It is irrefutable: film going culture hardly exists in Kenya as amply illustrated from the just concluded 4th edition of Lola Kenya Screen. While the festival in 2009 gave everyone-from 3-year-old pre-schoolers to 70+ senior citizens-a chance to watch a variety of films from 50 nations and 33 languages, there was hardly a large enough audience in the evening sessions, i.e. 5-8pm that targeted adults.
Yes, there was a decent audience between 9am and 5pm. But only because Lola Kenya Screen, in her effort to cultivate a cinema-going culture, spent even more money in busing in children from the residential estates to the festival venue. One may wonder for how long initiatives like Lola Kenya Screen may survive without guaranteed audiences. Or is it a case of there being no readers where libraries exist as the sage have observed.
Oh, another thing: is film going only a “females-only” thing in Kenya? More than 70% of participants in the skill-development mentorship programmes and in the film screening auditorium were female.
Another disturbing observation was the non-attendance of cast and crew of local films at Lola Kenya Screen. Well, many of these failed themselves by not watching their own works as an example that theirs was wholesome work for consumption. But David Kinsella, the award-winning director of A BEATIFUL TRAGEDY travelled for more than 26 hours from his base in Norway to present his film. Nigerian Runcie Chidebe also travelled to Nairobi to present his TALISMAN short film.
Whether the absence of adult Kenyans at Lola Kenya Screen was due to the fact that local FM radio stations buy their attention through give-aways like cell phones, air time and other freebies or just that Kenyans are not interested in film leaves a lot to be desired. And does little to cheer up the organizers oif Lola Kenya Screen who go out of the way to present this initiative using mainly their own resources and that of international friends and partners.
But irrespective of the low turn out(only 3023 people)at the six-day event, Lola Kenya Screen that has since 2006 held an annual event to inculcate the screen going culture among eastern Africans and to explore, identify and nurture creative talent among children and youth was quite successful:
16 children were equipped with the basics in documentary film-making and two creative documentary and one fiction film were made, five children were trained in creative journalism and reported on the festival, two children were guided on how to organise and present events and were in charge of the festival as MCs, while while six other children were guided on how to critique, judge and award films and went on to give the Lola Kenya Screen Golden Mboni Award for the best children’s film and 14-Plus Award for the best youth film to the 31 films in competition.
And to ensure that as the children grow up they will continue making child-friendly, creatively produced films, six youth went through a week-long intensive training in TV Drama for children and youth and realized one film, IT’S MY LIFE.
IT’S MY LIFE, a thought-provoking drama directed by Mitchelle Jangara and Elsie Oluoch, shows the harsh environments modern children are forced to grow up in and have to fight monsters like peer pressure, drug abuse while striving to excel in school for a perceived better future.
The skill-development mentors included Anette Tony-Hansen of Denmark, Rut Gomez Sobrino and Fina Sensada ,Boixader of Spain, and Vincho Nchogu, Shiro Kairu and Ogova Ondego of Kenya.
By August 15, 2009 Lola Kenya Screen had showcased some 1450 films in various genres, formats and lengths between August 2006 and August 2009. But without a guaranteed audience-especially from among the decision-making adult component-one fears for the future of initiatives like Lola Kenya Screen that struggle to serve the eastern Africa. Perhaps the only consolation Lola Kenya Screen may have is that the children and youth she is training will not deviate from the path they are put on. Well, one person cultivates the land, another one plants the seed and God makes the seed grow.