×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kenya Bizzers Hope Nyong’o’s Oscar Win Can Boost Local Production

Still abuzz over Lupita Nyong’o’s supporting actress win at the Oscars, Kenya’s emerging film biz is looking to build on the attention that the homegrown star’s success has generated abroad. Best known for a locations industry that’s created iconic backdrops for Hollywood movies like “Out of Africa” and “The Constant Gardener,” the country is hoping to nurture local talent to bring more Kenyan stories to the bigscreen.

Chris Foot, chairman of the Kenya Film Commission, says that a proposal for an incentive scheme is just weeks away, along with the first draft of a long-overdue film policy. But Kenyan bizzers have heard such promises before.

Momentum around the industry has been growing over the past few years — but slowly. “Nairobi Half Life,” produced in 2012 by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer’s shingle One Fine Day Films, created local buzz as the first Kenyan movie submitted for consideration in the foreign-language Oscar race; it became a modest hit on the festival circuit. But the film’s success also has highlighted the challenges facing Kenyan helmers.

The country’s biggest local B.O. success, “Half Life” made around $20,000 in Kenyan theaters — barely enough to cover the cost of prints, according to Ginger Wilson, of TV and film services company Ginger Ink, which worked with One Fine Day on the production. The film’s six-figure budget — astronomical for a local pic — was made possible only due to the backing of Tykwer’s Berlin-based shingle.

But “Half Life” helped dispel the long-held myth that Kenyan auds wouldn’t turn out to see a Kenyan film, even in modest numbers.

“I think what we’re out to demonstrate is that if you do make a film with high production values, people want to see it,” Wilson says. But turning a profit, she admits, is a “nut we haven’t cracked yet.”

A working example of the current economics of Kenyan moviemaking is the prolific Riverwood — named after River Road, a creative and business hub in Nairobi — that churns out hundreds of low-budget films a year. DVDs sell for about a dollar, and many producers are able to turn a small profit. Director-producer Alexandros Konstantaras has experimented with ways of utilizing Riverwood’s low-budget production and distribution methods on higher-quality films with broader commercial appeal. His latest comedy, “House of Lungula,” generated strong online buzz by casting well-known East African actors, and was able to recoup production costs — around $3,000 — at the B.O., even before exploring TV and DVD sales.

Mixed signals from government, too, have held back an established film production industry, with a pic policy that for years has failed to gain traction.

The introduction of a rebate and incentive scheme could be a game-changer for foreign shoots, helping to level the playing field with South Africa’s larger and more competitive industry. But the question remains whether the new administration — voted into office last year — will do a better job than its predecessors of making good on its promises.

“Like the film policy, there are several great initiatives that have ended up bogging down,” says Jim Shamoon of Blue Sky Films, East Africa’s biggest production services company.

For local filmmakers, there are other challenges. In a country of more than 40 million, there are just five operating multiplexes. Last fall’s terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi scared audiences away. Moreover, government has failed to clamp down on piracy.

Shamoon, who gave Nyong’o her start in film as a production assistant on “Constant Gardener,” hopes a ripple effect from the actress’s Oscar win can change the local dynamics — and redouble the will of the government to establish a support system for the biz

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • For web story

    Toronto: Sony Pictures Classics Buys 'The Burnt Orange Heresy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sony Pictures Classics has nabbed the rights to “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” Variety has learned. The indie label plans to release the film in 2020. The Italian-American thriller was directed by Giuseppe Capotondi and stars Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, and Donald Sutherland. Scott Smith adapted Charles Willeford’s novel of the same name, transporting [...]

  • Thomasin McKenzie and Essie Davis

    Thomasin McKenzie and Essie Davis to Star in 'Justice of Bunny King'

    Essie Davis, star of “The Babadook” and autumn festival hit “Babyteeth,” and “Jojo Rabbit” co-star Thomasin McKenzie will headline upcoming drama “The Justice of Bunny King.” The film, now shooting in New Zealand, is a triumph over adversity tale about women fighting their way back from the bottom of society. It is the debut feature [...]

  • Calm With Horses

    Nick Rowland Talks About Toronto Debut Film 'Calm With Horses'

    “Calm with Horses,” which made its world premiere in Toronto’s TIFF in the Discovery section, is the feature directorial debut of Nick Rowland (Amazon series “Ripper Street”), and stars Barry Keoghan (Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals,” “Dunkirk”), Cosmo Jarvis (“Annihilation”), and Niamh Algar (BBC’s “The Virtues”). The script, which was adapted from Colin Barrett’s short story [...]

  • Colin Trevorrow Directs Jurassic World Short

    Colin Trevorrow Returns to Jurassic World in Short Film 'Battle at Big Rock'

    Dinosaurs are roaming the Earth again. In a new short from “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow, rogue beasts wreak havoc on a family camping trip. The eight-and-a-half minute film, titled “Battle at Big Rock,” takes place a year after the events of “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom.” The 2018 blockbuster — starring Chris Pratt and Bryce [...]

  • Bert Kreischer The Machine

    Legendary Lands Rights to Bert Kreischer’s Viral Story 'The Machine' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Legendary has optioned the rights to develop comedian Bert Kreischer’s story “The Machine” into a feature film following its viral success, sources tell Variety. The video has generated more than 85 million views on Facebook and YouTube since hitting the social media channels in December 2016 and Legendary moved aggressively to land the rights. Kreischer [...]

  • Margot Robbie poses at the launch

    Margot Robbie in Talks to Executive Produce, Star in Comedy 'Fools Day'

    Margot Robbie is in negotiations to executive produce and star as a fourth-grade teacher in New Line’s comedy “Fools Day.” New Line has acquired Cody Blue Snider’s short film of the same name to adapt into the feature project. Snider, who co-wrote and directed the short, will direct the full-length feature from a script he [...]

  • M Night Shyamalan'Glass' film premiere, Arrivals,

    M. Night Shyamalan Sets Two New Films at Universal

    M. Night Shyamalan will write and direct two new movies at Universal Pictures, the studio announced Monday. The currently untitled thrillers will be released in theaters on Feb. 26, 2021 and Feb. 17, 2023, respectively. “M. Night Shyamalan continues to create exciting, highly original stories that keep global audiences on the edge of their seats,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content