Our artists should be deliberately supported to grow in their business
Build on Kenya's film industry potential in 2020

CULTURE AND ART

Build on Kenya's film industry potential in 2020

There should be a conscious national plan to have cultural activities in every county on Utamaduni Day and a national one in Nairobi.

In Summary

• Our own "Lakewood" or "Lolwewood" could easily shine in the global order of "woods".

• However, do those in positions to change things listen? Of course they don't.

Traditional dancers perform at Nyayo Stadium during the 50th Madaraka Day celebrations
CULTURE: Traditional dancers perform at Nyayo Stadium during the 50th Madaraka Day celebrations
Image: FILE

Many a writer in our daily newspapers have written on the tremendous potential Kenya has to develop a vibrant film industry that could make all other "woods" out of the US look like guinea pigs.

Our own "Lakewood" or "Lolwewood" could easily shine in the global order of "woods". However, do those in positions to change things listen? Of course they don't. For were they to listen and believe what they are hearing, they would have done something  by now to change the sorry state of our cultural and artistic industry.

I am talking of people such as Ezekiel Mutua of the infamous Kenya Film Corporation, otherwise called the Film Licensing Board of Kenya.

 

This Board, or corporation for that matter, is renown to be run by men and women who are "control freaks". They must  control the possibilities of the film industry growing here because they see their primary duty as charging an arm and a leg for giving artists licenses to make movies or import budgets for making movies.

A mere feeling that the industry has a chance of growing in Kenya offends them. Before anybody dreams of making a film here, they must know ahead of time that things are expensive. Making a movie in Kenya is not a walk in the park

The justification for charging all kinds of fees to import equipment, choose a location for filming, calculate the number of days spent filming, etc is that this raises revenue for Kenya's Exchequer. But when you compare what this so-called revenue amounts to and what Kenya would gain were the films to be shot here, you will notice the fallacy in the revenue craze.

The few films that have been shot here such as The Constant Gardener and Out of Africa have earned much more "invisible revenues" to this economy than is dreamt of in the economic alchemy of our gurus at the Film Corporation. 

Just imagine the trigger such movies have on the flow of tourists, the visits of the potential filmmakers that follow the success of the pioneers, the free publicity and PR that actors and their films do for Kenya. 

But I am not surprised by the blunders we keep on making. We should be selling to the outside world our beautiful sceneries endowed to us by nature like Mt Kenya, the Rift Valley Escarpment, the rolling tea estate in Kericho and Nandi, the beautiful sunset on Lake Victoria as one sails past the legendary islands of Rusinga and Mfangano, the sun dunes in the northern frontier counties, the historical ruins of Gedi at the Coast, not to mention the archaeological sights where the first man was discovered. 

It is one of the wonders of the world that Kenya has continued to be home to renown artists when internally artists and film stars are not utilised by the nation for what they are worth. Elsewhere their potential is capitalised upon not simply by the film industry itself but also by the media, the advertising industry, the public relations industry, the world of culture and education and even global politics.

 

Sometimes the processes are not overt but implicit in the spoken word that makes even more capital on the artists' power to communicate ideas, and even cultural biases. We need to counter such biases by our own homegrown cultural and artistic industry. It is a struggle for global hegemony but Kenya is missing in action notwithstanding our great potential. For how long shall we continue to be underachievers?

Let me venture to propose a scenario.

To begin with, we have made a good move to declare December 26 the "Utamaduni" Day. So then, what follows?

There should be a conscious national plan to have cultural activities in every county on that day, and a national one in Nairobi. I do not mean an inchoate amalgam of dances which can be seen anywhere at any time but what could qualify as "the cultural performance of the year" in terms of artistic flavour, reflection on a people's culture and the message passed implicitly or explicitly. I leave the details to the experts.

Our artists should be deliberately supported to grow in their business in terms of the abolition of unnecessary licenses, incentives to build cultural institutions like theatres, and respect and protection of intellectual property rights.

Let us remember that soon after independence we had a policy of Import Substitution Industrialisation to protect and help grow our fledgling domestic industries. ISI played its part and quit the scene in the nineteen nineties.

Our artists have never had such an incubation period deliberately nurtured by the state.  Hence we are here: With a struggling art and culture industry whose value is hardly recognised by the state "indeed"; the words in praise of art and culture are legion, and nobody believes them anymore.

At the Kusi Ideas Festival in Rwanda, I learnt something very important. That the Rwandese have succeeded to lift themselves from ashes in such a short time by giving culture a very real role in national development.

We committed a sin in Kenya by the omission of culture as a core value in our national development from the very beginning. This was when we relegated our "national languages" to the periphery of development discourse right from the word go.

I have even forgotten some of the very interesting stories we used to relate to one another as we seduced sleep into our eyes every evening in our village. Will the recognition of December 26 as Utamaduni Day make these stories to form some of the content of our homegrown movies? The pumpkin, as Okot p'Bitek once said in "Song of Lawino", should never be uprooted from the homestead.

 

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