History of Cinema in KENYA

Historical overview

Founding president and liberation struggle icon Jomo KENYATTA led Kenya from independence until his death in 1978, when President Daniel Toroitich arap MOI took power in a constitutional succession. The country was a de facto one-party state from 1969 until 1982 when the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) made itself the sole legal party in Kenya. MOI acceded to internal and external pressure for political liberalization in late 1991. The ethnically fractured opposition failed to dislodge KANU from power in elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by violence and fraud, but are viewed as having generally reflected the will of the Kenyan people. President MOI stepped down in December of 2002 following fair and peaceful elections. Mwai KIBAKI, running as the candidate of the multiethnic, united opposition group, the National Rainbow Coalition, defeated KANU candidate Uhuru KENYATTA and assumed the presidency following a campaign centered on an anticorruption platform.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

Kenya is situated in of the most violent aera's in the world, East Africa. The country is poor, government priorities are not focussed on building a local film industry. Since independence in 1963 Kenyans have been producing films at the average rate of one feature film every four years. Despite the fact that there are many Kenyan film professionals, the development of this industry is hampered by four major problems: 1) Finance: film production is an expensive venture and there are no local investors who have shown interest in it. 2) Post-production: through filming equipment is generally available, Kenya does not have a film processing laboratory - the 16mm facility that exists at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication has collapsed due to lack of spare parts and maintenance. 3) Lack of an enabling government film production policy. 4) Piracy - Kenya is a world black spot as far as this is concerned. During the past decades, Kenyan filmmakers have tried to break into the African cinematography market which is currently dominated by foremost American and french features.

Today over twenty film production companies in Kenya, working mostly on video and occasionally on film when the budgets allow. Legally film production is regulated by the government, in particular, through two Acts of Parliament: Cap 222; The Films and Stage Plays Act of Parliament and the Copyright Act. The goverment requires that private companies or individuals submit their applications through local agents who are accredited with the responsible Ministry. Crews wishing to film in Kenya have to meet filming requirements that are laid down by the Ministry. A government committee approves requests for feature films commercial films and documentary films. Notable local productions are: "Mlevi" (1968), So far, the only commercially viable Kenyan film production by Paul Singh. It starred popular former television personalities Mzee Pembe and the late Kipanga Athumani and singer Sal Davies, which was crowd puller in its days.
"The Bush Trackers" (early 1970s) by Gordon Parks, which starred Oliver Litondo and others. However, tragedy struck when Parks died in a freak plane crash at Nairobi Wilson Airports as he headed for filming location. His colleague Gary Strieker went ahead with the project but it was a box-office flop. Bush Trackers was the most ambitious undertaking in those years, by the late African-American film maker Gordon Parks (of the Shaft fame) who moved to Kenya in the early 1970s in the hope of developing. He believed Kenya had all the ingredients to become the African Hollywood .

"The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin" (1980) by Sherad Patel, a biopic about one of Africa's cruelest murderes. The director's pretention to produce a historical movie wasn't entirely met. The low budget film seems to be a horror flick exploitation movie. In the past decade, the only Kenyan filmmakers to complete productions have been Ann Mungai with her Saikati and its sequel, and also was . The Gamba film was also shot using State facilities under the banner of the now defunct Kenya Film Corporation. Another filmmaker, Dommie Yambo-Odotte is still hoping to raise funds to complete her maiden feature film project, The Forgotten, which has been on hold for the past year or so.

Commercial production has risen steadily as production houses are offering improved facilities and skills. On the documentary front, many wildlife filmmakers continue to work in Kenya. Kenya has a long tradition as a location for Hollywood productions. Some of the movies shot in Kenya include Saikati the Enkabaani, The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, Out of Africa, I Dreamed of Africa and To Walk with Lions. Numerous TV series have also been located in Kenya, including several episodes of Grundy Productions' Neighbours, Born Free, and Flame Trees of Thika. Kenya's feature films of note in the past few years include Director Anne Mungai's Saikati I and Saikati II, Wanjiru Kinyanjui's The Battle of the Sacred Tree, Sao Gamba's Kolormask and M-Net's New Directions short film, The Baisikol.

Some sources report that the number of filmgoers dwindle, Nairobi cinema which boasts of the largest screen in East Africa, attracts only 30 percent to its 825-seater theatre while the 480-seat Casino gets less than 60 viewers per day. Next to this existing cinema's and theatres are turned into worship centers, thus reducing the already scarce screens.

Obviously Kenyan cinema has little to hope for, but in the past lustrum some highlights have risen hope again. Since 1998, the annual African Cinema Week is seen as a giant step taken by Nairobi towards establishing itself as a market for African films. It has also brought to the fore the hidden audiovisual potential the East African country possesses as films come from unexpected quarters. This small festival rapidly upwarded its competition and commercial relevance.

Also a film shot in Kenya, 'Nowhere in Africa', won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film at this year's awards. A love and family drama shot in Kenya and starring thespian Sidede Otieno Onyulo has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year Oscar in this year's Academy Awards. The feature, Nowhere in Africa, revolves around a German Jewish family that flees to Kenya to escape the claws of Hitler. Meaby in the near or far future Gordon Parks dream will come true and Kenya will be the thriving cinematic heart of East Africa.

Cinema links from KENYA

Africa Film and TV Portal to the film industry in Africa, offering free articles as well as protected information.
Film in Kenya Production company offering services to mostly wildlife filmmakers
Kwetu Multimedial Portal to Kenya, offers some cinematic information.

Gordon Parks

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