By Ogova Ondego
Published February 18, 2008
Eastern African women have taken their creativity a notch higher and consolidated their supremacy in the filmmaking sector by taking all the three top positions at an intensive pan-African screenplay-development workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa (February 18-29, 2008). OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
The three women–Winnie Gamisha of Uganda and Kenya’s Wanuri Kahiu and Rupinder Jagdev–were selected to undergo the training by the jury of the East and Central Africa hub sitting in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 25-26, 2007. This all-Africa screenplay development workshop,organised by Goethe-Institut in Africa and Art in Africa Foundation and facilitated by Swiss German scriptwriters Donat Keusch and Giso Kakuschke,had been slated to run in Nairobi in January 2008 but the disputed presidential poll results in Kenya and the ensuing violence had made the organisers switch the venue to Johannesburg, South Africa, in February, 2008.
Should the screen plays of the three eastern Africans be selected from among the 17 participants from all over Africa, this could see them make ‘critically positive’ films on Africa that could subsequently premiere at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, in February 2009.
According the organisers, who initially included the Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe led by Tsitsi Dangarembga who have since pulled out, this short film competition “intends to encourage Africans themselves to engage with the challenges facing their continent through the medium of film.”
It is now widely believed that audiovisual media, if well utilised by critical and well meaning socialising and development agents–not myopic and inward-looking propagandists, ideologues and politicians–can help turn Africa from a continent of misery and to one of joy and prosperity.
While some people believe that the problems plaguing Africa are caused by ineptitude and kleptocratic dictators who run their nations down through patron-client relationships, others blame problems on centuries of slavery, colonialism and globalisation. However, other voices maintain that no excuse is sufficient to explain the plight of Africa away. But the blame game alone will not do a thing for Africa. That is why a competition of this nature “that seeks to equip Africans with filmmaking tools and show them how to competently use them to examine how history and Africans themselves are contributing to the negative image of the mother continent” can be said to be part of the strategy to cure Africa of its numerous problems at this defining moment.
The Painter, the winning screen play by Winnie Gamisha, was described by the judges as “comical, topical and relevant to Africa, and that it has great potential for visualisation, especially if a real painter’s work can be used.”
Gamisha’s script takes the reader through the life of a young male artist whose community does not understand his aspirations in fine art. Like any African family, that of Gamisha’s lead character, Kepher, craves status, wealth and respect at the expense of his own vision.
“Winnie Gamisha has captured a contemporary African dilemma in an honest and vibrant way. She treats her characters with a gentle humour and punishing wit,” the judges said.
The main character in the screenplay is a university graduate who has a hard time making ends meet. In everyone’s opinion he is an utter failure. It is only when he secures the chance to exhibit his work in Europe that everyone finds a new appreciation for him,or rather the status, and wealth he now is perceived to represent.
Very Highly Recommending Gamisha’s screenplay, the judges noted that:”Art, if well utilised, can help heal Africa and change perception.” They described Winnie Gamisha as “a young, promising scriptwriter and director.”
Glass Beads, by promising but little known Rupinder Jagdev, came in second.It brings together a multicultural group of characters and places them in a situation that challenges their economic and cultural prejudices.
The story begins with an upper class group of friends going for a weekend at a scenic African resort. The women in the group go on ahead and as the men make their way they encounter a situation that changes everything. They are forced to reconsider preconceptions they have carried with them all their lives.
“There is great potential here for a wonderfully visual film that tackles the racial and economic divide that characterise the urban African experience. The script has some good turns and twists,” the jury, who ‘Highly Recommended’ her script, noted. “Rupinder Jagdev has had experience in a wide range of areas and appears entirely capable of making a great film.”
Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi (Breathe) was ‘Recommended’ as it tackles environmental conservation that, the judges observed, the pan African short filmmaking competition “would be incomplete without tackling the environment. Environmental degradation and its effects can be seen all around us now, but so too can the means to arrest the rot.”
In the script, Kahiu appears to hold Africans firmly responsible for both the destruction of their own environment and its possible redemption. She takes the viewer on a poetic journey full of highly visual projections of what we have done to the environment and how we must begin to live and think in order to salvage it.
Saying that “Wanuri Kahiu’s treatment is unconventional and the separation of narrative from purpose is refreshingly smart,” the jury added, “There is great potential here for a different film experience”poetic, experimental, contemplative”that the jury found refreshing and the writer and director appears utterly capable of pulling it off.”
