By Daisy Okoti and Iminza Keboge
Published September 4, 2016
The easiest way of identifying a Kenyan film is from bad sound. Or is it?
This conclusion by critics comes from the fact that sound–as well as other technical aspects of production—has been a perpetual challenge for most filmmakers in East Africa.
From almost no formal training in filmmaking to lack of proper government policy and regulations, it is quite easy to see why moviemaking in eastern Africa does not make progress at the desired pace.
The 95th monthly Lola Kenya Screen film forum (LKSff), a platform that screens and critiques films from across eastern Africa, focused on five short films made by a group of budding moviemakers in its 95th LKSff on August 29, 2016. The films—INDULGE ME by Ian Kithinji, CLICHÉ by Firul Maithya, ROLEX by Ian Kithinji and Henry Mutisya, ARE YOU HAPPY? by Henry Mutisya, HAPPY VALENTINES by Tyler Martindale—appeared to be free of the traditional identifier of bad sound.
For a country such as Kenya whose film sector is fledgling, it is a good sign when short films stand out in terms of both sound and picture quality. This is perhaps one of the foremost indicators of the determination that some of the young filmmakers have in making films better and more competitive.
This progress was noted by Anne Wagacha during the discussion session of LKSff. Wagacha identified herself as a communication practitioner; her opinion was supported by a good number of the people in the audience.
“There is progress in story delivery across all the films as well as an improvement in the picture and sound qualities,” Anne Wagacha said.
Ian Kithinji, a film writer and director who has been working closely with Lola Kenya Screen since the beginning of his filmmaking career in 2011, says that one of the main secrets in moviemaking is commitment to learning.
“When you are true to art and have commitment to learning, you can only get better,” he says.
Kithinji, who directed two of the five movies screened, noted that it is very challenging to put the short film together because it involves a lot of condensing stuff as well as putting away some things which could lead to incomplete delivery of the story. As a director of a short film, Ian Kithinji advices, one needs to develop an eye for what is important and what should end up in the film and effectively communicate the back story.
“In the making of the short film, so much goes into the backstory so as a director, you need to be alert and put only those things which move the story forward,” Ian says in response to how he was able to properly execute a short film and ensure that it had all the parts of a film and it completely delivered the story he was trying to tell.
On what the challenge is when a director directs a film he did not write, Firul Maithya, who directed a film called CLICHÉ whose script was written by Kithinji, said that this challenge is very real and calls for a very good working relationship and understanding.
“Both the writer and the director have different visions for the project that they work on and sometimes it looks like the opposite of what the other had in mind,” Maithya said.
Maithya advices that one of the best ways to work with other people in a production is to remain open to other people’s opinions as this has the potential of opening up one’s mind to other things that could make a production better.
Christine Kasiva Muthee, who produced the films that were screened, acknowledged that sticking together and being focused is crucial in turning out a good movie.
Godwin Otuoma, a film director, noted that the short films presented were a good step forward by the young filmmakers as they work with limited resources.
“For future projects, more time should be invested in the relationship between the cinematographer and the director,” Otuoma said. “These two are very vital in the form that the final film project appears in.”
Vincent Kiio, who identified himself as “a film enthusiast” said that most of the errors in Kenyan films start at the scripting level and then most filmmakers just do not seem to research while doing their characterization and that is one of the reasons why as an audience, he finds it difficult to watch Kenyan films.
Kiio however said that Kenyan filmmakers need to step up and make a good presence with their work because there is so much potential in the creative industry.
“People out there are willing to invest in anything that guarantees returns and investing in films is not an exception. Kenyan films just need to be promising enough,” he said.
The evening featured a lively discussion with a panel comprising Firul Maithya (camera/directing), Ian Kithinji (writing/camera/directing), Christine Muthee (producing) and Eunice Ayuma (acting).
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The 95th edition of LKSff opened with the screening of two documentaries on the previous gathering of LKSff. The doccies—94th LOLA KENYA SCREEN FILM FORUM WITH LAWRENCE MWANGI and 94th LOLA KENYA SCREEN FILM FORUM WITH BRIAN OCHIENG—were followed by BIG BOY, a children’s film directed by Yuri Solodov of Russia in the ‘ChildFare’ segment of the gathering. The aim of this is to encourage local practitioners to make movies targeting children.
The speaker for the ‘ExpertSpeak’ that gives experienced practioners the opportunity to share their ‘expertise’ in the 7th Art was taken by Ogova Ondego, the managing trustee and the creative director of Lola Kenya Screen. Ondego spoke about the need for creating buzz around one’s film because film, like any other show business, thrives on hype and the more the number of people who know about a movie, the higher the likelihood that it will be seen.
Every LKSff meeting consists of ExpertSpeak, Movie Screening, Film Discussion, and Networking Session.
The aims of LKSff are to build capacity in the movie sector of Kenya and eastern Africa; and to help turn moviemaking in the region into a sustainable industry.
There being no other business, the movie screening and discussion and networking meeting wound up at 8:30PM. The next meeting is on October 31, 2016. LKSff is convened by ComMattersKenya—under its ArtMatters.Info cultural journalism and criticism medium—in collaboration with Goethe-Institut.