By Ogova Ondego
Though Kenya has been exposed to movies over the past 114 years in 2016, the country does not have anything that resembles a motion pictures industry. Kenya may have had her first cinema in Nairobi some 100 years ago, but no film-going culture exists in this former British colony and any one who makes film does not do it for the country’s big screens. In fact, the share of local to international productions in theatrical release is almost zero. Most films that have been made here have been Inter-Governmental and NGO-funded, message-based, non-creative documentaries with little theatrical appeal and are rarely screened publicly.
But what has this got to do with the role of the moviemaker in society?
In case you are wondering what I am that I should talk about this subject, I am a cultural journalist, critic, media educator and content producer, among other things. I can send you a detailed Curriculum Vitae, in case you have a job for me.
I define a moviemaker as an artist who uses images to tell stories pictorially. Society, on the other hand, is a group of people with shared values, world view, traditions, norms and taboos that, together, form a people’s culture or the creative and intellectual expressions, achievements and aspirations. To me, contemporary means current or present time.
Today, the world is audiovisual as demonstrated by the mobile telephony, the internet and television. Our contemporary society prefers the media that combine sound and images. This is much more memorable and catchier as opposed to stand-alone words, text or pictures.
As a storyteller, a good filmmaker must be a good observer of one’s society. The filmmaker must be competent in the use of the tools and rules of trade in the art and science that is moviemaking. One must then be visionary, courageous, honest, fair, and analytical.
To avoid manipulation by powerful—economic, political, social—forces, the integrity of the maker of movies must be beyond reproach.
That a good maker of motion pictures documents and tells stories that challenge, inspire, educate, inform and entertain. Such a practitioner is like a child who does not fight shy of telling the truth to the emperor who walks around naked but on the mistaken belief that he is dressed in some of the most magnificent royal attire. Yes, such a filmmaker exposes the hidden shames and sources of infection of the society as much as the greatness of that society, to paraphrase An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, a 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet.
A good filmmaker also networks with people of like mind for a lone ranger cannot achieve much in resource-challenged societies like those of eastern Africa.
A filmmaker is not necessarily the saviour of the world though there would be no harm in doing so if it is possible. Moreover, a good filmmaker is not content with the way society is but seeks to transform it using the camera.
From the foregoing, it is clear that a filmmaker occupies an important position in society: that of a selfless prophet, advocate, teacher, entertainer, journalist, critic and mentor all rolled into one.
But I have learnt to not to merely point fingers without doing anything to change a situation I see as wanting. It is for this reason that I plunged headlong into audiovisual media matters in 2002 and founded the Lola Kenya Screen movie festival, skills-development programme and marketing platform for children and youth in eastern Africa in 2005. So I shall use it as an example of the role of the filmmaker in contemporary society.
Lola Kenya Screen seeks to entrench in society the culture of making high quality, low budget, and culture-sensitive movie and derivative products for local audiences, and promoting, marketing and distributing these products to the widest possible audiences globally.
The present and the future belong to children and youth just as yesterday and today belong to adults. Consequently, only the present and future generations can shape the present and the future they want. Hence the Lola Kenya Screen initiative equips this generation with requisite skills and production tools and then sends them out to make films, judge films, consume films, present films and report on films that enhance, complement, and promote learning in the promotion of causes such as literacy, gender equity, independent thought, human rights and environmental conservation.
Here, a filmmaker seeks to transform society from one that simply consumes or provides a filming location to western images to one that creates and markets films made by Africans.
But as today is informed by yesterday and tomorrow by today, we run the monthly Lola Kenya Screen film forum for players in the movie sector—producers, directors, screenwriters, actors, funders, journalists, researchers, academics, policy-makers, consumers—to watch and discuss films in eastern Africa, to exchange ideas on how to improve film production, create a sustainable markets for moving images and services and to network every last Monday of the month throughout the year.
Lola Kenya Screen is working with festivals in eastern Africa—Amakula Kampala International Film Festival, Zanzibar International Film Festival—to help build networks that will help develop strong children’s sections. We are coordinating the network since we are the first audiovisual media platform in Africa that is SPECIFICALLY and EXCLUSIVELY designed for children and youth; we specialise in issues related to children, youth, media and culture.
So what is the role of the filmmaker in contemporary society?
To use audiovisual media tools in helping transform society through mentorship and inspiration!
Please visit our websites—lolakenyascreen.org, artmatters.info, commatterskenya.com, ipo-easternafrica.net—for more information.
Thank you for coming and also for your patience in listening to my rambling. Let the debate continue!
This article, that has now been revised, was written as a conference speech at Amakula Kampala International Film Festival in Kampala, Uganda, in 2008.