Nairobi Half Life film cover. PHOTO | POOL
Nairobi Half Life was a game-changer for the Kenya film industry when it premiered on August 10th, 2010.
It ushered in an era described as “a golden age of Kenya film” by the film’s director, Tosh Gitonga who was speaking two weeks ago at the Zehneria Portico in Westlands.
The event, ‘Maisha ya Half Life’ was designed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the film’s world premiere and to see how relevant it still is a decade later.
Nairobi Half Life was also seen as a trailblazer that dared expose some of the most sinister and seedy sides of crime in the city. It was praised for giving a realistic portrayal of the painful struggle to survive in Nairobi.
The film went on to win international awards as film distributor Trushna Patel of Crimson Multimedia explained during a series of panels organised by filmmakers Ginger Wilson of Ginger Ink and Sarika Lakhani of One Fine Day Film. The film was the fruit of a Kenyan-German collaboration including cooperation with GIZ and Kenya Film Commission.
Read: How ‘Nairobi Half Life’ producer builds Kenyan film talent
The three panels featured the distributors, producers, and actors, moderated by Mugambi Nthege who co-starred in Nairobi Half Life with Joseph Wairimu, Paul Ogola, the late Maina Olywenya, and others.
The last panel also featured Serah Mwihaki, the lead scriptwriter of the film. “But I was not alone,” Mwihaki told BDLife shortly before her panel was called.
“I was joined by Billy Kahora, Joy Wayodi, Sam Munene, and Potash, plus we skyped frequently with our German counterparts as we developed the script,” she added. “Ultimately, what we wanted was to write a film that was truly Kenyan,” she said.
The panels were attended by a room full of young filmmakers, many of whom were eager to ask questions of panelists. It was during these queries that Gitonga told the youth they were living in a ‘golden age of Kenyan film’. The implication being that the effects of Nairobi Half Life (NHL) were ground-breaking.
One was suggested that the history of Kenyan film could be written in terms of pre-NHL and post-NHL since the world looks very differently upon African film today than it did a decade ago. In 2010 there was no African film industry apart from incipient ones in Nigeria and Kenya. You had Ginger Ink and a few filmmakers on River Road, but a little more.
But today, the film industry is reeling with activity as witnessed by Kenya Film Commission’s CEO Timothy Owaso who attended the panels. We have films like Wanuri’s Rafiki going to Cannes and Super Moto nominated for an Oscar and countless other films coming up which we’ll be hearing about soon. We even have a Nairobi Film Festival and a DocuBox helping more Kenyan documentaries to be made.
And now we even have Netflix picking up four Kenyan-German collaborations. They include Something Necessary, Lusala, Super Moto, and Nairobi Half Life. Plus, Gitonga is coming out with Disconnect 2 on Netflix very soon.
“It’s important that Kenyans watch all of these films because Netflix keeps count of the eyeballs watching them. The more eyeballs watching our films, the more they will support making more Kenyan films,” Ms Wilson told the BDLife.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Nairobi Half Life Live took place at Westgate Mall were four of the filmmakers, including its executive producer Tom Tykwer, gave a running commentary as the film was being shown to a full-house crowd who had come to see the Kenyan film that some had seen and others had not since they were too young in 2012 to come to the cinema to watch films.
“There will be earphones,” and a box of popcorn on every seat,” explained Mugambi who was also MC-ing the film screening as well as being one of the four spokesmen chatting about the film.
“You could either wear the earphones and listen to critiques of the film by its makers, or you can flip the switch on the earphones and listen to the film itself,” Mugambi said.
I listened to both the commentary and the film, finding Nairobi Half Life even more relevant today than when I saw it 10 years ago. Its one element of nostalgia: the Phoenix Theatre existed then but not now.
“We are also celebrating the film’s arrival on Netflix together with three other Kenyan films produced by Ginger Ink and One Fine Day Films,” says Ginger Wilson, CEO of Ginger Ink which co-produced Nairobi Half Life with German Cooperation (GIZ).
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