By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published March 2, 2015
That Gerald Langiri of Kenya is the only East African nominated for the award of the Best Actor in a Comedy for his role in FUNDI-MENTALS in the third annual edition of Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) that will be held on March 7, 2015 is both thrilling and saddening. How can only one actor from the entire East African region that makes movies all the time be nominated for AMVCA?
The only other film that features in the nominated list is VEVE, a German-Kenya co-production which is up for the award of Best Art Director.
So what is really happening to the films being made in East Africa? Are they submitted to festivals and awards? If yes, why are they unable to compete on international platforms?
There is the temptation to sit back and say that perhaps films from East Africa, when presented on such platforms, are sidelined in preference for films from other regions of Africa, say West and South Africa. In an industry with practitioners who are reluctant to seize opportunities that are right within their reach, how possible is it for these practitioners to stretch their hands for what is far from them? The question here is; just how many filmmakers in East Africa submitted their films for AMVCA 2015? And ‘complete’ submission here means that all the rules regarding entries–such as the number of DVD copies, press kit, profiles of key crew and cast, photos, trailers, posters, flyers, labeling of the work, meeting the deadline for entries, and so on–are followed. This angle of shortcomings in submissions—which I come across all the time from fillmakers in my role as a programmes assistant with Lola Kenya Screen that, apart from presenting her monthly and annual film festival, also represents film initiatives across Africa and the world—is the likeliest bet because similar problems arise even when it comes to events that are taking place within the East African Community region. For instance, it is a Herculean task getting filmmakers to enter their works for the Best East African Film Award that is presented by East African Film Network (EAFN) and East African Community (EAC) at member festivals like Kenya’s Lola Kenya Screen, Tanzania’s Zanzibar International Film Festival and Arusha African Film Festival, Burundi’s FESTICAB, Uganda’s Nile’s Diaspora International Film Festival and Rwanda’s Mashariki African Film Festival. As I write this article, the Kenyan office of EAFN is yet to receive a single film for FESTICAB after the deadline passed on February 28, 2015.
They say understanding a question is part of the examination and as such, regardless of how well a film is done, or how talented a filmmaker is, a film that is submitted without all the requirements is unlikely to make it to the jury.
Lack of information is a problem that can also arise. It is vital that filmmakers keep their ears on the ground for available openings and maintain a useful network that can also tip them off when opportunities come up. EAFN, for example, has been in existence since early 2014 but still, we have filmmakers in the region who know little about EAFN. And those who know hardly take their time to find out what it does, its mandate and how beneficial it is. And yet, the main reason for the formation of the network was to boost film production levels in the region.
EAFN has been holding specialized training in film production in in collaboration with partner film festivals in all the five EAC-partner states of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania and the scarce responses to these opportunities is a very clear indication of the efforts that filmmakers in the region put in having their professionally presented work out there.
And finally, is it true that East Africans are submitting films but the production qualities are not able to stand the stiff competition that comes with international awards such as AMVCA, Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) and Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA)? What happens to the films that are said to have won in local awards such as Kenya Film Commission’s Kalasha Film & TV Awards, Rwanda Movie Awards and Tanzania Film Awards? Are such productions ever submitted to the continental awards? How do they fare?
Whatever the problem may be, filmmakers in East Africa have to rise up and be counted.