By CHRISTINE BUKUNI
The Kenyan film industry went a notch higher last Wednesday after the film Nairobi Half Life made its European debut to a full house in Germany’s capital city Berlin.
The film, which opened at Kino International, took the audience to a thrilling journey around Kenya’s gritty capital city of Nairobi, eliciting sighs, groans and approving applause from the audience, which included the Kenyan Ambassador to Germany, Ken Osinde.
The Nairobi Half Life is the first Kenyan film to be submitted for an Oscar Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
It was first screened at the Durban Film Festival in July, where the lead actor Joseph Wairimu, who plays Mwas, won the Best Actor Award.
The film has been showing for a straight six weeks at Westgate and Junction Cinemas in Nairobi – also a first for a local film.
The film was conceived at an annual workshop run in Nairobi by internationally renowned director Tom Tykwer. His organisation, One Fine Day Films, is co-operating with Deutsche Welle Academy to promote African filmmaking.
Sitting with Tykwer in one of a luxurious suite in Hotel Concorde, overlooking Berlin’s high end shopping district, film director Tosh Gitonga, 31, and Olwenya Maina, 24, who plays the role of gangster Oti, sigh, chuckle, and shake their heads, but their eyes remain careful and a little guarded.
They would like to transform film making in Africa, to tell stories that revolutionise, and this is just the beginning.
Tykwer explains: “I believe in the power of film for change. I am not saying that I make movies to change the world. Of course I make movies to produce good art, but I think great art changes the world.”
According to him, Nairobi Half Life is making waves on the international scene because it is authentic. Indeed, while strangers to the East African region would view Nairobi Half Life as they would to any other Hollywood thriller on violence, sex and crime, Kenyans loved it because they can identify with the plot and characters. “Nairobi Half Life is the story of a city. We did not exaggerate. It is not about a positive or negative view. It is simply Nairobi,” says Gitonga.
It portrays a grim picture of Kenya’s capital city. But Gitonga adds that there is hope yet.
For example, the police, portrayed as a cold and unscrupulous lot are already changing due to reforms in the police force.
He narrates an episode from the film making process, when he had to work with the police.
Following its debut in Kino International in Berlin, Nairobi Half Life will premiere in 14 cities across Germany and Gitonga and Olwenya will be present in all the events.
The duo are resolute not to condemn the criminal and the corrupt, but would like to use film as a mirror that will force the society to take an honest look at itself and ask one important question, “why?”
Something Necessary is another film yet to come out from the One Fine Day Film workshop.
It is directed by Judy Kibinge and is a story about the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007. The film will be released before the March elections.