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It was a Wednesday morning at Kenyatta University Interaction main hall. A day scheduled to discuss the progress-so-far of the much anticipated new “Kenyatta University School of Creative Arts, Film and Media Studies”.  Hosted by the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology, it was a “Communication, Film and Media Stakeholders workshop on the proposed curriculum”. Moderators and participants were drawn from Theatre, Film, Animation, Communication and Culture; among them Mr. Linus Gitahi, CEO NMG, Mrs, Liz Chingoti, CEO Kenya Film Commission, Mr. George Mungai from Phoenix Theatre and Mr. King Muiruri from Buni Media among others. It was an exciting morning full of academic and industry insights with presentations from the pioneer Kenyan woman film maker Mrs. Anne Mungai, Dr. Zipporah Okoth, Mr. Jim Kinyanjui and Mr. Roy Wafula.

From the convener’s opening remarks, Prof. Thairu acknowledged the robust sector that is the Creative Arts and its potentials despite the numerous challenges that it faces. He made reference to an article in Daily Nation’s Smart Company that marked Kenya’s creative industry as fast rising. He pointed out the need to have a curriculum that will train film makers and entrepreneurs for a future self sustainable creative industry. What followed was a presentation by Dr. John Mugubi, Chairman, Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology where he reiterated the importance of research and innovation in theatre and film to boost the sector’s potential. He further asserted on the need to massively invest in modern facilities and equipment as well as expertise if students are to be trained for the market. The event was finally graced by the Chief Guest Prof. Olive Mugenda who insisted on her commitment to finance the school and partner with like-minded corporates and individuals to bring the new school to fruition. To this end, the conversation made a lot of sense.

However, mediocrity took centre stage when the convener asked for opinions from those in attendance (majority students and a handful of self proclaimed “industry professionals”). Whereas there were many valid opinions and suggestions from those in attendance, particularly from Mr. Bwire of The Bomas of Kenya, it was the apparent lack of decorum, sensibility and outright self-praise from the so called “industry professionals” that worked up my calm nerves. As it is common place, a good number of them posited that the department has neither trained nor produced graduates who are ready for the market.

There was a comment from a specific Riverwood producer/director/actor/editor and all the crew combined Mr. John Karanja that tickled me. Paraphrased, his comment was to the effect that he cannot hire graduates who cannot do the work; that he needed ready-to-work individuals. It was this level of thinking that made me understand why Riverwood has never taken off despite the billions that he claimed the downtown film market earns in sales and profits.

You see, serious blue-chip companies have what we call Graduate Management Trainee programmes whose purpose among others is to train graduates who join them on company policy, industry practices, ethics and professionalism among other important things for the host company. It is after this training that the graduates get introduced to the realities of the industry. This simply means that if companies that matter can invest in training graduates, why then should Riverwood “professionals” feel so important not to hire graduates who have to be trained on company practices? I am certain that if in a span of three months we were to evaluate student film projects in all the institutions that offer film and media studies as a course vis-à-vis those done by Riverwood “professionals” I can be certain that the only thing that the latter will emerge successful is the level of poorness and unprofessionalism in their skits called “films”.

The self proclaimed “industry bigwig” insisted on how much technology has changed and the way Riverwood has moved with it. In light of the films that I have watched from this “industry”, it begs the question: is it the technology that matters or the person behind that camera? I have seen productions shot using an 8MP phone camera that are of a higher quality than one shot using the latest camera technology. It is not the size of the dog that matters but the fight in it.

When “industry professionals” claim that they have been in the “industry” for over 20 years; isn’t rather disappointing that the fruit of their years of labour is the level of amateurism and copy & paste that we see in our Kenyan programmes on TV? What of forced humour, exaggerated face painting and flour in the name of make-up, overused accents and unrehearsed sequences? Is it not incongruous to claim that you have made big industry names like Lupita Nyong’o when it is public knowledge that it is Yale University that made her the star that she is? How about claiming that you cannot be allowed to teach “what you have mastered over the years of industry practice” because you don’t have the requisite papers to teach in the university? Should a university water down on its policies on hiring academic staff to accommodate your laziness?  What if you were bold enough to face your fears and admit the fact that you do not treat graduates with the professionalism that they deserve because you’re afraid that they have both theory and practice? Given time they will do far much better than you? Let us be alive to the fact that in as much as universities don’t always train ready-made graduates, the onus is on the student to ensure that he learns as much as he can for his own future. After all, a teacher is required to guide and not practice on behalf of the student. Those students who were keen enough to listen and outgoing enough to nurture their talents have achieved so much.

Film and theatre are universal languages that require academic clout and discipline to succeed in them. The two, are art forms based on theory that shape the practice. It is no wonder that Hollywood practitioners who have made it big like Lupita Nyong’o, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Denzel Washington, Quentin Tarantino, Danny Boyle and Martin Scorsese among many other elite crops are well educated theatre and/or film graduates. For film in Kenya to grow, emphasis must be put on training both cast and crew (not necessarily using the most expensive equipment but getting the right personnel and content). Institutions ought not to underestimate the importance of training all rounded graduates.

Finally, this is to all “industry professionals” who feel that the universities are not churning out “ready-to-work” graduates; please feel proud and free to enroll for advanced learning so that you can first of all improve the quality of your productions and for those of you with degrees, to enable you get the right qualification to train the future crop of “ready-to-work” graduates. I will however learn a great deal about distribution and marketing from you. Until then, you are a positive distraction providing lazy excuses as to why you cannot shape the future of the theatre and film professions. Mark the word “Professions”. Please spare me your laziness. 

Catch Riverwood movies in their new youtube channel- Riverwood TV

By 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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