You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kenyan helmer see opportunity in sci-fi

Kahiu says genre provides window on society

JOHANNESBURG — Two years after her first feature film was released to critical acclaim, Kenyan helmer Wanuri Kahiu is poised to make a splash on the international scene — and she’s hoping the notoriety lets her challenge some of the lingering stereotypes about her homeland.

“I think it’s time to imagine a different type of Africa,” she says.

With two features in the pipeline and a TV pilot for Turner Broadcasting recently wrapped, the 30-year-old has come a long way since she left Kenya as a teen to study management science in the U.K., then moved to the U.S. and enrolled in a filmmaking course at UCLA.

After working on “The Italian Job” and other Hollywood productions, she returned to Kenya in 2006 and realized she’d found her life’s calling. Her feature debut, “From a Whisper,” which focused on the aftermath of the American Embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998, won a slew of awards, including best picture and director at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2009.

Kahiu went on to become part of the inaugural class of filmmakers chosen for Focus Features’ Africa First program, which helps five young African helmers produce short films each year.

Her short, “Pumzi,” envisioned a dystopic futuristic world whose inhabitants fight for water and pay for air. After screening at Sundance and Berlin, it established Kahiu as a promising director willing to push boundaries.

The exposure “Pumzi” gave her opened up opportunities. Last month, Kahiu wrapped the Turner-commissioned pilot for “Sauti,” a drama series about a Kenyan news magazine in Nairobi. The skein would be a promising step for Kahiu: The helmer realizes Turner would allow “Sauti” to have a more pan-African reach than local broadcasters, and would offer her more creative freedom.

Most Kenyan nets, she says, lack the coin to produce the ambitious series she envisions. Many are reluctant, too, to get behind a skein that tackles politically charged stories.

And Kahiu is moving ahead with other projects.

A plan to adapt a Kenyan novel for the screen is in development with South African producer Steven Markovitz — part of an initiative by Markovitz and Congolese helmer Djo Munga, dubbed ImagiNations, to produce six films based on contemporary African novels.

Kahiu is also planning to continue her pursuit of sci-fi themes with an adaptation of the Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor’s post-apocalyptic novel, “Who Fears Death.” Working with U.S.-based Completion Films, she’s planning a pan-African production that would lens in three countries.

In sci-fi, she’s found a genre to match the scale and creative bent of her storytelling ambitions.

“I really like the flexibility of the genre,” she says, “and the ability to use metaphors to say a lot more challenging things about the political or social climate in Africa.”

More Film

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content