Nothing has raised as much furore in Kenya and beyond as the controversial Media Bill. While the government of Kenya insists that it wants to rein in “bad journalism in all its forms,” for producers of local content like film makers, it is a case of pointing fingers with a log in the eye.
The Kenyan media has failed in enforcing the quota of local content on TV, capped at 60 percent, for reasons such as low ratings, local productions that give low return on investment and the quality and quantity of content produced which leaves a lot to be desired.
Furthermore, with the media spurred by commercial interests, Communications Commission of Kenya’s (CCK) inadequate and ineffective monitoring of TV programmes and a highly critical public that lives up to the adage, the grass is always greener on the other side. This negative public attitude has not helped the local box office either due to a not-so-vibrant-cinema-going culture Transfer 8mm Film to DVD DIgital Toronto.
In addition, the minority few who go to watch movies in the big screen are not attracted by local films. A review of local productions made in the past seven years including Pumzi, Nairobi Half Life, Something Necessary and Benta, however, point to a glimmer of hope.
For example, the buzz generated locally and internationally around the award winning film, Nairobi Half Life, showed that we have the capacity, the technical know-how, a lot of captivating stories waiting to be told and a latent demand for such productions. While the local theatre scene has seen exponential growth as a result of being seen relevant in addressing social and political issues, it leaves more questions than answers as to why these dramas have not translated to box office success.
Perhaps the proverbial “final straw that broke the camel’s back” has to be the fact that piracy is eating into the pockets of local film producers. While more and more Kenyans are warming up to buying original DVDs of their favourite local movies, their availability, pricing and marketing is proving a major drawback.
“It is sad that for a Kenyan movie to become famous here, they have to be shortlisted or debuted in international film festivals such as the Durban Film Festival and the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA),” laments a Riverwood movie producer.
This is surely not the way to go if we want to grow our local film industry to international standards. We have to support our very own and we can only do so if the government and other stakeholders come onboard.
While government incentives that lower labour and production costs are more than welcome, film has to take its rightful place behind trade-with tourism following closely in tow-in the government’s efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
Thus, the Kenya Film Commission and the Kenya International Film Festival need to partner with organizations that have a global mind set such as the AMAA for purposes of knowledge and technical know-how transfer, as well as creating linkages for our film producers and actors to cross into the lucrative western markets. In addition, the government stands to benefit in terms of tourism if the devolved government i.e. counties, can take up the challenge of marketing their unique attractions as ideal film locations at international film festivals.
The AMAA is a key driver of Africa’s emerging global film industry status. Currently, Africa is in position three after Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of films produced annually. Thanks to the consistent efforts by the AMAA to encourage and reward quality productions and professionalism, the majority of the award winning films at the AMAA are attracting funding for African film producers besides giving them much needed visibility. These films go on to nominated in world-renowned film circuits such as the Cannes Film Festival, Berlinale, Toronto International Film Festival among others.
Without the veritable presence and exposure the African Movie Academy Awards has bestowed upon African cinema since its inauguration in 2005, the likes of Wanuri Kahiu, Judy Kibinge among others would have struggled to get funding to produce some of their best works. The continental showpiece, hugely regarded as the “African Oscars” has come a long way in promoting the appreciation of African films internationally.
As the AMAA celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, the award’s founder, sees a lot of potential in digital technology that promises to solve the persistent headaches of distribution through sites such as YouTube, costs of film production as well as creating jobs for the African youth.