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.


  1. There are things here that I knew nothing about. Nice and informative post.

  2. Hakim Poetry Company Inc.,our C.E.O., have a book due to be release next month and is looking for to filming one of the essays from the book title " Poet's, Artist's, and Writer's to Another ". Written by Karim Abdual Hakim. The book is three in the one Poetry, Essays, and Photo-images. We are working and looking forwards to the screen play as we writer this comment. Hit us on Hakim Poetry Company Inc./facebook love you all.

  3. your blog is very informative.......

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