- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyans fed up with being the background for high-budget films about white people running around an African playground are telling their own stories.

The dusty, lion-colored plains and snowy mountain peaks of East Africa have appeared in numerous Hollywood blockbusters. Now, Kenyans fed up with being the background for high-budget films about white people running around an African playground are telling their own stories.

“We want something that we Kenyans can identify with,” says Bonnyface Loppohkoyit, 27, who co-wrote and stars in “Nairobbery,” a film about a boy from the slums who joins a gang.

Mr. Loppohkoyit says most Westerners have no idea of the grinding poverty in which millions of Kenyans live. His main character, Steppa, has to coordinate his girlfriend’s visits to their one-room shack with his prostitute sister.

After the successes of “Blood Diamond” and “The Last King of Scotland,” Africa is a fashionable film destination. “The Constant Gardener” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” were filmed in Kenya, and Julia Roberts is scheduled to star in another production in Kenya about a murdered British documentarian next year.

Elijah Kahara of the Kenya Film Commission says the country’s film industry doesn’t have a lot of money, but lack of cash doesn’t equal lack of creativity. His commission issued 168 licenses for filming last year.

“Malooned,” a comedy set in a 15th-floor bathroom that touches on sex, tribalism and politics, sold its international distribution rights for $2.5 million in July. Local production and distribution company Jitu is discussing deals with regional airlines for in-flight entertainment.

There’s already a strong African movie scene. South Africa has produced award-winning movies, including 2005’s “Tsotsi,” which won the Oscar for best foreign language film. The Nigerian movie industry is the third-largest in the world, after those of the United States and India, with more than 1,000 films a year and “Nollywood” stars recognized across the continent.

Evelyn Kahungu, who has directed movies in Kenya for seven years, says now it’s time for Kenya to join the show. Miss Kahungu says the industry is finally benefiting from cheaper equipment and new distribution ideas. Kenyan filmmakers also are gradually finding money other than from aid agencies.

“When they fund these films, they restrict your creativity,” she says.

But the same technology that makes it cheaper to shoot movies leaves producers open to piracy. Kenyan police were unable to confirm how many pirated DVDs they seized in a year.

Surrounded by cheap movies in cardboard covers on Nairobi’s famous River Road, vendor Ibrahim Ngare admits that 80 percent of his movies are pirated.

“Kenyans prefer to spend less, but they like to see their own people,” he says.

Jitu will sell DVDs for less than $1 apiece, so it won’t be worthwhile to pirate them, and rely on corporate advertisements in the trailers. Potholed roads, poor public transport and a large rural population make selling outside the capital difficult, so Jitu also was seeking distribution partnerships.

“The three main problems for Kenyan moviemakers are skills, aesthetics and distribution,” says Binyavanga Wainana, the editor of Kwani (a literary magazine).

While films in local languages such as Sheng or Kikuyu have an instant appeal to many Kenyans, many still have stilted dialogue and low production values and would struggle to find an audience not swayed by local loyalties, he says.

Ultimately, it’s Kenyan customers who will control the story of their cinema.

Wrapping two Kikuyu-language films in black plastic, vendor Samuel Muchendu says the Kenyan film industry has gone from nothing to providing two-thirds of his sales in three years. The piracy problem will get better as production costs drop, he says, and appetite for local films will only grow.

Despite some shaky camerawork, fuzzy soundtracks and lack of special effects, Mr. Muchendu says the appeal of Kenyan movies is simple.

“They are about people like us, and places that we live,” he says.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide