The stage is set for one of the most glamorous premieres of the year, touted as a trendsetter for all other feature film premieres for the rest of the year. When you direct your first feature film, after years of featuring in films, organizing film festivals and attending countless premieres, you have undoubtedly mastered enough experience to pull off an event for the ages. Money has been poured, literally! Because you have pooled all your resources together to produce and direct a film that you hope will set you apart as a film director to reckon with, having conquered the music and theatre stage in your formative years in the arts industry. And then, in true cinematic fashion, the plot thickens. The exhilarating momentum gained from the pre-production and production process, supported by a robust media campaign promoting the film and an elaborate social media campaign, is brought to a sudden halt by the nightmare that is Covid-19. It is against this dramatic background that film director Dr. Zippy Okoth premiered her two minute short film, My Crisis, on 5th August on YouTube, in a season when she had expected to be basking in the success of her debut feature film, Midlife Crisis, initially set to premiere on March 28th but which is now shelved indefinitely due to the ban on social gatherings.
Produced by Legacy Arts and Film Lab and directed by maverick Abu Melita, My Crisis is a moving reflection of the writer’s life and the emotional turmoil Covid-19 has left her in, having put all her savings and hopes on a successful feature film debut. The film, featuring Zippy Okoth as herself and Suki Wanza as her best friend (they are best friends in real life!) opens with Zippy ready and set for the night of her dreams, until an announcement is made on mainstream media that public gatherings have been banned indefinitely by the government as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. She then engages two versions of herself in a poignant reflection of internal conflict, urging them not to quit. One version of herself portrays the ever hopeful and ever ready Zippy, dressed in readiness for good news, hard at work on her laptop, in denial and probably believing this to be just a stumbling block before all gets well and the premiere proceeds, while her opposite version portrays the expected uncertainty, with the choice of black colors probably an ominous sign of the darkness about to descend. A sticker of her book titled ‘Oops Zippy’ ironically takes us to the next scene, highlighting the murky unexpected waters she now has to wade through as she longs for her long awaited feature film debut, with the new normal encapsulated in a video call to her best friend who keeps checking up on her and encouraging her. Her emotional distress is laid bare as she tosses and turns in bed, having enlisted the help of a counsellor to try and make sense of all that is happening, but still believing that this too shall pass.
The team behind this beautiful short employs credible techniques that get the viewer to resonate with the actor with incredible ease. The choice of shots in motion, handheld or otherwise, creates a general feeling of anxiety and uncertainty, especially when used in the closeup shots. As Zippy imagines what would have been, the 360 degree spiraling shot basically shows us how her life has spiraled out of her control as a result of the pandemic, with the voices in her head synonymous with what most of us must be going through asking ourselves questions we have no answers to, assuaging and heightening our fears and worries at the same time. The film is beautifully edited, with background sound that heightens the raw emotion in the different scenes.
My Crisis is a poignant reflection of what most film makers are going through right now. In late March and early April, hundreds of student films were set to premiere at the Kenya National Drama and Film Festival whose national finals were to be held in Mombasa. While most of the films were ready to be screened, most film makers are yet to be compensated for their work, and the closure of schools has put the process on hold indefinitely, with hundreds of youths now having to resort to alternative measures to put food on the table. Globally, big films set to premiere this year have all been shelved, which literally means the film industry is in limbo. Short films have taken to digital platforms to premiere, with user generated content on digital platforms like Tik Tok becoming the go-to place for entertainment. My Crisis basically highlights the need for film makers (and artistes in general) to hang in there and reach out for support during this difficult period. Art thrives in social gatherings. While we may be separated physically, we can still be together socially, albeit virtually. And while Covid-19 may have disrupted normal operations, let us embrace the new normal and keep creating during this period. When her feature was shelved, Zippy created a short. She definitely knows what to do with her lemons.