By Firul Maithya
Published October 29, 2013
Ogova Ondego is the managing trustee and creative director of the Nairobi-based Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival, skills-development and marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa and Convener of IPO-Eastern Africa platform for independent audiovisual and television producers. He was the first director of an international film festival (Africa Cine Week) in Kenya. As coordinator of African Cine Week, he was a leading player in the activities that led to the formation of the Kenya Film Commission in 2005. He speaks to Firul Maithya.
What was your involvement in the creation of the Kenya Film Commission (KFC)?
I was involved first as as coordinator of Africa Cine Week (the precursor to Kenya International Film Festival) in 2003/2004 and secondly as volunteer coordinator/secretary of the team I had put together to help bring together various players in the motion pictures sector to create an industry. As an independent African film writer, reporter and critic who wasn’t aligned to any ‘camp’, I used my ‘neutral’ position to bring together anyone and everyone who was associated with ‘film’ in any way: Kenya National Film Association, Kenya Film and Television Professional Association, Third Force, URTNA/MAP-TV, Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, United States International University, Daystar University, Good News Productions International, Institute of Performing Artists Limited, River Road players, and various independent players, including broadcasters like Nation Television, Kenya Television Network, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, and equipment supplier Film Studios.
This was possible because I myself—as coordinator of the 6th Africa Cine Week–didn’t belong to any group/association and my neutrality helped a lot in bringing people together.
The support of the Embassy of France through the first Audiovisual Attache, Olivier Lechien, was quite decisive in sealing the deal.
The Minister for Tourism and Information, Raphael Tuju, was quite receptive and willing to support any initiative towards formalising film business in Kenya.
It was great working with Olivier Lechien, Raphael Tuju and players like Jane Murago-Munene, Albert Wandago, Dommie Yambo-Odotte, Ingolo wa Keya (KNFA), Njeri Karago, Yahya Chevanga, Ali Mwangola (KFTPA) and several others like Jakub Barua, Wanjiru Kinyanjui on this initiative.
Among the people I helped bring in the limelight of filmmaking and who are still visible in the sector include Charles Peter Asiba of Kenya International Film Festival, Wanjiru Kinyanjui who now lectures at Kenyatta University and Aghan Odero of Kenya Cultural Centre who sits on the Kenya Film Commission board.
When was this?
The activities and meetings that led up to the formation of KFC ran from 2002-2005. It was not one meeting but a series as we had to consult widely. I remember a screen writers’ seminar in Nairobi and sending an appeal across Africa for the suitable candidate to conduct the workshop. We got someone from South Africa. His name was Latter. I was by then Communication Coordinator of the then Zanzibar-based East Africa Filmmakers’ Forum and representative of independent audiovisual media sector. During this time, we took the war to television broadcasters with then Minister Tuju declaring local content broadcast that irked the Media owners association then led by Wilfred Kiboro who was chief executive officer of Nation Media Group threatening to sue the government over the directive that had to be shelved.
What are some of the events that made this process long?
We travelled around the world, held meetings and consulted among the players, held workshops and seminars, compiled reports and communiqués and consulted with the government and the Embassy of France. After that we had to nominate representatives from the various players, but principally from KNFA and KFTPA, to a task force that was then appointed according to government procedures.
We studied the formation and operation of film commissions in countries like Namibia, Australia, South Africa, and France to see what worked and what didn’t to avoid having to re-invent the wheel in Kenya. Besides bringing practitioners from these countries to Nairobi for networking meetings with Kenyans, we also travelled, courtesy of Olivier Lechien and the Embassy of France.
What were to be the core activities of this body?
Film Fund, Film Training, Film Production, Film Distribution.
We wanted a film fund from which local practitioners could access production funding through a competitive and transparent process. The body was also to equip practitioners with relevant kills through internships, workshops and seminars and even training through formal audio-visual media training schools abroad. We envisaged a body that could assist in handling the distribution of films done in Kenya by Kenyans. It was to market Kenya as a production hub and not market it as a film location, a set for foreign films. And we emphasized this. In the long term we wanted this body to come up with a commission that would create a film school in Kenya where none, strictly speaking, exists today.
Back to the commission; what else was discussed?
We discussed their mandate, the number of office holders, their qualifications and the salaries, perks and allowances.
Talking about the government, how supportive were they?
