By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published February 3, 2014
It had never happened before. A director apologizing for not having done his best in the packaging of his film? Yet that is what happened when David Mwangi not only admitted to not having given his short film, GIFT, attention but also apologized to his peers at the 72nd monthly Lola Kenya Screen film forum (LKSff) at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 27, 2014.
Apologising, David Mwangi, who also doubled up as cinematographer and editor, said, “I did not give the film my whole attention because I was involved in other projects.”
Mwangi explained that some of the anomalies in the film—under-developed character and plot, faulty colour grading—came up because “I had other engagements at the time of making that film.”
But the audience wouldn’t hear of it.
“A filmmaker cannot afford to live on excuses. Mistakes in a film should be corrected, not justified,” John Karanja of Magic Galaxy said, demonstrating the jeopardy that such a work can put a director’s career in. Producers may become reluctant to hire such a director because they are not sure of how much dedication to expect from him.
Once you agree to make a film, Karanja said, it should be done to the best ability of the director regardless of the circumstances confronting the filmmaker.
The Forum was unanimous that GIFT, the film under review, had weaknesses that could have been avoided had the production crew, especially the director and the producer, been more vigilant.
Cajetan Boy of Et Cetera Productions whose forte lies in scripting, felt justice had not been done to the storyline of the film. For instance, Boy observed, the mathematics problem solving talent of the main character that had been presented at the beginning of the film disappeared somewhere and instead fine art appeared from nowhere to save her at the time of her greatest need.
“Being a short film, everything in the film counts; the character should have been developed either as a mathematician or as an artist,” Boy said.
GIFT, a drama running just seven minutes and 18 seconds, was one of the two films screened and discussed during the very first edition of Nairobi’s longest running and most consistent film forum in 2014. It is the story of a girl whose inability to pay school fees presents her with unexpected challenges.
Grace Wagithi Irungu of Cinema Afrika wrote and produced GIFT that, she said, acted as her calling card. She said she spent an estimated Sh35000 – Sh40000 (US$412-US$471) mainly on hiring production equipment, feeding people and paying allowances to the main cast members.
“Most of the crew members are my friends and they were willing to volunteer for the project,” she explained.
And that led to the Forum demanding to know how accountability could be ensured in such a setting. Does ‘volunteering’ mean not doing one’s best, as the director had just said he only ‘worked part-time’? Who was responsible for what?
The allocation of roles was also highlighted. An argument ensued over the reference ‘A David Mwangi film’ as opposed to ‘A Grace Irungu Film’. It was correctly pointed out that a Film belongs to the director while a production belongs to the producer. So, it was concluded, GIFT could correctly be referred to as ‘A David Mwangi Film’ and ‘A Grace Irungu Production’.
Portia Opondo, a filmmaker whose work has featured at LKSff, wondered why the film appeared to have been rushed.
“Since it was your first independent production,” Opondo said, “you should have paid more than average attention to the process.”
Like David Mwangi and Beryl Magoko—the director of THE CUT documentary that screened alongside GIFT—Irungu attended Kampala University in Uganda.
The Forum recommended that producer Irungu and director Mwangi consider redoing the film while taking into account the feedback that was received on January 27.
Though Beryl Magoko, the director of the second film—THE CUT—did not make it to the screening as she was unexpectedly delayed in Uganda, the screening did not fail to raise questions.
THE CUT is a documentary on the initiation of girls into adulthood via circumcision among the Kuria community of western Kenya. The story is told through a series of footage, interviews and narration.
Damaris Irungu-Ochieng, a script writer, observed that she found the 44-minute graduation film “too long, repetitive and insisted on telling the story of only the bad side of the Kuria community while ignoring the other good stuff about the community; such as the recreational activities that the people involve themselves in.”
Julie Ojwaya, who identified herself as a lawyer, felt it was wrong for the film to focus on the faces of the minors being circumcised.
“It is a violation of human rights to show naked human beings under whatever circumstances and the makers of such a film could be charged in court,” Ojwaya said.
Hawa Noor, a researcher and Godwin Otuoma, a filmmaker, concurred as did Harun Kiruku, a student.
“It is invasion of privacy. The faces of the young children should have been covered,” Otwoma said.
Otwoma felt the story of circumcision of women needs to be told from a different angle and not that of activism as that compromises art.
“That this practice has support among many modern and well educated people may call for new treatment by filmmakers,” Otwoma observed.
This first edition of the LKSff in 2014 was no doubt a pace-setter for the subsequent meetings that will happen in the year. The lively and free debate by the audience is something that is indispensable in the development of the film industry in the eastern African region.
Lola Kenya Screen film forum is a motion pictures screening, discussion and networking platform aimed at critiquing, encouraging and exploring ways of integrating film production in eastern Africa with other socio-cultural and economic sectors in order to come up with a vibrant film industry.
LKSff meets every last Monday of the month at Goethe-Institut, Nairobi, Kenya, and is often one of the first places where new films can be seen and young talent spotted. LKSff—part of the Lola Kenya Screen (LKS) audiovisual media festival, skills-development programme and marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa—is the initiative of ComMattersKenya Ltd in collaboration with Goethe-Institut.