November 20, 2017

East Africa’s Film Sector Must Run to Catch Up with Hollywood

By Daisy Okoti
Published September 16, 2015

slum film festivalThe closing ceremony of the fifth edition of the Slum Film Festival (SFF) at Alliance Francaise on the evening of August 28, 2015 re-enlisted some of the challenges that the film sector in Kenya and East Africa still has to overcome for it to make headway and grow to the next level.

Out of the 800 submissions that came in from around the world, only four of the entries were form Kenya. SFF, its director Solomon Mwendwa says, was set up specifically to give a voice to the people of the slums from around the world.

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“Many people in the slums are telling their stories but they do not get the attention that they require from the mainstream festivals especially in terms of helping them to develop, highlight the issues and suggest solutions that can be put in place to alleviate these problems. Showing these stories is the main goal of SFF,” Solomon Mwendwa says.

But despite these good intentions by SFF, filmmakers in region do not seem to have embraced the opportunity as year after year, the festival receives the least number of submissions from this region.

“We had amazing short films coming in from around the world,” Gerald Langiri, a member of the jury for the festival says. “Perhaps our filmmakers do not understand the importance of such a festival and/or they do not actively seek out information about opportunities that are relevant to them; that in my opinion is the reason for the perennial low number of submissions in not just SFF but all the other festivals that have these opportunities.”

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SFF gave awards in seven categories: Best Contemporary African Film (Keke the Patriot, Nigeria), Best Documentary Film (Being A Girl, Kenya), Best Short Film (Yokes, Belarus), Judges Choice Award (Intellectual Scum, Kenya), Slum Voice Award (Tales from our Slums, Kenya), People’s Choice Awards (Weeping Ashes ,USA) and the Best Community News Piece (Slum Electrification, Kenya).

historia films' alexandros konstantarasWhile an outsider may be tempted to say that there has been enormous growth in the country’s film sector owing to the number of opportunities that have come up for filmmakers, the truth is quite different as very few filmmakers are concerned enough to take up these opportunities and improve their trade. The recurrent problems that emerge in Kenyan films are evidence of this nonchalance towards training opportunities, networking opportunities or even peer review opportunities.

“We still have weak stories, lack of continuity, weak scripts as well as absence of a premeditated style with which to tell a story, all factors that largely contribute to good delivery of a motion picture story,” Gerald Langiri says of his experience on the jury of the fifth edition SFF.

actor gerald langiri“There are tiny steps being made by the film sector in the country,” begins Alexandros Konstantras of Historia Films about the progress seen in the country’s film sector over the past five years. “The Kenyan film sector is trying to catch up with the other established films industries in the world but as a late comer, we have to run where others are walking in order to catch up with them. We are not using the right pace and that is why we have not been able to catch up.”

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Alexandros Konstantaras known largely for his sex comedy, House of Lungula and Fundimentals, contents that there is really little motivation in the country for a filmmaker to make a film for the cinema because there is no cinema culture in the country at all as well as the unity as a country to support their own is just not there.

“The business aspect of filmmaking is very important as well and the lack of a fully constructed channel of film production – a conduit through which a film is made and eventually reaches the audience—is one of the biggest problems of filmmaking in the country,” say Alexandros Konstantaras.

George Stanely Nsamba, a filmmaker from Uganda and the executive director of The Ghetto Film Project reiterated Konstantaras sentiments about the lack of a proper structure within which filmmakers can operate as a contributing factor to the drawbacks in filmmaking in the region.

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“We still do not have a proper industry in Uganda and most filmmakers have to handle their own productions themselves a factor that leads to demotivation among filmmakers,” says George Nsamba who advises filmmakers to constantly read books and seek knowledge.

Kenyan actor Oliver Litondo as Kimani Maruge in the film, The First GraderThe guest speaker for the evening, actor Oliver Litondo, made modest proposals (to both the government of Kenya and filmmakers) which he sees as the lifeline that the country’s film sector needs in order to develop.

“Let’s begin by making films that reflect who we are but which can inspire the whole world,” Oliver Litondo says while decrying the 60million earning potential in the country’s filmmaking sector which is yet to be realized.?

Kenyan actor oliver litondo“Are the industry practitioners in the country doing anything to drive the sector towards its full potential? Are they concerned that a tool as strong as a film is not fully harnessed?” Litondo poses.

While there exists professional bodies in the country such as KFC, KTFPA and KFA whose role is to steer the growth of filmmaking activities in the country, Litondo says that there is very little evidence of what these bodies are doing and there is need for the government to actively rethink their existence as well as the role of these bodies.

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“I believe that the film sector in the country should be put under the ministry of trade because the ministry under which it currently falls does little in the international marketing aspect which if embraced, could go a long way in improving the earnings in the film sector and hence contribute to its growth,” Litondo said as part of his closing remarks.

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