By Iminza Keboge and Boera Bisieri
Published June 28, 2017
What is a Kenyan story and how do we tell it well in film? Is it an African thing that your films have little dialogue? What is TORTURE about? Why did you choose a cat as a character in BEHIND THE SEEN? Did you have to paint a Muslim in NAZIF as a clean freak just because the Quran says one should be pure and clean? Isn’t a film like NAZIF more likely to cause division rather than unity between Christians and Muslims in Kenya?
Those were some of the questions raised as Nairobi’s premier critical movie event convened for its 100th bi- monthly session at Goethe-Institut on June 19, 2017. In focus were four short films directed by Peter Kawa and Jimmy Gor of Film Lab Kenya, a group of moviemakers founded in 2014 that says it is ‘committed to producing life-changing content that influences people and provokes discussion.’
No sooner had the films—BEHIND THE SEEN and NAZIF by Gor and LIFEGUARD and TORTURE by Kawa—been screened than the directors were bombarded by questions from the more than 200 participant-strong floor of during the 100th Lola Kenya Screen film forum (LKSff) that has over the past 12 years become a training platform for moviemakers, event programmers, public speakers, cultural journalists and arts critics and others players in the arts and lifestyle sector that is often one of the first places where new films can be seen and young talent spotted.
The directors in focus—Gor and Kawa—took the questions in good faith, saying that their aim as Film Lab Kenya is to make films that spark conversation and raise issues like the ones movie enthusiasts had just raised.
Responding to the issue of whether minimal dialogue in a movie is an ‘African thing’, Gor said they had “started out with little or no dialogue in our films to avoid bad sound and to show more, talk less” and that “The more visual the film, the better it is.”
Gor also explained that “The cat in BEHIND THE SEEN was characterised as our genre for the 48 Hour Film Project for which it was made required that we make a drama and an animal film.”
“We think of our films as modern day parables,” Gor said as he responded on the questions raised about NAZIF, a movie about a distressed father who has lost his only child, which made him unable to sleep. “NAZIF not only reminds us of the innocence in children but also addresses the Christian-Muslim relations and the fact that one’s conduct of behavior is not related to one’s religion. “
Writer and director of NAZIF, Gor said he had anticipated the question—I don’t quite understand why, just because the Quran says one should be pure and clean, you had to paint a Muslim as selfish and a clean—raised by Fred Mbatha and had set out to answer it as he shot the film.
While the Quran that Nazif believes in talks about God (Allah) being clean and pure and not mixing with “dirt”, the Bible that the pastor in the story refers to talks about the exact same kind of God. Nazif the film, therefore, highlights the basic message of the two dominant religions—Christianity and Islam– in Kenya: the love of a holy God for a sinful human. Nazif, the main character in the film, symbolizes the God of both the Quran and the Bible who is perceived to be pure and clean, but will always look for his lost child even in the middle of the dirt and embrace them with love just like the clean freak Nazif does in the film.
On his part, stage and screen actor Kawa who asked to be identified as an ‘up-and-coming director’, said TORTURE—a movie about people screaming in a dark room as they are being tormented– is about “bondage or enslavement.”
He noted that poor sound characterizes and has spoilt many good films in Kenya.
Kawa was responding to the observation from the floor that he and Gor had concentrated on ‘pictures and vision at the expense of sound’.
But the 100th LKSff that recorded one of the best attendance—more than 200 people spilling out of the auditorium—was not just about questions but conversations, friendship and partnership-forging networking for players in the 7th Art.
One such player was Elizabeth Sherry, a veteran fashion designer, beauty pageant organiser and trainer of models who spoke about ‘Fashion Design and Modelling in the Movie Business’ after Samuel Luchemo who was to have spoken about ‘Talent Management and Entrepreneurship’ failed to show up for the ExpertSpeak presentation .
“I have for the first time watched a Kenyan film with a religious message outside the wall of a church,” said Walter Sitati, a movie lover, of Gor’s NAZIF and Kawa’s TORTURE.
As the 150-minute LKSff wound up at 8:30 PM, it was generally agreed that as much as a film may be done on ‘zero budget’, that should be no excuse for compromising on creativity and innovation. Inadequate budget may be a big problem, but it is no excuse for making a below-par movie.