Thursday, November 24, 2011



Slightly over a week ago I got a chance to spend some time on the other side of an audition floor and despite being involved in TV and Film productions before, I realized that I have never really watched actors auditioning from such a perspective. Being in that position allowed me to observe several unique and, I believe, important insights into actor behaviors and alas, some actor misconceptions. But I digress, the audition came after a very interesting class by Neil Schell about ‘character’ and how actors can understand the concept and use this understanding to interpret their roles. And that is what this blog post is about:


Though meanings of words vary from use to use depending on circumstance, intention and context. It is likely your understanding of ‘character’ in relation to its use within film, is closely related to one or all of the following meanings:
- The Mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual
- The quality of being individual, typically in an interesting or unusual way
- Strength and originality in a person's nature
- A person in a novel, play, or movie
- A part played by an actor

The word's ancient precursor is the Latin term kharakter which referred to ‘a stamping tool’ similar to the unique seals used in early times to identify and distinguish families and institutions. Ostensibly, character is supposed to distinguish one person from another and in this particular instance, one actor from the other. 

Johnny Depp and some of the most famous characters he has brought to our cinema screens. From left. Johnny Depp himself, Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, The Mad Hatter, Todd Sweeney, and Captain Jack Sparrow. Anybody see a pattern?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011



Directors are supposed to shout “Action!” and “Cut!” while actors are supposed to mispronounce their lines and smile, saying “let’s take that again!” hoping that their goofs make it to the behind the scenes or cut-ins as the credits roll. Now imagine a production where the actors can not hear the director, nor can they audibly speak. A production where the actors are deaf and dumb, and to film them, everyone from the director to the continuity person has to go through an interpreter who signs to the actors in gestures the whole production team does not know about. Tough huh? Well, the production got nominated four times for the Kalasha Kenya Film and TV awards, 2011.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011



Nairobi is a city in touch with the rest of the world. With over ten cinema halls in the city and its environs, one is able to enjoy the latest films as they are released in Hollywood, Bollywood and the UK. What is more exciting for the young Kenyans is that they can participate in this exciting creative arts, by producing their own local films, and release them on video, on television across Africa, and even on the same big screens that show the Hollywood blockbusters. This was something that was not even imaginable twenty or so years ago, where film was seen as something that only Hollywood could bring to Kenya and not as something that Kenya could offer to the rest of the world.
While the dizzying heights of Hollywood and Bollywood have not been reached by Kenyan filmmakers, the journey looks bright and exciting. This excitement has taken one hundred years to grow, since the first images of the country were captured on tape in 1909 by Cherry Keaton, a wildlife photographer who filmed the American President Theodore Roosevelt when he came on a wildlife safari in Kenya. 'A History of Film in Kenya:1909-2009' is a documentary that uses re-enactments, archival footage, poetic narration, and incisive interviews with the industry players, to chronicle the 100 years from the first film to be shot in colonial Kenya  to the present day digital age.

The American president Theodore Roosevelt, came on Safari in Kenya in 1909, hiring a British wildlife photographer, Cherry Keaton,  to film the hunting expedition. The resultant film, `Theo in Africa' was screened in 1910. 

 Theodore Roosevelt in Kenya in 1909

This heralded a colonial period where films were mainly hunting, travelogue films and fictional films like Mogambo, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Trader Horn and others which showcased the conflict of Europeans battling with dangerous elements of nature and a new culture in Africa while at the same time loving the breathtaking scenery and warm people. During this period no Africans were involved in shooting the films, except perhaps as extras and porters.

However, our gallant Mau Mau freedom fighters took to the forest and fought for Kenyans to have right to independence. Freedom came with not only political self rule, but also the advent of Africanisation even in the arts, where film training started. The Kenya Institute of Mass Communication was inaugurated to train Africans in film-making and more so to replace the Europeans who had been working at the national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. The first swahili film Mlevi was done by Ragbir Singh in 1968 and inspired Kenyan film-making. Other local filmmakers making a mark include Alan Root
whose wildlife films won almost all awards on earth from the Oscars to the Peabodys. International films continued being made in Kenya in the 1980’s, with the seven-Oscar success of ' Out of Africa'  showcasing Kenya’s beauty to the world and making it a prime location for international films. However, the local industry hopped and skipped through Sharad Patel’s  Rise and Fall of Idi Amin,(1981),  Kolormask, (1986) and Saikati,(1993).  Hardships in the industry led to a lull in local productions until the digital era inspired Kenyans to use digital technology for filming, ushering in the likes of Albert Wandago, Jane Murago Munene, and the rise of the Riverwood filming industry. It was at this time that Njeri Karago made the film Dangerous Affair, directed by Judy Kibinge,that captured the imagination of many filmmakers in going for independent, non-NGO funded, feel good films that deal with contemporary urban themes.

