Covid-19 Films Entertainment Film Film Business Film Critique Film Review Kenyan Cinema

My Crisis: Squeezing lemonade from lemons

My Crisis official poster

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.

This is my story, my true story, my healing story through this pandemic, perhaps we all need to talk to someone, to...

Posted by Midlife Crisis - FILM on Wednesday, August 5, 2020

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.

My Crisis short film in full

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.

Behind the scenes with Director Melita, DoP Azeli and Sound Mixer Josephine

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.

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Gatarashaine: Where two hearts beat

Gatarashaine poster, with Edith Kanini and Collins 'Ayrosh' Irungu

If you grew up in the village, then you are not new to stories where hotblooded youngsters overcame all odds to be with those they loved. Your grandparents and parents have probably regaled you in tales of illicit love where their folks were against their union, and they took extreme measures to ensure the youngsters don’t ‘bring shame’ to their families. In Kikuyu, that is direct translation for ‘Kureehe thoni.’ And in the same spirit, the youngsters took extreme measures to ensure their love wasn’t snuffed out. Love was brewed in thickets, in abandoned shacks, by river beds, behind rusty old trucks, in caves, on trees, under trees, against trees, even inside trees! Gatarashaine is a short film which premiered earlier today, where good old love encounters the wrath of Baba (pronounced Faafa!) but as they say, love always triumphs!

Martin Kigondu, writer and director, Gatarashaine

Prevail Arts Company Kenya is better known for their exploits on stage, where they have a proven track record of producing quality theatre shows, and have used their Prevail Beeyond Entertainment channel on YouTube to test their film mettle. The film, written, directed and produced by thespian Martin Kigondu, and shot and edited by Jackson Kang’ethe, follows two love birds who can’t keep their hands off each other but the girl’s dad always seems to catch them in the act. Their pursuit of intimacy at the girl’s home ends up in comic chaos as Baba arrives home to catch them in the act, with the randy youngster having to orchestrate a nervy escape, though he doesn’t escape a heavy slap in the back from the irate father. Their quest for intimacy leads them to the bridge near their home, where they reminisce how they met.

And we are officially on!!! Ladies and gems, please enjoy, share and subscribe #GatarashaineShortFilm pale #BeeyondEnt...

Posted by Prevail Arts Company KENYA on Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Njeri, the lass, played by Kanini Edith, was on a matatu where the lad, played by Collins ‘Ayrosh’ Irungu, was the tout and couldn’t pay her fare, calling her dad, played by Stephen Kimani, to bail her out. One thank led to another and now they can’t stop thanking each other! Daredevil Njeri suggests they get down on the bridge, to which the lad agrees. But alas, the dad alights from a matatu, and as he is walking home near the bridge, spots a familiar scarf, and a quick inspection reveals the two youngsters canoodling in the nearby bush, with Njeri’s neck the subject of intense inspection by the lad’s tongue! As expected, the dad goes after the lad, clearly upset by the fact they chose to do it, of all places, Gatarashaine!

Behind the scenes image

Technically, one of the film’s stand out features is its simple and natural approach to production design. The village set up adds to the care-free and happy go lucky attitude of these two lovebirds, with the natural vegetation by the bridge creating the perfect backdrop for this naughty village romance. The bold choice of shots contributes to the emotional tone of this film, as well as the catchy score, which has been done by the lead actor. The editor should be commended for weaving together all these elements to tell a beautiful story that leaves you wondering what next for this randy duo. Irungu, Kanini and Kimani should also be lauded for giving life to the script on screen, and the use of Kikuyu and Sheng interchangeably also does no harm in endearing the film to its target audience. Most parents will no doubt squirm when watching this with their teenage kids, but will undoubtedly be smiling inwardly as they remember their own wild exploits at that age.

YouTube link to the film

The film’s lead actors are clearly young adults, but one can’t help but wonder what is happening now amongst school going children in the villages during this enforced long holidays. Various media outlets have reported an alarming number of teenage pregnancies during this Covid-19 period, and you have to wonder how the thousands of idle teens in the country are coping, what with raging hormones and that rebellious streak synonymous with this age group. The community leaders should probably find ways to arrest this situation, because seeing the young adults go at it like bunnies in the village will definitely not help matters. That being said, Gatarashaine is a beautiful piece of work that will get you pumped as you imagine the possibilities!

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Boxing Radicalization out of Kenya

Film poster for Coachez

Globally, the first two decades of the 21st Century will probably be best remembered for concerted efforts to fight terrorism, with terrorist groups taking advantage of technological advances to intensify their deadly activities. Closer home, Kenya has spent the better part of the last decade fighting the increasing radicalization of our youth by the Al Shabaab terror group, which is said to have active terror cells here and in neighboring Somalia. This is the background of the newly released short film Coachez, produced as part of an anti-radicalization campaign by Jiongoze Project, a local non-profit.

Niaje wasee, this month on 7th Furahiday mchana , tunawaletea sinema fupi ...”Coachez “ right here on Facebook free to...

