By Daisy Nandeche Okoti and Japheth Ogila
Published May 30, 2014
“You don’t have to wait until your bank account is overflowing with money before you can try out your vision. Work with whatever resources you have and then get on from there.”
That statement made by Loi Awat during the screening of her production, BLINDSIGHT, at Nairobi’s premier critical film forum on 26.05.14 is one that anyone who has tried to make a film in a country such as Kenya that is short of resources understands only too well.
The arrival of the audience 60 minutes ahead of the scheduled time for showing and discussing BLINDSIGHT and SUBIRA by Ian Kithinji and Ravneet Chadha, respectively, during the 76th Lola Kenya Screen film forum (LKSff) could be taken as an indication of the seriousness with which the forum is taken besides the increasing enthusiasm of eastern Africans for the film sector.
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Whereas BLINDSIGHT, a 50-minute film set in a university in Nairobi explores the lives of college-going youth—their academic work, their dreams and their relationships—12-minute SUBIRA depicts the life of an 11-year old strong-willed girl who does not conform to cultural expectations of her culture-worshipping community on the Kenyan Indian Ocean coast.
BLINDSIGHT adopts a soap opra-like style, its story being told through multiple story-lines and with no specific lead character. But herein lies a serious challenge as Cajetan Boy of Et Cetera Productions pointed out; that he did not see the connection and the relationship among the actors and the stories.
Not having a single lead actor whose story the audience follows in a film from the start to finish, Kithinji explained, is that the audience is allowed to give equal attention to all the events that unfold in the story – the hypocritical Christian, the two best friends who share a boyfriend unknowingly, the friend who loses his childhood friend because she is in love with another man—all these threads become important for the audience because none is set above the other and labeled ‘main’.
Discussing the storyline of the film, various members of the audience felt that the deaths in the film were both ‘forced’ and ‘unnecessary’. For instance, two characters dying from ruptured ulcers or from suicide by hanging under mysterious circumstances.
Ian Kithinji, who wrote and directed the film, said that he wanted the story to move away from the classic ‘happy ending’. He however admitted that he had pushed the death envelop rather far.
George Ndiema felt that most of the scenes were ‘hanging’ because the director did not tie them together in a neat knot and that any connection that the audience would have found among the characters in the film grew weaker and weaker as the film progressed towards the end.
The director, on a rather light hearted note, explained that the scenes that appeared ‘incomplete’ or ‘hanging’ were there for creating suspense.
Asked whether there was anything he would do differently if he were to re-direct BLINDSIGHT, Kithinji said that he would like to keep that film intact as a reminder of where he had come from in his film-directing career.
Though Kithinji’s first student film—CONTROL—was showcased in the 47th LKSff besides competing for the Best Student Film Award during the 6th annual Lola Kenya Screen film festival in 2011, Boy, who specialises in scriptwriting, said that he found the production qualities in BLINDSIGHT below par compared to other productions from Daystar University from which Kithinji graduated in Communication.
Treza Oguda, who also graduated from Daystar and had also participated in some of those student productions showcased at LKSff, said Daystar University’s training is in Communication and Journalism, not filmmaking. Ogunda added that there is need for specialization in film making courses so as to enable people such as Kithinji who are passionate about filmmaking to pursue their dreams right from the beginning.
Other shortcomings identified by the audience included sound distortion in the film, lack of long shots, off-focus shots, a problem in lighting, and inconsistencies in continuity and make up.
Kithinji admitted that the sound and light in the film was wanting, something he blamed on inadequate resources. He said filming had relied on natural light and improvisation.
Producer Awat concurred with Kithinji on the budgetary constraints but added that the academic pressure had partially contributed to some of the shortcomings highlighted.
Immaculate Kanaiza, who had worked on make-up, agreed that the make-up was bad as it was her first attempt; that the film had been made during their second year in university before they had covered the subject.
Ian Kithinji, who said he had embarked on BLINDSIGHT ‘due to boredom soon after my first film had been showcased at Lola Kenya Screen film forum and Lola Kenya Screen festival in 2011’, paid tribute to his crew and cast saying, “Teamwork was important and the crew was so willing to even work without pay. I thank my crew and cast for making me who I am today; without them, I wouldn’t have made BLINDSIGHT”.
Though screened, SUBIRA—a children’s film that featured in LKSff in 2008—was not discussed.
“The aim of showcasing child-fare in our every monthly gathering starting from March 2014 is to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in films for children and youth, Lola Kenya Screen being a child- and youth-centred organization,” Lola Kenya Screen’s Managing Trustee and Creative Director Ogova Ondego said. “The child-fare segment merely sets the pace for the film-of-the-month. We have so far screened SAFI, LE PETITE MERE by Raso Ganemtore of Burkina Faso in March 2014 and PETITE LUMIERE by Alain Gomis of Senegal in April.”
Besides screening and discussing films, LKSff has since 2012 been giving room to other art forms—poetry, music, dance, fashion design, spoken word, public speaking—to market themselves ahead of every screening. It was on this basis that Kibali Muriithi performed ‘Mbona waniumiza?’, a Kiswahili song that translates to ‘why are you hurting me?’, set the mood for the 76th LKSff. The Master of Ceremony was Jackline Emali Asava and the Moderator Barbara Karuana.
LKSff is the initiative of ComMattersKenya/ArtMatters.Info in collaboration with Goethe-Institut that convenes every last Monday of the month with the aim of critiquing, encouraging and exploring ways of integrating film production in Kenya and eastern Africa with other socio-cultural and economic sectors in order to come up with a vibrant film industry. LKSff is often one of the first places where new films can be seen and new talent spotted.