- March 24, 2021
Filmmaking is one of the most stressful jobs in Kenya today. Creatives have to deal with the compounded mess of little investment, too much legislation, and insufficient infrastructures. At some point, all three issues have become tangled into one ugly mess that scorches dreams in seconds.
Back in 2018, I had the crazy idea to move to Nairobi to chase my dream of writing for the screen. I was living in Nakuru at the time, so I had to sell my stuff to complete the move.
For the next two months or so, I moved from one Nairobi suburb to another, tracking down all the studios I could find. But I was greeted by a wall of; “we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts” everywhere I went. In others, I couldn’t even make it past the front gate.
I was pissed off. You mean, like, zero? No contact whatsoever? Not even a conversation? Just how closed up could this industry be? How counterproductive to not have the systems for talent uptake?
Now I know better. I have come to realize that in Kenya, film is a game only a select few can play. Because, you see, Kenya lacks much of the infrastructure that supports a thriving movie industry. We lack infrastructure because we lack investments and we lack investments because we lack the creative freedom to make really good movies.
This lack of creative freedom comes from too many restrictions by Chapter 222. Ezekiel Mutua and the KFCB will blatantly refute this, of course, but their operational model – the law on which the KFCB was formed – is deeply antagonistic towards creativity.
An archaic colonial law, Cap 222 was initially meant to regulate filmmaking in colonial Kenya towards independence. You know, when opposition was fever-high and freedom fighters were looking for any means possible to galvanize the populace into action.
When you read Cap 222 from this perspective, this distrust makes perfect sense. If you are anything like me, it also sets your teeth on edge.
Jaded: new talent
Soon after my disastrous experience, I went away thinking that maybe I’d done something wrong – hadn’t done enough, somehow. But now I know of way too many wannabe filmmakers with similar experiences; the industry is just too closed up for new talent.
And this is not limited to writing talent either. New actors have trouble breaking into the industry as well.
Curtailed: overall creativity
It has never been a walk in the park for those inside the film industry either. From pay disputes between studios and creatives to systemic exploitation by foreign filmmakers, Kenyan filmmakers have always been a miserable lot.
It really is no wonder that the Lupita Nyong’os and Wanuri Kahiu’s are finding greener pastures in Hollywood. That our best actors seemingly work in Kenya with one eye on L.A. talent agencies.
The holy trinity of filmmaking
Movies make for such great entertainment because they pass through three solid steps of creative input.
You start with a really good story and get a good script made. This serves as the foundation of your movie.
The director then comes in with their director’s vision and transforms the script into a visual story. The most important creative in the process, a director has the impossible task of working with actors, cinematographers, sound engineers, and all the other talent in a movie project to bring the story to life.
Finally, we have the editor, who is an artist in their own right. The editor puts the final story together, working closely with the director to do this. Editing is the platform of last resort to make creative changes to your story. Quite a few movies have been saved from a bomb run in the market at the editing stage.
Now let’s see exactly how Cap 222 has been carefully constructed to interfere in all three creative processes above.
The scriptwriting stage
Section 5 of Cap 222 states that no movie may be shot in Kenya without a shooting script approved by KFCB. It’s what gets you a filming license. Shooting without one will have you cooling your heels in jail – Eric Omondi calls it kukujiwa in very descriptive language.
Sections 8 and 9 further complicate the process of editing a script after acquiring a filming license. It may only be done with approval from KFCB.
The film shooting stage
Section 9 gives the KFCB boss the right to have a policeman present during a movie shoot. But not just that, it gives said officer of the law the right to stop the film reel running if he doesn’t like what you are doing. Pray to God he/she is not a stuck-up ramrod.
Section 8 further makes it a crime to shoot outside of the script. Get all your inspiration BEFORE starting to make your movie. What the heck is the matter with you? But if you change anything, better come for a fresh new license… and it’s gonna cost you!
The editing stage
Section 7 takes care of any smart ideas you might get to improve your movie in post-production. In those few lines, Cap 222 makes it clear that editing your movie without altering the script first and getting approval for the same is an offence punishable by law.
So there you have it; the three horsemen of the apocalypse that Ezekiel Mutua rides as the “Moral Police” of the Kenya film industry. Good luck trying to make a movie with all that creative policing. Better yet, good luck trying to attract investment to make your movie.
Even seasoned producers struggle here. Njoki Muhoho, a seasoned producer, gives us an idea just how low film is ranked as an investment avenue in Kenya. The matatu industry is considered a safer bet than filmmaking in Kenya. The MATATU industry!
How can we turn it around?
No doubt it is a rotten situation, but is there a solution?
I have seen petitions calling for the repealing of Cap 222 AND the disbandment of the KFCB. That was back in 2018. The petition did not get anywhere. It had accumulated slightly above 5600 signatures by the time I am writing this.
You check it out and you will realize that for all his atrocities against film creatives, the KFCB and Ezekiel Mutua are quite popular among Kenyans! Ezekiel Mutua also enjoys sufficient goodwill to ensure that he will stick around for a long time.
As for KFCB, I don’t see it being repelled any time soon. Every government in the world regulates film distribution. But this is the catch – all they regulate is circulation and consumption.
Movies with adult content – and rated as such – generally perform poorly in the market compared to general entertainment content. It is in the best interest of filmmakers to make clean content.
It makes financial sense.
On the other hand, overt attempts to control what people can and cannot say or do will ALWAYS result in rebellion. When you bring this tyranny in a space that is supposed to be the exact opposite, you don’t just break an industry. You break hearts.
And you get creatives either; fleeing for better opportunities elsewhere, making movies simply to get a raise out of you, or giving up on lifelong dreams.
Seriously, KFCB should focus on the rating of produced content and give filmmakers the creative freedom they need to do a good job. That starts with repealing Cap 222.