Posted by Jiongoze Project on Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Coachez trailer

The 13-minute film was premiered on Saturday, 7th August on Facebook Live, and is available for viewing on Jiongeze Project’s Facebook page. Digital premieres are fast becoming the norm while cinemas remain closed as the Covid-19 sting continues to itch film makers locally and across our borders. The film follows Coach Adam, who runs a community gym where he offers boxing lessons to youth in his home area. This is meant to keep them engaged and off the streets where all manner of vices await them, from drugs, crime, violence, and lately, radicalization. A former boxer turned extremist recruit shows up and offers the young boxers money in exchange for ‘opportunities’ abroad, which is how they are lured to join terrorist groups.

Community screening to sensitize against radicalization

One of the boys, Rama, is a focused and disciplined boxer who trains consistently and faithfully heeds Coach Adam’s counsel, although his family background offers strong temptation to accept money offers from the recruiter. His mother is desperately looking for rent as the landlord is constantly on her case, with their humble abode showing their limited economic resources. Coachez has to stand helplessly and see his young boxers being lured by money, since the best he can offer them is training and qualification for boxing tournaments, yet what they all desperately need is money. He decides to focus on the promising Rama and save at least one boy since the others are more interested in the money being offered by the recruiter.

Not My Son: Short film by Jiongoze on radicalization

The film exposes the desperate situation most young people in low income areas find themselves in, where they have little hopes of escaping the poverty cycle as they helplessly watch their parents trying to fend for them. Any opportunity for a better life is highly sought after, with their zeal and drive to overcome their challenges making them easy bait for recruiters from extremist groups. The war on terror keeps claiming young peoples’ lives and this prompts these terror groups to go recruiting new blood promising them financial freedom and a chance at a new beginning. For those who fall prey to this call, life is as good as over, as they become outlaws shunned by family and friends as terrorists. Coach Adam represents efforts by parents and the society in trying to protect this vulnerable demographic by providing them with alternative activities to keep them occupied.

Mural highlighting radicalization fight

The short film employs clever lighting techniques to create the different emotional paths the film takes us through, with well thought out camera work that contributes effectively to the delivery of the story. The language used is relatable to the film’s target audience with young viewers resonating with the Sheng used which is critical for the communicative value of the film, seeing as it’s meant to raise awareness on this thorny issue. The production design is also credible with the gym looking like your regular mtaani gym, complete with the relic radio used to receive news updates. The sound is well done, with credible sound mixing and editing. Coachez is a film that all youth need to watch to comprehend how easy it is to be lured to the dark side, and parents would also do well to explore how recruitment happens to put in place measures to safeguard their vulnerable sons and daughters.

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Of Pillows and Intimate Talks

Muhugu Theuri, playing Aster in Pillow Talk, and the film's poster

In the arts scene, this year’s Valentine weekend will best be remembered by the gliteratti of Kenyan cinema assembling at Anga Imax in the Nairobi CBD to witness the premiere of Pillow Talk, a film directed by award winning producer (pun intended!) Alice Wangui who was making her directorial debut, and produced by Old Gold Films. The film was written by Charles Chanchori, he of the ‘Around Nairobi in one Night’ fame, and introduces two talented actors who deliver the story on screen, Muhugu Theuri as Aster and Emmanuel Mugo as Osoro. This is a welcome deviation as new talent is finding its way onto Kenyan cinemas, after years of audiences berating film directors and producers for using the same old faces for different films and television shows.

Emmanuel Mugo, playing Osoro in Pillow Talk

As you may have guessed from the title, the film follows a man and a woman who wake up naked next to each other trying to figure out how they ended up together in bed. In this era of KFCB’s prefect role in the film industry, the film takes a bold step in its visual elements by featuring a lot of skin by the two, with risqué undercurrents and sexual innuendos in their dialogue and actions. It then delves into the more salient issues like complicated parental and intimate relationships, religiosity, betrayal and societal obligations.

Pillow Talk trailer

Osoro is a photographer who has an overwhelming sense of duty; consistently sending his ailing mom money for medication, but can’t go home because he feels he has disappointed his family because of his life choices. Aster is a seemingly lost girl seeking validation, and needs to be loved after falling out of favor with her mom due to religious differences. She is also disoriented after her ex-boyfriend shared her nudes on social media. The film follows these two wandering souls who are brought together by their one-night stand. It’s ironic that while Aster is running away from her nudes episode, she ends up in a photographer’s bed! And Osoro insists that for her to get over this phase of her life, she has to accept his offer of taking her nudes! The situation is best captured by a quick flashback to Casablanca (1942) and that famous quote ‘Of all the Gin Joints in the World, she walks into mine.’

