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Film for Kenya by Kenyans

By | May 22nd 2009

While one Kenyan filmmaker faces a ban on his locally produced horror flick, Kalasha Awards, Kenya’s inaugural film and television awards, are set to take place next month. STEVENS MUENDO and SHIRLEY GENGA explore an industry on the verge of change

Kenyan artiste Joseph Kinuthia is expected to have his film OTTO-Bloodbath premier at Oxford University next week.

The locally produced horror movie, which has been banned in Kenya, is being viewed as a milestone in Kenya’s movie industry.

Though the government claims the movie is too horrific to be viewed even by adults, Kinuthia, whose other film Zeinabu Rudi Nyumbani has been nominated for the inaugural Kenyan film and television awards — Kalasha Awards, says he will soldier on and make sure the film finally gets the government nod. His Jitu Films Production has four more horror films, which could revolutionise the local film industry.

"We are thinking of making an appeal against the decision. At the end of the day, we may be forced to censor some scenes. But then, why should we be forced to do this if what is showing in the film is in the public eye?" wonders Kinuthia.

Permanent ban

According to the Kenya Film Commission CEO David Maingi, Kenyan movies have for a long time gotten away with just about everything but now those days are over.

Some of the movies produced by Kenyans for Kenya.

"The industry has not been applied the laws laid down, but things are going to change, the ban on the movie OTTO is not temporary, it is a permanent one. I have never seen such a horrific movie.The makers of this movie are trying to hide behind the excuse, that just because the movie is Kenyan and a lot of money has been spent that it should not be banned. Seriously, how does being Kenyan and spending alot of money justify breaking the law? posese Maingi.

He adds: "They may have spent a lot of money to make the movie but that does not justify its content. We want to protect our children from such movies, this is the beginning and I’m asking Kenyans for their support".

"Even television shows will soon be rated and will be required to pass through The Kenyan Film Censorship Board, certain shows will only be allowed to air after 10pm, thanks to the Kenya Communication Amendment Act. Rules are made for prosperity and so they must be followed," Maingi said. The frustration many in the film industry face have seen many leave the country to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Early this week, celebrated Kenyan actor Andrew Mwai Njogu flew back to Moscow, Russia, to await the premier of Lonyzy, a movie he and other star actors starred in.

Actors in the diaspora

Andrew, 33, left for Russia in 1985 and has since been one of the few black actors to star in Russian movies and TV. Since 2003, he has been a lead character in an award winning TV drama series KBH (Club of the Happy), a Russian equivalent of the popular TV drama series, Friends.

His next project, the much-anticipated movie, Lonyzy, may well put Njogu in a Russian equivalent of Will Smith and Martin Laurence, Hollywood actors he admires.

In Lonyzy, just like Martin Laurence in Bad Boys I and II, Andrew and his two co-stars comically come out as the bad boys, a thrilling band which tickles the king to death and then they escape Moscow in fear of their lives.

The Kenyan actor is now a leading celebrity in Russia being the only black to take major roles in highly rated sitcoms and movies.

With Kenyan born actor Edi Gathegi acting in critically acclaimed series House and blockbuster Twilight, it’s obvious the list of Kenyan film celebs in the Diaspora is growing day by day.

Kenyan television

By the time Njogu was leaving Kenya 10 years ago, the film industry in the country was still at its infancy. Besides, a few theatre plays, only the likes of Vitimbi and Vionja Mahakamani used to keep views on the scene of the national broadcaster, KBC.

"I’m shocked at how things have changed in our film industry within such a short time," says Andrew.

Local television productions are on the rise. From dramas such as Better Days, Makutano Junction, Heartbeat FM Wash and Set and Tahidi High to sitcoms like Papa Shirandula, Mother-in-Law and Inspector Mwala, Kenyans are finding local talent irresistible.

What’s more Kenyan film actors, producers and directors have been scooping coveted international awards and word is that big shot Hollywood producers now have their eye on local talent. At the AMAA (African Movie Academy Awards) held early this month, Kenyan movies literally stole the show. Kenya led the African continent in nominations, being nominated for 15 categories out of the 24. Kenya’s youthful screenwriter and director, Wanuri Kahiu’s movie From a Whisper, got 11 of the overall nominations. Even in the Animation and documentary department, Kenyan was not left behind and managed to get four nominations by Lola Kenya Children’s Screen: Little Knowledge is Dangerous (2007), Manani Ogres (2007), Cheprono (2008) and Santos the Survivor (2008) were nominated for Best Animation and Best Short Documentary prizes.

Kenya eventually took home, prizes for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Original Soundtrack and Best Edited movie for the film From A Whisper. Coming of Age, another Kenyan production won the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category. Overall, Kenya picked six awards, something that has never happened before, while Nigeria took seven. South Africa, which has also dominated the industry for a while now , only took home three awards; Uganda had two just as Egypt and Burkina Faso.

Nollywood, as the Nigerian movie industry is known was in for a shock when, it lost to Kenya in categories it had dominated for years. It’s becoming clear that quality and not quantity is what will define Afican cinema.

The Kenyan Kalasha Awards could not have come at a better time than this.

Kalasha Awards

Films such as From a Whisper, Formula X and Killer Necklace have already won continental fame while Riverwood productions such as The Race, Machangi, Family Betrayal and Village Casanova all nominated in Kalasha Awards have become a major sale mostly among the village folk.

At this rate, Kenya could be Africa’s next film powerhouse.

The movie From A Whisper which explores the 1997 bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, leads the Kalasha Awards, with seven nominations. The movies artistry, in-depth script complete with a brilliant cast and the movies visuals appears to be a notch above the other movies. It can just as easily be predicted, that just like, the film stole the show in Nigeria it is likely to steal the show again at the first ever Kenyan Film Awards. Formula X, a movie, which creatively deals with the issue of a HIV cure, follows behind with five nominations, and could easily stir up things and give From A Whisper a run for its money.

In the television category, Mother-In-Law and Makutano Junction lead with four nominations each and to the disappointment of many Tahidi High, a show that has became a must watch in many Kenyan homes only got three nominations. However, the television category seems to be the tightest race thus far. This is manily due to the fact that, lately, many Kenyan televison productions have evolved in quality and ideas.

The Gala night, which will be held on Saturday June 27 at The Carnivore, is greatly anticipated by the film industry; because for the first time they will get the local recognition that they duly deserve.

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