In his first issue of Kwani? Binyavanga Wainaina made an interesting observation of the arts industry in Kenya.
He said: “When art as an expression starts to appear, without prompting all over the suburbs and villages of this country, what we are saying is: we are confident enough to create our own living, our own entertainment, our own aesthetic. Such an aesthetic will not be donated to us from the corridors of a university; or from the Ministry of Culture, or by the French Cultural Centre. It will come from the individual creations of a thousand creative people.”
Art as an expression is best captured in film, which is flourishing here in Kenya. A lot of local content is finding its way onto television, largely due to a fresh impetus by the new government to support arts and culture through relevant legislation. However, legislation has not been forthcoming in lowering the production and labour costs of filming in Kenya. Furthermore, there is no exemption of taxation on film equipment, making the film industry one of the most expensive professions to venture in.
Kenya is losing out to countries such as South Africa which have a reliable rebate scheme that shields film producers in cases where their films are not box office successes.
In stark contrast, the Kenyan government is yet to consolidate adequate funds for film production. Financial institutions are partly to blame for the situation as the arts are widely regarded as a risk-worth-not-taking kind of investment. To complicate matters even more, few people in Kenya perceive art beyond the confines of music, paintings or dance.
We can borrow a leaf from the Nigerian government, which has instituted a film fund that runs into the millions of dollars. There are also lessons to be learned from the South African government for taking upon itself to marketing South African films with gusto. This underscores why box office success there goes hand in hand with international recognition elsewhere i.e. the Oscars.
Film still has an über feel among people at the bottom rung of society in Kenya, the poor. It is hardly even considered as a profession, making it difficult to grow the industry past well-established names like Judy Kibinge, Wanuri Kahiu, Carolyne Kamya, Bob Nyanja among others.
While we may lack the confidence to take film seriously, we do not fall short when it comes to aesthetic that is culturally relevant and entertaining. Riverwood, Kenya’s version of Hollywood, constantly churns out home videos on issues such as love, religion, greed or witchcraft in almost all the languages of Kenya.
The biggest hurdle that has persisted with Riverwood films is largely in the technical aspect. Most of these films are produced over a period of 7-15 days on a shoestring budget, drawing striking similarities with the Nollywood industry. However, while Nollywood has excelled in quantity, making it the third biggest film industry after Hollywood and Bollywood, the frequency of quality productions is proving a hard nut to crack.
iROKOtv, a Nigerian content provider is joining the ranks of BuniTv, Zuku, and M-Net in bringing radical change in African cinema by creating, sourcing or promoting original African content that are produced to the highest standards. The Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) is also proving a strategic global partner in this endeavour by honouring eminent players in the African film industry annually.
This global partnership draws from the African Diaspora, renowned film festivals such as Berlin Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival as well as national governments in Africa and beyond.
On 2nd March, 2014, Hollywood’s elite will decide who between Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o will receive an Oscar. It could be both! The two are up against strong contenders in their respective nominated categories for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. African film producers need to be cognizant of this enormous opportunity to sell Africa by producing products that will attract studio executives, writers, actors and film producers from around the world once the Oscar buzz is over.
We can do less watching and waiting for the world to come to Africa. The ongoing I.C.T revolution across the continent has already engaged the gears of change making mobile cinema the in-thing. It is time for Africa to go to the world. Let us make it happen.