Now local Kenyan films can hold their own internationally, with the likes of Wanuri Kahiu’s From a Whisper (2009), garnering awards across the globe. As to where the next hundred years will bring, only Kenyan filmmakers can write the future by standing on the building blocks of yesteryears to showcase our stories to the world.

Simiyu Barasa made the documentary, 'A History of Film in Kenya 1909-2009' that won the Kalasha award for Best Documentary, 2010.

Friday, September 23, 2011


It's regrettably been quite a while since my last post here. In my absence Simiyu Barasa contributed one of the most popular articles on this blog yet (I should get him to write here more often) and the Kalasha awards rolled up once again. While I was 'away' I still did manage to make some progress with my goal to watch as many local films as possible and share my thoughts on them with you all. This then is penance for my long absence; a 6-film review compilation of local films both recent and slightly older that I have seen and the first of them is of particular significance:

Judy Kibinge

Those who have followed Kenya's film history will concur with me when I refer to Judy Kibinge's 'Dangerous Affair' as probably one of the most important films in Kenya's film history. Films have been created and consumed in this country since colonial times but 'Dangerous Affair' is widely believed to have broken the mold in more ways than one. Local productions had previously consisted mainly of documentary films utilizing foreign and NGO funding. 'Dangerous Affair' offered a breath of fresh air for many who had been waiting for a fictional feature film with a local cast, story, theme and setting. And that is not all, it also discussed subjects that were considered to a certain level 'taboo' in television and film at the time and featured in leading(and seminal) roles, two female characters who did not conform to what were then societal expectations of women.

Sunday, August 7, 2011



A spoiler cum disclaimer; This article will contain scenes and faces that you already have seen on Kenyan TV. However, any relation, real or imagined, does and does not bear resemblance to them. More importantly, they haven’t paid for name placement. I have desisted from names of people I have directly worked with to avoid accusations of kuwatetea. And oh, its going to be quite a long read.
Nollywood stars in Kenya for 2011 AMAA nominations gala night.
  This has been a year that has made me think deeper about our industry, especially on the commercial viability of it. Several things have converged to make me ruminate on actors. Yes, we love them, but because we so love our Kenyan actors, lets spank them a bit. Do we have bankable actors in Kenya? You say yes? Ok, I mean do we have star Kenyan actors, whom Kenyans would block Mama Ngina street as they rush to 20th Century Fox to watch them? Who’s faces if they appear on DVD covers would create a human traffic jam in Nakumatt, as Kenyans seek to buy these optical discs and watch them? Kenyan actors whose names in the trailers can ring a bell in Dar-es-Salaam to Kinshasa and Lagos? You sure? A Kenyan actor who can make an independent producer take a loan knowing he’ll make his money back, due to the starpower of the actor?
A couple of things have led me to the following conclusions. Early this year, during the AMAA nominations night in Nairobi, dubbed Nairobi Rocks with Stars, I sat on a table watching the forlorn faces of our acting stars  being totally rocked as the whole ballroom turned to bow down to the Nigerian actors entourage. Some Kenyan actors fell over themselves to take mobile phone photos of these stars, and in the newspapers lets just politely say, the stories were full of foo foo served with a sprinkling of nyama choma. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011



Asha Mwilu, Director 'Organs'

Zainab Wandati, Writer/Producer 'Organs'
The 46th edition of what is quickly becoming my favorite monthly event went down at the Goethe Institut this Monday the 30th of May and as I expected, it didn't disappoint; Except perhaps in its attendance(Why don't more people know about this forum?). On exhibition was Asha Mwilu's directorial debut film 'Organs' shot as a student project in USIU in partnership with Zainab Wandati who also wrote and produced the film. Being a forum where the work of young upcoming directors is highlighted, it was Asha who was on the hot seat and the lights dimmed for 30 minutes of this story:

Friday, May 27, 2011


What would happen if every actor knew the ABC’S of acting? The Kenyan Acting scene would evolve to higher levels. All actors would be equipped for both local and international screen castings. You may be asking yourself how this could happen. Come and find out at The Casting Workshop on June 18th 2011.
Acting for Cinema Training School-ACTS- is hosting a second workshop. The Casting workshop will have key facilitator Virginia Clay, who has been acting for 17years in the media of TV, Film and Theatre in the UK and the USA.  Her passion has transformed from a niche to a need in the Kenyan Industry as she sees raw untapped talent daily. She is well versed in the ABC of Acting and will take you through the Casting Workshop, highlighting your strengths and weaknesses. She will be assisted by local stars.
The Workshop: The workshop will be divided into two sections over two days.
Day one: An intense all-day learning session on how to give powerful and effective screen auditions for a fee of KShs 1000 This will include a detailed booklet of invaluable notes sent to you via email.
Day Two: A one-to-one session with our Facilitator.  This is a unique opportunity for you to put your learning into practice. Structured like a professional screen casting, there will be an interview and the chance to read for an actual screen role.  However, the added benefit of this session is that you will receive feedback and coaching on the day.  This personal casting and coaching session is available for a fee of KShs1000. The audition will be filmed and a DVD of your work will also be available for KShs 500
Fees:  The fee structure is flexible to ensure it suits your pocket. You can come to Day One only should you choose, but it is essential that you attend the main workshop if the one-to-one casting session is to be of benefit. Pay KShs 1000 for workshop and KShs 1000 for the casting and top it up with your own DVD at KShs 2,500… or just attend the workshop.  Pick and choose!

And now FilmKenya has a deal for 10 of it's lucky fans. The first 5 actors to comment on this Facebook note and the first 5 to comment on this blogpost expressing a desire to attend will get a waiver of an entire 1500 shillings!! FilmKenya will cover your costs for the essential DAY 1 of the workshop and the very kind and understanding people at ACTS have agreed to waive the DVD fees for the ten actors from FilmKenya. So you'll only pay 1000/= for day two in order to get the DVD, which as you've just been told, will be free for you!! There's a catch by the way, FilmKenya will be shooting a short film soon after and the ten actors/actresses will get a chance(if they're willing) to show what they learned. So how about it?? GET COMMENTING!!

Date: 18th June 2011                    
Time: 8.30a.m-4.30p.m                 
Place: French Cultural Centre
E-mail: **available on request**

Friday, May 6, 2011


When I started this blog last year in December, SHUGA had just been released and exhibited on local television and to be honest, it was awesome! It was the first production that truly proved a point I had been trying to convince a few obstinate friends about for a while; that internationally competitive quality can be achieved with an all-Kenyan cast. I mentioned it HERE.

Well, the kind folks who produced the film posted it up in its entirety(all 3 parts) on VIMEO and even though I had stumbled upon the links a while earlier, it took a post by a recent friend of mine on her blog ( to finally remind me to link you guys up with it!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Premiere of 'Me, My Wife, and Her Guru at Capri 7
A couple of weeks ago, 27th March to be exact, I attended the premiere of JITU Films new comedy, 'Me, My Wife, and Her Guru' at the Capri 7 Garden Bar. It would seem a little belated for me to be writing about an event that occurred that long ago but I have a compelling reason. Had I written about this event back then, I would have merely done a review of the film and that was done by two of the local dailies quite promptly the very next morning. Instead, I was interested in the making of the film and in particular, how fast the project moved from between when word about the project first got out to the time it was ready for exhibition.

Thursday, March 31, 2011



I recently had the pleasure of attending the auditions for a local TV Series, 'Higher Learning' and had the good fortune of landing a role in the series. Shooting begins in the next four days and in light of this, all the cast had to attend a meeting to introduce the new members of the cast to everyone else, and to set the pace for the upcoming shoot. Most of the talk the producers gave us though was dominated by tips and (not so veiled) warnings concerning etiquette on set and during shooting. Apparently, Kenyan behavior knows no boundaries and the list of transgressions we received caution about ranged from the usual "Don't be late" to the more exotic "Don't date other crew/cast members or their boyfriends/girlfriends and cause unnecessary tension on set", imagine that!!

Being a forum that seeks to help those interested in Film and TV careers to start and succeed at what they love(and also because one of our fans requested it), I thought it was about time I put together a list of 6 things to do (or not to do) if you ever land a gig and would like to establish a good reputation as a professional in the TV/Film industry:

Sunday, February 27, 2011


A group of editors in Russia once wanted to test the concept and level of audience participation in the telling and understanding of film narrative. They took a shot of a man seemingly looking at something off set and decided to cut it into two different scenes. The first scene was a jovial party with dancing and laughter and the usual party shenanigans. The shot of the man was inserted into the party scene and this compilation was shown to a random group of viewers. The second scene was a somber funeral and once again the shot of the man was inserted and the final reel shown to a second group of random viewers. Both groups were asked to explain what they saw and here is what the editors found out: That the first group of viewers were mostly convinced that they had seen a man having fun at a party while the second group were absolutely sure they had seen a very sad man attending a funeral. This was despite the fact that the shot of the man was completely unrelated to both of the other scenes and the man had not been reacting to anything at the time the shot was taken.

