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 28thbut 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.
And we are officially on!!! Ladies and gems, please enjoy, share and subscribe #GatarashaineShortFilm pale #BeeyondEnt…
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!
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.
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!
Niaje wasee, this month on 7th Furahiday mchana , tunawaletea sinema fupi …”Coachez “ right here on Facebook free to…
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.
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.
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.
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.