The film industry in Kenya is neither dead nor thriving. It has been nascent for a long time with spikes of creativity, both from local and international productions. But most of the time it just coasts along
Timothy Owase is a man on a mission and a vision. And he wants action now.
Being the chief executive of the Kenya Film Commission he has his work cut out for him.
The film industry in Kenya is neither dead nor thriving. It has been nascent for a long time with spikes of creativity, both from local and international productions. But most of the time it just coasts along.
Owase has new ideas that he says when implemented will invigorate the industry.
One such idea is the use of mobile phones in shooting full length features. The Commission this month awarded winners of the fifth edition of the My Mobile Phone Story, and is in the process of receiving entries for the sixth edition whose winners will be announced next year.
''Our aim at KFC is to promote creativity among filmmakers in the country, and by allowing innovative tools like the mobile phone to tell our audio-visual tales, we are actually widening the scope of film-making in the region through these awards.’’
It is not an outlandish idea at all.
Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s full length feature film High Flying Bird was shot entirely on i-Phone, as was his psychological horror film Unsane that came out in 2018.
Then there is the transgender-themed film Tangerine about a transvestite sex worker who discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her that was shot entirely by 3 i-Phone 5S smart-phones. But Owase is also interested in the traditional end of the screen.
“The Kenya Film Commission wants film hubs or audio-visual centres of production as we formally call them, created in every county, and we already have them in Nyeri, Bomet, Uriri and Uasin Gishu counties.’’
He argues that film editors, animators and story-tellers in other parts of the country would not have to travel to Nairobi to complete their productions if they had these hubs that have the needed software at their county centres of production.
''Outgoing Machakos governor Alfred Mutua took film to heart and created Machawood.
''The cultural departments of the counties of Kisumu, Embu, Nyeri, Mombasa, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu also helped KFC to work with film people in these areas in art projects,’’ he said.
Owase hopes that incoming governors around the country will consider the importance of having people tell their own stories in film, as this creates cultural understanding.’’
He also talks of the potential revenue windfall for the country if Kenya develops a proper film industry like Nigeria, or South Africa or creates favourable ground for the making of films by international production houses in the country.
''When a major film is shot in Kenya, the support staff and talent employed, the hotels, transport and logistics, and legal services provided boost the economy and know-how.
''You will find up to Ksh400 million ($46 million) is spent in the country.’’
“We also are thinking of creating a proper film academy someday,” Owase says, “with government hopefully setting aside film funds that talented film makers can access easily.”
Younger Kenyan film makers Krysteen Savane and Bea Wangondu of Anno’s One Fine Day Films say such funds would put a shine on projects like their recent SupaStaz film that played at Prestige Cinema in Nairobi earlier this month, since it is quite hard to get any screen film made in Kenya.
Reluctantly, Owase concedes that Kenyan creatives don’t yet seem to have found one voice, with which they can approach other institutions and the government to negotiate for their stake in the resource stake.
For example, The Arts Society of Kenya, tasked last December with bringing stakeholders of film and other creative sectors together, seems to have dissolved and devolved into a training programme.
Never one to give up however, KFC still holds workshops in conjunction with the Media Council of Kenya, to train Kenyan journalists on how to write about film, because all creative works need publicity.