Behind the Scenes

From a technical angle, the team did a great job, much as it’s a one-set film. The actors' chemistry is clear for all to see, and is a key element in keeping viewers glued to the screen. The sultry Aster is especially efficient in bringing out the introspective Osoro from his cocoon of uncertainty. The creative camera angles and shots helped heighten some of the emotions, and one wonders whether the film would have delved into the murky, mysterious but oh-so-sinfully-delish Hollywood approach to intimate scenes, were it not for good ole Uncle Zeke. Alice, who previously produced the award winning Angles of My Face, is also an accomplished critic, and did a good job polishing her own work because there’s little to write about the shortcomings of the film, which is also evidence of a thorough pre-production process, with a well thought out design contributing to the visual appeal of the film. However, one does wonder, is there anyone who has had such an in-depth discussion and shared life insights after a one-night stand with a stranger? If you are in the one-night stand business, this writer is curious to know whether this is a normal occurrence.

Alice Wangui, Pillow Talk director and producer

The Kenyan social scene (or should we say Nairobi?) is very well captured in this one hour fifteen minute flick as it explores various socio-cultural issues. Millennials have questioned the role of religion as it is increasingly viewed as a money-minting and brainwashing exercise after all the exposes on social media, while the reckless sexual behavior amongst the youth with one-night stands being the norm rather than the exception. Young people also seem to suffer from disillusionment following strained relations with their parents who invest a lot in their education and expect much more not putting in mind the current economic situation and new career options available for the youth.

Pillow Talk cast and crew (and fan!) during the premiere

Pillow Talk is a poignant reflection of today’s society, and is a well-crafted piece of art that should resonate with today’s youth and their parents as they navigate the uncertain waters of young adulthood. From a film maker’s perspective, the film once again asserts that Kenyan film makers have mastered the technical elements of film production, and its now time they mastered the storytelling bit as we continue to diversify our stories and bring audiences back to the big screen. Oh, and they also have a page on the IMDB database! How about that?

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Automedic Film Captures Kenya Covid-19 Experience

An engine rumbles. A phone dials. The scene opens up to a rustic scene where an old mabati house on the foreground gives us the first glimpse of the action. As the camera dollies in, a makeshift ICU bed outside the house heightens our curiosity as an old lorry appears to be the source of power for the makeshift ICU bed. The camera reveals an innovating mix of the energy source, showing a truck battery, an old radio synonymous with Kenyan homes, what looks like a damaged smart phone, amongst other contraptions connected to an extension cable that seems to be holding together this delicate innovation.

These are the first few seconds of David Waronja’s latest award-winning film Automedic, a five-minute pulsating story of a young man who goes against all odds to become a self-trained doctor, lab technician and nurse to his ailing sister Wambui. This is after Covid-19 has happened and he has been laid off work, and can’t maintain the househelp, and has no funds to take his sister to the hospital. His medical adventures receive a baptism by fire when he runs out of fuel to power his innovation, and George (pronounced Joji), his nduthi guy, delivers the wrong type of fuel instead of petrol which leads to a nerve-wracking climax as the desperate young man takes time head on in a race to save his sister’s life. The film, delivered in Kikuyu language and shot in a typical Kenyan homestead, strikes a chord with the regular Kenyan due to its common mwananchi feel, sharing what regular broke Kenyans go through.

The film has received over nine thousand views on YouTube since it was posted in July. It has gone on to receive rave reviews from the Kenyan film fraternity, with many marveling at the ingenuity of the entire movie being filmed in one clean shot, and on a mobile phone! Waronja, who is the writer, director, cinematographer and editor of the film, manages to capture the true Kenyan essence during this Covid-19 period where media reports show that majority of Kenyans fear going to hospital for fear of contracting the dreaded virus, preferring to self-treat at home. The economic challenges the youth are facing after being laid off from work also come into play as the lead character reveals he was laid off work, and had to fire the househelp too.

David Waronja, the writer, director, cinematographer and editor of Automedic

But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. The young man has immersed himself in innovation books which have enabled him take care of the sister at home. On a larger scale, we have witnessed Kenyan youth at the forefront of proposing Covid-19 solutions, with university students developing ventilators, youth being the core innovators of creative jua kali handwashing solutions, and being engaged by manufacturing companies to produce masks and other personal protective equipment, as reported on both mainstream and social media. Automedic has managed to capture all these sentiments in a poignant yet eye-opening manner that prompts us to accept the new normal and start seeking solutions as opposed to complaining.

It was a delightful afternoon when we hosted the top 3 winners of the third edition of #MyKenyaMyStory who were happy to...

Posted by Kenya Film Commission on Wednesday, July 29, 2020

While awarding the winners, KFC CEO Mr. Tim Owase noted that: ‘My Kenya My Story is within the Commission’s commitment of growing Kenya’s film industry, while focusing on application of affordable technology in storytelling.’ The awards were done virtually and aired on NTV, where the Cabinet Secretary for ICT and Youth Affairs, Mr. Joe Mucheru was the Chief Guest, accompanied by the Chief Administrative Secretary Ms. Maureen Mbaka. The CS urged Kenyans to embrace storytelling using mobile devices to tell transformational Kenyan stories, while pledging the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta in promoting the film industry. All twenty shortlisted films are available on the KFC YouTube channel.

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