Yet again Kenya has missed out on another opportunity to showcase not only its talent but also it’s beautiful landscape. This time around it is not just not another one of those ’Out of Africa’ genre but the story of the Westgate terror attack. The Westgate movie is going to be shot in South Africa. Yes, you heard right. South Africa. The film will star Oscar award winning actress Hillary Swank. You may remember her from the film Million Dollar Baby.
As if that is not enough another movie based on the life of Richard Leakey, Africa will also be shot in South Africa. The movie will star Brad Pitt and will be produced and directed by his wife Angelina Jolie. This is despite assurances by Culture and Sports CS Hassan Wario that it would be done in Kenya. This led to Kenyans online wondering whether the CS was doing enough to ensure that the movies are shot here.
— Stephen Musyoka (@smusyoka) February 2, 2016
However, Richard Leakey via a press statement has since clarified that negotiations are still ongoing and stated that it is Kenya where his life has been and where the movie has to be made.
— Nation FM (@NationFMKe) February 4, 2016
Kenya also lost the opportunity to have a film on the life of slain photojournalist Dan Eldon. Dan Eldon, a Kenyan was stoned to death at the age of 22 together with three other international journalists covering the height of civil turmoil in Somalia 23 years ago. The story was shot in South Africa even after his own mother tried to get the film shot here. The reason, South Africa simply gave them a much better deal than what Kenya was offering.
The movie the ‘First Grader’ based on the life of Kimani Maruge was thankfully shot in Kenya. However this was not without its own fair share of difficulties. The director of the film, Richard Harding stated that he lost a lot of money while shooting the film on Kenyan soil. He also claims that he was paid nothing and that the crew sacrificed a lot just to be true to the story. According to him, Kenya is a beautiful country with a lovely pool of talent. Unfortunately, it is the only country without incentives or rebates to attract filmmakers. That is why many movies about Kenya are made in South Africa.
It seems that the government is hardly concerned about the potential revenue stream that a vibrant film industry has to offer. In Nigeria their Bureau of Statistics estimates the industry’s share of Nigeria’s GDP at 1.4 percent, It is also the country’s second biggest employer after agriculture. Whereas in South Africa’s case the film industry contributes about $305 million to the country’s GDP according to the country’s National Film and Video Foundation. So rather than taxing everything in their radar, the government should change tack and invest in this industry which will in the end increase their tax base.
There is also a lack of support for the industry from other quarters and this is evident especially when it comes to raising money for a film. Financial institutions are not willing to give out loans to filmmakers while investors who have the money would rather invest in real estate or the stock exchange. A bid by the government to start a fund for filmmakers through the Youth Enterprise Development Fund back in 2013 seems to have been a non-starter given the fact that i am yet to see or hear of any beneficiaries.
Importing equipment is such an expensive venture that by the end of the day as a filmmakers you are forced to either choose between the equipment or the crew. Multiple licenses that one has to acquire through a long, tedious and corruption ridden process is also part of the reason foreign filmmakers decide that Kenya is just not worth the trouble.
In South Africa’s case the government is constantly improving tax laws and credits to encourage work-flow into the country. It also has policies to support the film industry which include a 30% reduction in qualified film expenses for foreign productions, part funding for the film at the rate of 30%, free hosting for location scouting film crew from Hollywood and other respected filmmakers of the World among other incentives. The Kenyan government on the other hand was to enact new incentives with the announcement of a Finance Bill by the treasury CS last year. If enacted it would have provided up to a 32 per cent rebate to filmmakers. VAT(Value Added Tax) in respect of goods and services purchased for use in the film making was also to be exempt and there was a fund to be set up for rebating of expenses by producers in this industry. However this being Kenya no one has deemed it important to come up with the modalities of implementation of the rebates in both cases.
The problem is much deeper than just us losing money. Cultural misappropriation is very common. How many times have you watched a film that was based on Kenya and wondered about the accents or even the setting of the location? Just because someone has dark skin does not mean that all Africans are the same. We all have our own unique traits and when we allow our stories to be told by other people then that is robbery of the highest order.
The Kenya Film Commission and the Ministry of Culture Sports and Arts need to get their act together. They also need to realise the damage that is being done by us losing the bidding wars for our locations and allowing our stories to be told by foreigners. The number of jobs lost by these missed opportunities is what ails our industry. Perhaps the Kenya Film Classification Board would have more meaningful work if the films were shot here and then they would then have a chance to regulate these films as opposed to battling Netflix.