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State of Kenya’s Film Industry

We pick up different pieces of the local film scene and present it to you…

Kenya’s film scene has seen tumultuous times to evolve into a vibrant industry that it is today. But with the ups and downs, it still hasn’t gained the elusive prize of international recognition, border-shattering productions, and a significant economic impact.

Kenya has been a film location since 1952 when ‘Men Against the Sun’ was filmed here. Since then, it has never looked back. But where did it all start?

A surge in local productions was seen in the 1990s though most of them were documentary films rather than fictional content. In 1995, a feature film by Wanjiru Kinyajui, ‘Battle of the Sacred Tree’ set the pace by winning The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame award in the United States. During the eye-opening years, films such as ‘Saikati’ and ‘Saikati Enkaabani’ by Anne Mungai and ‘The Married Bachelor’ by Ingolowa Keya premiered.

Low-budget filmmakers used digital technology to shoot films and sell them in DVD and VCD formats, a factor that contributed to the growth of the Riverwood Industry. It takes its name from River-road, a busy street in downtown Nairobi where music tapes and electronic products are sold. This has gone mainstream with the introduction of annual film awards in the country dubbed Riverwood awards.

The Kenyan government has made efforts to boost the industry but it’s worthy to note its misgivings on recent policies that could hurt the sector. In 2005, itestablished the Kenya Film Commission (KFC) with the task of promoting the industry on the international frontline. The commission aims to support the industry by providing screening opportunities and facilitating workshops for filmmakers.

The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) was created under a Film and Stage Plays Act to regulate the “creation, broadcasting, possession, distribution and exhibition of films” and“licensing and issuing certificates to film exhibitors and distributor of films.”

Recently, the two bodies that are overseeing the film sector in the country have had power struggles which spilled to the public. This has left the film sector in limbo. It all started when the KFCB sent a notice indicating that they would require anyone shooting a film for public distribution in Kenya to acquire a license from the board. Chris Foot, KFC Chairperson came out to say that the Director of Film Services at the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Technology is the body with the authority to issue licenses.

Chris Foot also revealed that the two film bodies have had a rough relationship. Such confusion speaks loud on the current state of the film industry.

In the local scene, there are Awards which celebrate the works of players in the film sector. The Riverwood Academy Awards started in 2014 and is organized by a team of over 200 film producers in the country. The awards mainly focus on local productions funded on a low budget. The Kenya Film Commission also presented an annual accolade, Kalasha International Awards which features films and TV series aired on Kenyan television networks. These film awards magnify the work done by Kenyans working in the creative sector.

Local films such as ‘Nairobi Half life’ (2012) have placed Kenya on the international stage. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.

This year 2018, a Kenyan drama film, ‘KatiKati’ directed by Mbithi Masya narrowly missed the Academy Award (Oscars) after it was nominated in the Foreign Language category. House of Lungula, Veve, The Constant Gardener, Kibera Kid, The Rugged Priest and Shuga (TV series) have all been outstanding films shot in the country.

Kenya film industry earns 200 billion shillings in a year according to a study by KFCB in 2016. This was an increase from 140 billion shillings in 2007. The report is a clear indication that the sector is a potential driver of the economy and employer. But it isn’t a bed of roses.

Lack of capital is a challenge. Kenyan producers need millions of shillings for production and marketing purposes. A production is expensive as you need to consider aspects such as equipment hire, casting, costume designing, lighting, location, and staff. These require a large amount of capital which is scarce locally. Marketing of films is also low in Africa. Films sometimes become outdated before making major sales. These factors are still holding back the industry from contributing in a major way to the National Gross Domestic Production. (GDP).

The local film scene has created thousands of jobs. Technological innovations, internet, and phone usage have also spurred growth in the sector. With fair film policies, the industry can be the shining example to its African peers.

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