It is an eye-opening story. Most actors forget just how much of the narrative of film is controlled by the editor and the audience and tend to believe that they(or their acting) control the narrative. The most important thing for an actor to remember according to Neil is that in film, the actor mostly provides raw material for the editor
to tell the story with. It is the editor who creates/forms your performance and not yourself. In Kenya where most TV/Film actors come from the theater, this is a most important thing to remember as it is perhaps the greatest disparity between acting for the stage and for the screen. For example, in theatrical rehearsals, taking a scene again means repeating action to get a certain performance exactly right. In film, taking a scene again means that an actor should try to do the scene differently from what he did the first time so as to give the editor a variety of action with which to form a performance.

Neil on the set of 'SAINTS'
These are just a few of the acting tips that Neil Schell shared with hundreds of aspiring and established actors at an acting and auditioning workshop held at Kenya National Theater on 24th February 2011. Here are other bits and pieces that Neil shared with participants at the workshop(as I understood them):

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Is this the inevitable future??

Its still relatively early into 2011 but as a filmmaker in Kenya, the year already has me rather optimistic. Within the first month and a half of it I have watched Judy Kibinge's 'Dangerous Affair' and 'Killer Necklace', and Nathan Collett's 'Togetherness Supreme'. This in addition to Hawa Essuman's 'Soul Boy' brings to four the number of Kenyan films that I've knocked off my must-watch list in recent times. For the most part, it was screenings at the French and German cultural centers, Goethe and Alliance Francaise, that allowed me to access the films except for 'Soul Boy' which I had the pleasure of watching at its premier open-air screening last year in the Kibera slum where it was shot.

I couldn't help looking back at this with some level of satisfaction seeing as I had waited for quite a while to see these titles. Yet most of my friends did not consider it as much of an achievement as I may have wanted them to. Upon closer inquiry, I discovered that their nonchalance was due to the fact that they had no idea how good these films were. They were indeed aware of the existence of these films but had very little or no interest at all in watching them and their expectations, before our conversations, were extremely low. Used to a staple of pirated copies of the latest foreign films served cheap by vendors, they seem to have come to equate availability with quality. A common question I got was "If these Kenyan films are so good then how come no one has pirated them?" And truthfully, despite wanting to launch a self-important diatribe on copyrights and moral values, I paused to consider the question. Each of the films I had watched was good, with quality in production values and that most important ingredient, the script. If these films were in the vendors' stalls, they would not fail to have buyers, and in large numbers too. Even though this would not result in revenues for filmmakers, it would result in recognition, maybe even popularity. And if the plan for the industry is a long term one as I hope it is, this may not be a bad thing at all. Sort of like taking one for the team. I am truly sorry I have to suggest this but perhaps the four films that I recently enjoyed so much should be compiled onto a 4in1 DVD disc and leaked to the more popular stalls across the city. And no, don't kill me just yet, at least not until you hear my renegade ideas first (especially NO. 3).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Every last Monday of every month from December-15-2005, filmmakers and film enthusiasts gather at Goethe Institut to watch and discuss selected films from the region and beyond. The event is known as the Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum and its 43rd edition had a first time guest yesterday. That’s right, I missed all 42 previous editions not because I didn't want to attend, but because I had no idea the forum existed. Thank God for social media, and my New Year resolution to get out there and find Kenyan films and filmmakers and interact and network more aggressively than I have been doing before.
There is a great divide between the people who make Kenyan films and their audience, if indeed it is Kenyans. The ordinary Kenyan whatever his/her opinion about Kenyan films may be, has absolutely no idea where to get them most of the time and the filmmakers, from what I have largely noticed, are at a loss on how to avail their work to the ordinary Kenyan without giving it away free of charge. Subsequently, events like the Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum are a rare opportunity indeed for anyone who would like to sample Kenyan work and meet the people behind them. I counted about 30 other attendees who evidently had the same idea. 
Zipporah Nyaruri