Though they were expected to select six screenplays, the quality of the 18 scripts submitted was wanting and so only three selections were made in the eastern African region that brought together Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo-Kinshasa. The jury ended up selecting only three screenplays. It was also unclear why a paltry 18 scripts could have been entered from the East and Central Africa region its large size and rich cultural heritage notwithstanding.
The judges also noted with concern that many of the participants fail to adhere to professional submission requirements, something that knocked out several submissions.
In its summary, the East and Central Africa jury noted that all the 18 entries they had looked at ‘showed great promise’. “However, the three judges said, a few had issues with nationality while others were certainly too inexperienced to participate constructively and yet others failed to address the theme adequately.”
To cover Africa, the continent was divided into five regions–Southern Africa, East and Central Africa, Anglophone West Africa, Francophone West Africa, and North Africa–each with a judging panel.
But who exactly are Winnie Gamisha, Wanuri Kahiu and Rupinder Jagdev?
First of five siblings, Jagdev was born in Nairobi in 1964 where she attended the prestigious Kenya High School before proceeding to the UK for Advanced Level and college education. She is a largely self-taught commercials and documentary filmmaker who says she has ‘learnt on the job’ while making a tourism documentary on Ghana for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.
“I want to make films on ordinary people making extra-ordinary things,” Jagdev told ArtMatters.Info before flying to Johannesburg. “I hope to interact with professionals in South Africa, add a more professional touch to my work, bring it back home, and keep the filmmaking momentum upon my return to Kenya.”
Saying she whiles away the time through writing of feature film scripts, Jagdev says she plans to make some short films when she returns to Kenya from South Africa.
The script she is ‘workshopping’ tackles issues like age, race, class, tribe, gender, crime, corruption, misuse of authority and the rural versus urban divide.
Wanuri Kahiu, 26, who says “I write and direct films that challenge and inspire the human spirit to re-unite and remember. I believe that the union of people and the integration of cultures through stories are beneficial to all,” needs little introduction in Kenya having come to the limelight in 2004 when she and Anna Marano, through their Dada Productions, organised a workshop for filmmakers in Kenya.
Since then, Dada Productions has since partnered with Themescape and Alliance Francaise to create Pamoja Film Initiative that promotes dialogue about Third Cinema within Kenya.
Dada Productions was in 2005 commissioned to work on its first documentary for International release and the result was THE SPARK THAT UNITES, a film about a young actor’s process as he transforms himself from the New York-born Derek Luke to play Patrick Chamusso, an anti-Apartheid South African freedom fighter.
THE SPARK THAT UNITES reveals a unique behind-the-scenes perspective of the internationally acclaimed Catch-A-Fire feature film by Working Title/ Universal Films.
Through Dada Productions, Kahiu wrote, directed and produced RAS STAR, a short film for M-Net New Directions programme. The film, about a young girl trying desperately to get to a talent show despite her brother’s mischief and a local gangster’s attraction, is inspired by a Nazizi Hirji, a Kenyan hip hop musician.
RAS STAR, Kahiu says, celebrates Nairobi youth culture through its choice in music, style and language. RAS STAR has been shown at international film festivals like Rotterdam Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Editor for the African Academy Film Awards.
Kahiu holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from University of California in Los Angeles.
Winnie Gamisha, who says she lives for -Film, Family, Women’s Liberation and Africa- (See a Q&A with Gamisha at http://artmatters.info/?articleid=144), is currently studying at the London Film School.
Though she has made several NGO-commissioned films, it was THE HEART OF KAMPALA, a 30-minute documentary film she co-directed with her husband, Andreas Frowein, that gave her recognition when it special commendation of the jury of the 2nd Amakula Kampala International Film Festival in September 2005. It was singled out “For creatively using an ordinary location to capture in a single day, the life: the variety, aspirations, visions, challenges and fears of a people struggling to eke out a dignified living against all odds.”
Besides The Painter script, Gamisha had also entered ‘No Vote’ for the pan-African short film competition. ‘No Vote’ is based on the changing gender roles in a rapidly westernising Africa. It highlights the reluctance of society to keep abreast of these changes and thus resulting in unnecessary tensions and conflicts. Though one may only speculate, perhaps this demonstrates Gamisha’s commitment to helping uplift the status of women in Africa.
Born in Mbale, Uganda, in 1979, Gamisha had been working as a scriptwriter and director with Great Lakes Film Production, a company that makes commissioned films from its Kampala base, before she moved to Germany with her husband.