Kenya has long been a popular destination for filmmakers because of her abundant wildlife, spectacular landscapes and traditional cultures that make it the perfect cinematic setting for a range of productions. Kenya has hosted over 100 international films such as Out of Africa, King Solomon's Mines, Born Free, Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, Mugambo, The Wilby Conspiracy, Master of the Game, The Colour Purple (second unit), Kitchen Toto, Cry Freedom (second unit), White Mischief, The Life of Hemmingway, Besieged, Forbidden Territory, Constant Gardener, White Maasai, Congo (second unit), I Dreamed of Africa (second unit) and To Walk With Lions.
Acting for television has proved popular with the Kenyan audience. This genre of drama has been around from the 1960s when actors like Mzee Pembe and Mama Njeri graced the Kenyan television screen. Others, like Benson Wanjau and Mary Khabeele, followed later with their rib-cracking comedies presented exclusively in Kiswahili.
Serious television drama was witnessed for the first time in the early 1990s with the entry of actors like Packson Ngugi and BMJ Muriithi. A new genre in the form of stand-up comedy followed with the entry of the group, 'Redikyulas', comprised of a trio of young Kenyans who specialised in political satire. They poked fun not only at the establishment but also at the then Kenyan President, Daniel Arap Moi. Today Churchill (AKA Ndambuki) and his antics is just irresistable.
This was hitherto unheard of and could have led to their prosecution, or even detention without trial, had it been done in the 1980s when mimicking the head of state or exhibiting any form of political dissent was considered treasonable. Recently, the Kenya Film Commission (KFC) was established by the Kenyan government in 2005 with the aim of promoting the Kenyan film industry locally as well as internationally.
For the international community looking to film in Kenya the Commission offers detailed information on locations; offer liaison services on behalf of the government; advise on recce’s, film licensing and immigration; as well as facilitate the filming process for film makers. The Kenya Film Commission falls under the Ministry of Information and Communication.
The commission supports the Kenyan film industry by providing facilities for screenings and filming. As well as organising various workshops that will be a source of education on production for local film-makers. The Commission is also establishing a database that will list film-makers, agents, local talent, stakeholders and service providers of the Kenyan film industry.
Since its inception, the KFC, with support from the Kenya Tourism Board, has been an active intermediary between foreign producers and relevant government ministries, negotiating reductions and waivers in licensing and location fees. Through this initiative, Several movies have been shot on location in Kenya. These include The Constant Gardener and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life.
The proliferacy of Kenyan creativity is growing. Currently the film industry in Kenya is generating over Kshs 3 billion annually (although it has the potential to generate Kshs 40 billion hence creating over 250,000 jobs annually). This is still a tiny fraction of what big budget foreign movies bring into the country when they are filmed here but nevertheless a good start to an otherwise promising industry.
The industry is finally benefiting from cheaper equipment and new distribution ideas. Kenyan filmmakers are also gradually finding money other than from aid agencies. But the same technology that makes it cheaper to shoot movies leaves producers open to piracy. Despite some shaky camerawork, fuzzy soundtracks and lack of special effects, the appeal of Kenyan movies is simple and appeals to the day-to-day lifestyles of equally simple people.