The edition featured the work of Zipporah Nyaruri, an upcoming film talent from Kenya who is making ripples in regional film festivals with her latest short, ZEBU AND THE PHOTO FISH. 
Working variously as director, writer and editor, Nyaruri, who holds a Bachelor's degree in Business Studies from Uganda Islamic University and a diploma from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication believes that she has learnt more about her craft from being on a real set than she could ever learn from attending formal film school. Though largely based in Uganda, the diminutive filmmaker refers to herself as "a citizen of the world", a clue perhaps to the size of her ambitions. She describes herself as having gone to Uganda looking for adventure, and ended up discovering both work and her passion for film there. After starting her career with NGO funded documentaries, she describes ZEBU AND THE PHOTO FISH as her virgin foray into fiction film and says she does not intend to turn back. Her reason; "the lack of creative liberty that donor agenda impose upon you". If she makes another documentary(one of which she has already begun), she insists it will be on her terms.
(1) MAAMA EMERRE: A documentary short about the Ugandan women food vendors affectionately called 'Maama Emerre' by their customers. The documentary traces a day in the lives of these street vendors, following them in the throngs of Uganda's busy streets as they detail their biggest challenges and hopes. It also takes an alternate perspective from their customers and critics. 
The film portrays the colorful Ugandan street food culture with an honest, curious and critical gaze leaving all opinions and conclusions untouched. Noticeably though, several things are unable to be conveyed visually.  In particular, one wishes to see the vendors cooking, especially as the hygiene of their cooking places is repeatedly decried. Nyaruri explains that despite her friendly overtures, there were some places that she simply could not get permission to film. She attributes it to a unique aversion to cameras among Ugandans. Still, it is enjoyable and informative without having any overt agenda as most documentaries do. At the end of it, it sort of leaves one hungry, and with a desire (if ever in Uganda) to sample a dish from 'Mama Emerre'.
(2) ZEBU AND THE PHOTO FISH: Undoubtedly the main event of the day. The story follows a fisherman's son whose indebted father gives away his entire catch every day to his debtor. This is despite the fact that the value of the fish far surpasses the debt he owes and the boy's mother is ailing and needs medicine and food. The boy concocts an ingenious plan to sell the fish in partnership with a shrewd salon lady and with his profits, not only pays off his father's debt, but also buys medicine for his mother all with some fish to spare; for their own dinner for once!
Its easy to see why the accolades are flowing for this film, it is enjoyable and fun and its protagonist Zebu, is not only likable but also manages to overcome his obstacles in an ingenious way that is both educative and entertaining. And when Nyaruri explains the second layer of meaning in the film, Zebu becomes even more charming as a symbol of resistance against circumstance and opression. You see, the film is an allusion to the oppressive economic and cultural situation that fisher-people along the coasts of East Africa's lakes and oceans find themselves in. Pulling out of the water each day fish whose worth is more than enough to change their lives for the better and yet languishing in eternal poverty as a result of powerful economic forces and the machinations of unscrupulous middlemen.
A young fisherman learns the trade on a Mombasa beach.
Most interesting though was her use of a jump-cut to emphasize emotion and resolve during a scene involving Zebu and his father's debtor. It ignited quite some debate among the audience, some lauding the unorthodox stylistic device and others seeming unwilling to accept it as a way of enhancing the narrative experience of the film.
The film that most recently won three awards (Best Director, Best Script, Best Supporting Actor) at Auteur Experimental Short Film Festival in Cape Town, definitely delivers its message along with some magic. An engaging film to watch and an interesting subject to tackle. My only lament, it could have done better with more than just one reference to its deeper meaning. Only once do the characters refer to the challenges that face fisher-people as a whole and it is only mentioned in passing. It may be difficult for a person without prior knowledge of the underlying theme to get that particular meaning out of the film, though they are bound to enjoy the story anyway. Perhaps that would have required a longer treatment than the current length of the film. Nonetheless, it is a film that will doubtless bring a smile to all who watch it, regardless of age.
(3) TRUCK MAMA: This was not a film but rather a trailer for an upcoming documentary that the filmmaker is currently developing that tells the true story of a female long distance truck driver plying the Kampala-Mombasa route. If Nyaruri's documentary style in "Maama Emerre" is anything to go by, audiences can expect an intriguing account of a life that according to the trailer, defies all expectations. And she swears its does not have a feminist agenda. I believe her, mostly.
Other films screened at the forum were "Bon Voyage" from West africa and Judy Kibinge's poignant 12 minute lesson on Kenyan political history "Coming of Age" narrated through the gaze of a childishly innocent persona.
The forum came to a close with a simulating discussion concerning the future of film in the country and in particular, the place of marketing and distribution in an industry invaded by Nigerian film and ravaged by piracy. "Where is the Kenyan story", one woman asked. I thought she asked the wrong question, the right question in my opinion is, "Where is the Kenyan audience?" If we only knew who we were telling these stories to, we would know how best to tell them. The lack of a unified guiding Kenyan aesthetic, in film or any other art, makes it easier for foreign work to offer an alternative that stands separate from our internal cultural divisions and thus offers much wider appeal. Perhaps the unconscious knowledge of this fact explains the equal measures of disdain and respect (both obvious at the forum) that we accord film productions from our superstitious cousins in West Africa. 
Food for thought... until next time.