Despite rebate, Kenyan biz still struggles

To compensate country maintains 'hands-off' attitude

The Kenya Film Commission has tabled an ambitious slate of incentives for foreign film crews, with a proposed 25% rebate for pics that can claim at least half of their principal shooting in the country. But with the proposals failing to gain traction in a government bogged down by other fiscal priorities, the financial climate hasn’t improved for filmmakers this year.

What the government lacks in coin, though, it makes up for with a hands-off attitude. “It’s one of the easiest countries to shoot in,” says Mario Zvan, executive producer of Blue Sky Films, East Africa’s largest production services company. “If we need a permit to shoot something tomorrow, I can get that today.”

As the continent’s biggest production center outside of South Africa, Kenya is fully equipped and has the trained labor to handle large-scale productions, including Justin Chadwick’s “First Grader,” which will lense in November, and Bart Freundlich’s romantic comedy “The Rebound,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. Despite a slow year, due in part to the economic downturn, Zvan cites 10 foreign features in various stages of development in the country.

For foreign productions, Kenya boasts quintessentially African backdrops: endless savannah, vast skies and some of the continent’s most photographed tribes. While South Africa offers a filming experience akin to Europe on the cheap, “it doesn’t have those iconic African locations,” Zvan says. “Those are the areas that Kenya can do very well.”

Bonus: Infrastructure remains the largest hurdle for film crews in Africa, but with one of the continent’s most developed tourism industries in its backyard, Kenya is equipped to handle accommodations and logistics for large crews.

Hot spot: Location, location, location. Kenya’s landscapes are a magnet for foreign productions looking for iconic African backdrops. Blue Sky Films services locations throughout the region, including Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia. East Africa’s largest production services company, it boasts a proven track record including Fernando Meirelles’ “The Constant Gardener” (2005) and John Irvin’s “The Garden of Eden” (2008).

Key contact: Zvan at Blue Sky, which is pretty much the first place foreign production companies turn to — even before the Kenya Film Commission.

Kenya Film Commission: kenyafilmcommission.com

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