By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published September 4, 2014
Does telling the African story imply the magnifying of stereotypes about Africa, the continent with starving children and corruption-induced death upon the people? And to what extend are filmmakers responsible for the perception of the African story?
These are some of the questions that are likely to have risen in the minds of the audience as they walked out of Century Cinemax in Nairobi on August 28, 2014 after watching VEVE, a new 90-minute film set in Kenya and produced by Germany’s One Fine Day Films.
Sue Wanjiru, an actress, sees the presence of film premieres in a country as a sign that its film sector is growing.
“Premieres create the hype that is very important for the marketing aspects of the film. People get interested and this makes them want to watch the film,” Wanjiru says.
And what if the hype is bigger than the film itself? What if the film creates an appetite it cannot satisfy?
VEVE is set around Mount Kenya region in East Africa where veve, miraa or khat is the main economic activity. It is here that an ambitious but inept Member of Parliament called Amos politician is running for a second term. The bulk of the film is set during the campaign period and as the veil and blindfolds begin to fall off as Amos fights to fend off Wadu, a political opponent who also runs a miraa empire.
Using multiple ‘main’ characters, each with different levels of significance in the film, VEVE takes the audience through a mix of themes such as corruption, greed, abuse of power, crime and love. The relationship between Amos and his wife, Esther, for example, begins to deteriorate after she meets Kenzo, a young man out to avenge the killing of his father. The entry of Kenzo in the film opens the minds of the audience to the criminal dealings of Amos and his cohorts. A love relationship does not only develop between Esther and Kenzo but they also emerge as heroes in the film. Though the motives and possibility of success of the relationship between Esther and Kenzo is not explored in the film, it could be seen as the society’s way of praising honesty, truth and love.
There appears to have been little time invested in the development of the characters. Kenzo and Esther do not grow emotionally to the extent of taking the kind of sacrifices that they take for each other. The film seems to fast-track forward to several weeks or months into their relationship but this development is not visible in the film. And the fact that it takes Kenzo for Esther to see the obvious weaknesses of her husband and take a drastic step such as the one she takes is also untimely. Amos, on the other hand, is the same greedy politician as he was at the beginning as he exits the stage. Esther appears to be as vulnerable as she was when she first fell in love as she is at her second attempt at romance.
Starring a mixture of new—Lowry Odhiambo, Emo Rugene—and experienced—Lizz Njagah, Conrad Makeni—talent, VEVE is expected in local cinemas on September 5, 2014.
But even as the film is awaited, it pays to recognize that stories, be it on screen or in books, are never innocuous and free of values.
All the productions of One Fine Day Films—SOUL BOY, SOMETHING NECESSARY, NAIROBI HALF LIFE and VEVE—appear to have been tailored to a particular Western audience and with specific intentions which may not necessarily be to tell an ‘authentic’ Kenyan story.
While there is no doubt about the importance of co-productions in Kenya, a country whose film sector is yet to take off, perhaps the most important questions here should be: Whose stories are we telling? and, Whose agenda are we foregrounding as producers, directors, cinematographers, critics, journalists, exhibitors, actors, writers, and so on?
And perhaps no one can sum it better than Melvin Ochieng, a film lover walking out of the VEVE screening who observed that Kenya has so many stories waiting to be told beyond the “stereotypical tales of crime and drug abuse. One Fine Day Films can do better than this. It can tell a complete and true Kenyan story without necessarily hiding truths.”