries. The first is to compete with other American films and the chances of winning here are very slim. Apart from that, the second option for foreign films is through the

Lupita Nyong'o
‘Foreign Film Academy Award Category’. Unlike other categories this one is most restricting especially to countries like Kenya. Other restrictive rules include: the country submitting the film must have artistic control over the film, each country is only invited to submit one film and the award is not presented to a specific individual but to the film’s director as a representative of the country in question. Furthermore, the choice of each country’s official submission has to be done by a committee composed of people from the film industry and because each country chooses its official submission according to its own rules, the decision as to which movie will represent a country are often mired in controversy as some film makers hardly come to a compromise.

This category gets over 50 movies every year and in the end only five movies make it to the nomination list. This year alone there were 16 films from Western Europe, 16 films from Asia, 16 films from Africa and the Americas, and 17 films from Eastern Europe. In the end only five films will remain standing for the covetous best foreign film category. Interestingly enough the "The Best Foreign Language Film Award" has been given almost exclusively to European films. Out of the 62 Awards handed out by the Academy since 1947, three have gone to the Americas, three to African films, five to Asian films and 51 have gone to European films. Since the first Academy Awards ceremony took place in 1929 only ten African Americans have ever won an Oscar. They include; Hattie McDaniel,

Sippy Chadha

Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson.

This is one of the reasons that probably inspired the creation of the African Movie Academy Awards in 2005. They have become an avenue to honour the best actors, actresses, directors and writers that Africa has to offer seeing as the Academy Awards has failed to create an appropriate avenue.

In 2009 Kenya’s star shone brightest at 5th African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) as it had seven entries. From a Whisper, directed by Wanuri Kahiu that commemorates the 10th anniversary of August 7th terrorist bombing in Kenya in 1998 won five top prizes. The film managed to win; the Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Original Soundtrack and Editing award. Last year both Judy Kibinge’s Peace wanted Alive, a documentary on the 2007 post election violence, and Nathan Collet’s Togetherness Supreme were was entered in the Best Film in African Language category. Peace wanted

Wanuri Kahiu
Alive bagged Wilson Maina Most promising actor Award while Teddy Onyango and Bill Oloo, won for Best Performances by a Child Actor. The event has continued to grow bigger. Today marks a special day for filmmakers in Africa, as the African movie stars congregate for the nominations. The Award ceremony will be held later in March in Nigeria.

According to Lenny Juma it is a great step that Africa has taken in creating an avenue to celebrate our own.

Peter Mutie the CEO of The Kenyan Film Commission also believes that it important to have local avenues to celebrate our film industry and not to only wait for the International world

"The Kalasha Awards for example has created a wonderful avenue for Kenyans to celebrate our own. If we sit and only wait for the Oscars then we will never celebrate what we have to offer," Mutie concludes.