By Daisy Okoti and Caleb Okello
Published May 12, 2015
Most people consider ‘family’ as their haven of peace and refuge. However, this base could at times turn into a nightmare, a source of pain.
This could be what inspired a young man called James Ngige into making TOGETHER, a 17-minute film set in rural Kenya and realised by largely self-trained youth led by Ngige.
TOGETHER revolves around two brothers. One, a soldier, returns home from a peace-keeping mission in Somalia set on marrying his long time fiancé only to find that things are no longer as he thought they were. The story follows the way the military returnee takes all these new changes in his life and whether his life can remain as it was before he left for the military service.
“I wanted the film to tell the story of what happens when people go away to the army and the changes that they find once they return home,” Ngige, who goes by the name Roger James, says. “The psychological, emotional and physical stress is what I tried to capture in this film.”
That the film uses text in telling the story instead of letting the events show through visual action generated lots of debate sparked by Sonia Audi, a film student, at the 85th monthly Lola Kenya Screen film forum (LKSff) in Nairobi where it was shown and discussed on April 27, 2015.
Ngige, the director of the film, said his choice of text to narrate the happenings that could not be captured on the screen but which were important for the film to be understood because he wanted to employ a style that would mark out the film as unique besides capturing attention.
“I would have seen the point of uniqueness of style if the text was written in a peculiar manner with what looks like thoroughly well-thought out words,” Vicky Bakile, a film producer in the house pointed out. “Using too much text in the film takes away the visual aspect that is supposed to characterise the genre of film.”
Another issue that generated debate was the use of music in TOGETHER.
Eloise Rivery, a Master’s student of Visual Anthropology in the French capital, Paris, pointed out that the director depended too much on the soundtrack to bring out the emotions in the film rather than having the actors bring them out through their acting. “This leads to too much music in the film,” she said.
Alex Kioko, a musician, agreed with Rivery.
“The mood that is captured in the film is entirely dependent on the soundtrack, not acting,” Kioko said.
Director Roger James (aka James Ngige) said he had used the ‘too loud’ soundtrack to cover up for the limitations in the acting because most of his actors were taken from stage to screen.
Largely self-taught in theatre, Ngige said, his actors were making their screen debut and were thus “a bit limited in their ability to portray emotions as should be done in film,” Ngige said. “The group that was involved in this project started out as a church drama outfit and they intend to work on their acting skills so as to make something bigger in the future.”
The issue of authenticity with regard to setting, language and names of the crew and cast members seemed to have taken centre stage at LKSff that usually takes place at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi city centre every last Monday of the month throughout the year.
How could black Africans be known as Roger James, Antony Shavel Nicholus, Ian Barry, John Kings, Gedion Edwards, the production company Yaksok and the film acted in English in rural Kenya where the lingua-franka is usually local languages rather than the official English were some of the questions raised.
Charity Narisha, an up-and-coming actress, pointed out that the cast appeared out of wits and were poor. Terming their acting as ‘plastic’, she said they appeared to perform a little better in Kiswahili, the national language of Kenya, than in the official English.
Likarion Wainaina, a screen actor and director, opined that films should be made in the language in which the actors are comfortable.
Ngige said he had decided to use foreign names and language to stop people from pigeon-holing the film as being made by specific Kenya communities—say kikuyu, Luyia, or Turkana. This desire to keep out of sight any ethnic identity is also the reason, he said, he had opted to use the name of Roger James instead of James Ngige, his official name.
Eve Kibare, a television producer, observed that lack of cultural grounding is what works against the development of Kenya’s creative sector.
“It is important that filmmakers embrace who they are; their cultures, their truths and their realities. Once they have this well in mind, their stories will become stronger and draw more interest,” Kibare said.” It is not a must to use foreign languages to gain global appeal. Though Bollywood movies are made in Hindi and Mexican soap operas in Spanish, they have global appeal. It is good acting, not spoken language, that captivates viewers.”
The problem of brainwashing in the local film and music sectors is one that can easily get picked from the works of artists. It is in the foreign names, the foreign languages that we insist on using even when it can be better when done in one local language or another, sounds from other countries that we want to emulate and make our own, Eve Kabare observed. She concluded with the question, “Why should I listen to a Kenyan Jay-Z when I can listen to the real one?”
Culture is integral to understanding and telling our stories in whatever medium one chooses and to know and embrace this, is to make the first step towards originality which is the first step towards success where creativity is concerned.
In his closing remarks at the 85th LKSff which also happened to be the premiere of TOGETHER, Ngige said he was grateful for what he termed the “openness and constructive criticism” given to his film.
“I feel challenged and shall surely improve in my future film directing,” Ngige said.
Also screened during the Forum was STOP THE NOISE, a seven-minute film made by youth during a filmmaking workshop in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, in 2010. The film advocates for a stop to environmental noise pollution.
LKSff is a specialised film screening, discussion and networking forum for practitioners in the audiovisual media sector of eastern Africa. It is aimed at critiquing, encouraging and exploring ways of integrating film production with other socio-cultural and economic sectors in order to come up with a vibrant film industry. Often one of the first places where new films can be seen and new talent spotted, LKSff—the initiative of ComMattersKenya/ArtMatters.Info in conjunction with Goethe-Institut in Kenya—has been running since 2005. The next meeting, the 86th, shall screen and discuss BEFORE AND AFTER and THE FRIEND dramas by Likarion Wainaina on May 26, 2015 at 6.00 PM.