Raphael Tuju, owner of the production house Ace Communications, was then the minister for Information under whose docket film matters fell. He was very supportive and was humble enough to tell us that since we were the professionals to go and draft proposals of what we wanted the body to do and he would support us. From our meetings and deliberations, Tuju came up with a policy framework that demanded that broadcasters air a certain quota of local content. The Media Owners Association fought hard, threatening to sue the government. We held joint press conferences that were addressed by the Minister and the film sector representatives. The communiqués and press statements were prepared and coordinated by the Africa Cine Week coordinator.
Tuju did not take our proposal to parliament but took it straight to the President. This was a very wise move as the process to Parliament would have been long and tedious and there was no guarantee that the MPS would have passed the bill into an act enabling the creation of the Kenya Film Commission.
President Mwai Kibaki created the Kenya Film Commission as a State Corporation on Executive Order in December 2005.
What is the history of Lola Kenya Screen?
Lola Kenya Screen—Kenya’s very first truly international film festival—was mooted as an audiovisual media festival, skill-development programme and marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa in a nondescript hotel on Tom Mboya Street, down town Nairobi, one afternoon in October 2005. A month later, it was launched in Cape Town in South Africa, held its first monthly Lola Kenya Screen film forum at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi in December 2005, and the first annual Lola Kenya Screen festival held in August 2006 at Goethe-Institut and Alliance Francaise in the Nairobi central business district. Since then, the initiative conducts weekly school outreach; fortnightly mobile cinema; monthly film screening, discussion and networking forum; quarterly internship; and annual audiovisual media festival. 2013 marks the 8th edition of the festival.
Lola Kenya Screen is the only film festival for children in eastern Africa. What is the future of such festivals entirely dedicated to children and the youth?
Lola Kenya Screen is Africa’s first audiovisual media initiative that is SPECIFICALLY and EXCLUSIVELY designed for children and youth. The future of such initiatives can only be bright. Lola Kenya Screen is poised to become the reference point besides helping entrench the practice of high quality filmmaking and consumption culture in Kenya and in eastern Africa.
Does Lola Kenya Screen incorporate any mobile cinema feature in its screenings?
Lola Kenya Screen conducts mobile cinema in learning institutions—primary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and other venues, including neighborhoods across the breadth and width of Nairobi and its environs.
Some critics have questioned the role of film festivals; some have said that film festivals compromise on matters of quality. What do you think of this?
Lola Kenya Screen is not just another run-of-the-mill film festival but one that sets standards in quality. Our festival is run by professionals trained in film appreciation and criticism, filmmaking, and festival management. We take quality seriously and will not compromise for whatever reason. We may be just seven years old but no festival in eastern Africa receives and showcases as many films as we. We have so far screened more than 1950 films from 102 countries between 2006 and 2011. We do not screen just about any film simply because it has been submitted to us, though. It has to meet our standards in terms of theme, cultural relevance and sensitivity and production standards. Try us.
Having worked as an arts and culture journalist, jury member at international arts, culture and film festivals, volunteer and coordinator of the African Cine Week of Nairobi and having trained in the organisation and management of audiovisual media markets and festivals, I saw so many yawning gaps in the audiovisual media sector in Kenya, East Africa, Eastern Africa and Africa that needed to be filled in but for which few people were willing to do anything.
Why a film festival for children?
Children are agents of change. Lola Kenya Screen is a global movement that seeks to entrench in Kenya, eastern Africa and Africa the culture of making and consuming high quality audiovisual media productions that bring about socio-economic development. The present and the future belong to children and only they can shape it; if they are well prepared for it by visionary and competent mentors. Lola Kenya Screen fits the billing.
Is Lola Kenya Screen the only children’s film festival on the African continent?
Lola Kenya Screen is the only audiovisual media initiative in Africa that is SPECIFICALLY and EXCLUSIVELY designed for children and youth, i.e. children and youth are the focus and not a side bar at a larger general or adults’ film festival. It is the only festival that is organised, presented and celebrated by children and youth who make films through film mentorship, report on the festival through the children’s press, present the programme through children’s event presentation, and award prizes through the children’s jury.
Why the name Lola Kenya Screen?
‘Lola’ is a Bantu word that means ‘see’ or ’watch’ while ‘Screen’ refers to moving images. Since the initiative is based in Kenya, its name means watch moving images in Kenya.
Lola Kenya Screen’s annual festival–to be held December 2-7, 2013–is now in its 8th year and marks its 71st monthly screening forum on November 25, 2013.
Additional information on the Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media initiative for children and youth in eastern Africa was and can be derived from lolakenyascreen.org
Firul Maithya is a 23-year-old film director whose filmography includes working on Uongozi (a tv reality show on which he was a Production Assistant and Season 12 and 13 of Makutano Junction as a 3rd Assistant Director.