By Muli wa Kyendo

It puzzles me how fast things change. As a beginning reporter, I was a passionate campaigner for a local film industry – so passionate that I was asked by a government minister to show him how the film industry could be established. Sitting with him in his office, I explained to him what I knew and he too, became a passionate supporter for the industry. And we both now made a team, campaigning for a film industry.

Let me record here that we succeeded. And we had a feature film made. But let me also confess that we failed to kick-start the industry.

The reasons for our failure were many: lack of funds despite government involvement, lack of equipment and lack of trained personnel. But the most important reason why we failed was because of a powerful film importing cartel whose impact we had not calculated. I had never even remotely thought that Kenya was such an important importer of Hollywood films that the American film industry would get concerned.

Costs of Making a Film

And that was so until today. Interrupted by the “disappearance” of electricity – a perpetual problem in our locality, I decided to look through some old books only to find the film importation statistics and comments as to why Kenyan could not make its own feature films.

Allow me to quote the costing verbatim:

“We (Kenyans) import 320 films at a cost of $1, 000,000 each. The cost will be (sic) pounds116, 800.000. Kenya budget is pounds 856,000,000. (So cost of the films we import will be) 13% (of the budget).”

If we made the films, the calculations showed, the figures would read as follows:

  • 320 films annually as $5,000,000
  • Total cost pounds 584,000,000 (and that would be 68.2% of the Kenya budget).

According to the report, the highest grosser earned a produce approximately Ksh 700,000.

And the reported ended with a recommendation:

“The most appropriate thing Kenya can do is what in the trade is referred to as servicing country. This means that we should encourage more and more overseas film makers to come and do their films here.”

Riverwood Films

Reading this I decided to look up to see how the Kenyan film industry is doing now. And this is what I got: “Riverwood is a bustling creative and business hub in Nairobi. Riverwood operates at a furious pace, with 20 to 30 films made every week. It adds up to 1,000 films a year selling 500,000 copies at 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.60) a piece: 1 billion shillings (US $13 million) in the past two years.”

I could end by letting you know that my campaigns ended with my employer, the Nation Newspapers, stopping me from writing my very influential cinema review column.