Gerald Langiri
March 26 / 2013

The election mood was at fever pitch when a unique team of straight thinking Kenyans decided to cool our heels with an amazing opportunity for brilliant minds to engage in a discussion that in my opinion was to chart the way forward in the Kenyan film industry. In every aspect of the word SUCCESS, the event fit its bill, save for the utterances and the debate that went on inside The Michael Joseph Centre. It was the Spanner Breakfast courtesy of the Creative’s Garage.Read the review of the event here.

As I entered the already parked room, I felt like the devil’s incarnate: I was finally meeting the team behind “Nairobi Half Life” to discuss my “harsh” critique of the movie. Never mind that every other reviewer had given the film a very flowery review.  When I sat down and attentively listened to the discussion, one issue caught my attention; not only is film in Kenya an untapped market but it lacks professionals who will take it to a higher pedestal. It is rather obvious that film makers in Kenya assume so much when making films while many lack proper academic muscle and training to understand the art of film making.

At some point, I almost sank into my seat when a whole director mentioned that he had no idea what his target audience was when he was making a film.  Needless for me to say that a film director, producer or script writer who does not understand the most basic thing as a audience is by all means ignorant and part and parcel of the mediocrity witnessed in the Kenyan film content.

World renown producers, directors, script writers and actors like Stephen Spielberg, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Siddhanth Kapoor and Imran Khan (Bollywood), Stephanie Okereke and Rita Dominic (Nollywood) and Lupita Nyong’o and David Mulwa (Kenya), to mention but a few, are all graduates of either Theatre Arts or Film or a combination with a bias in their area of profession. This is the one thing that has for a long time put them above the rest of the talent oriented clique (who form a majority of the Kenyan film industry players).

Based on the responses to my critic of Nairobi Half Life, I find it very disheartening that a good number of Kenyan film makers and audiences alike are so naïve to an extent that they think movies are meant for entertainment and nothing more. It is quite apparent that many Kenyan viewers do not understand the impact (both positive and negative) that every film has in a society. Danny Boyle (director “Slum Dog Millionaire”), asserts that film directing and priesthood are basically the same jobs that involve telling people what to think. This insinuates that every single movie is aimed at either shaping an opinion or drawing our attention towards certain societal issues. In 2010, “The Tablet” named Boyle as one of the most influential British Roman Catholics, thanks to his thought provoking films.

Make no mistake, film makers are learned professionals who understand the language of film and its amazing power to address and critique important aspects of life. Those who believe that film is meant for entertainment ought to know that film makers are not acrobats or face painters whose primary role is to entertain the public. Film making, just like Medicine, Teaching, Engineering inter alia is a very noble profession with specializations in Cinematography, Directing, Script Writing, Production and Set Design, Film Criticism and Film Production among others.

I have heard the story of many “film makers” who developed their passion for film from being on a film set as either part of cast or crew and later on started directing films. I have no apology to state that working on a film set does not qualify you to be a film professional, just the same way being a cleaner in a hospital does not make one a doctor. Learning on the job is ONLY practical once you have a theoretical understanding of the art. Kenyan film makers ought to learn that it takes film education and relevant practical experience to become a professional film maker.

As I pen off, my humble submission is that combining talent and education is an excellent recipe for leaving an impact in the society. Let people interested in film making go to class (formal classrooms with well equipped studios) and learn both theory and practical film making. Film makers and actors who are serious about what they do are fully aware of the benefits of having an education in film production and acting. Having a deeper understanding of the art will make you stand out above the rest as well as give one a chance to convincingly pull different roles assigned to them. We risk sinking our film sector/industry in the deep end of mediocrity; populated by uninformed directors and crew/actors who ooze with incurable amateurism. At the end of the day, “learning on the job” breeds unprofessionalism which is the surest ingredient for the eventual death of the now robust film sector.

 “Film making, just like medicine, teaching, engineering inter alia is a very noble profession”

By Film Critc Steven Anderson Wekesa

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology in Kenyatta University with a passion for Cinematography and Theatre & Film Criticism.

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