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Kenyan movie going places

A new original Kenyan movie, which made its debut at the Zanzibar Film Festival in July has been warmly received and is set to go places
Zachary Ochieng

"Naliaka is going", directed by veteran Kenyan film- maker Albert wandago depicts typical Kenyan problems of poverty, early marriage, education and unemployment. This "info-taining", general exhibition film is particularly loaded with a powerful message to young girls that with determination, they can achieve their dreams against all odds.

The story begins in a rural village in western Kenya, where Naliaka (Benta Ochieng), a 14 year old school girl drops out of school to work as a househelp in the city so that she can provide for her poor parents and see her brother through college.

A lot of challenges greet her upon her arrival in the city. Not used to modern household appliances, the naïve village girl is overwhelmed by what she sees in her employer's house and does not know what to do. Consequently, she fails to perform her chores on her first day on the job, but her understanding employers - Henry Njenga and Jemimah Ezra arrange for an orientation.

More importantly, though, a proactive Naliaka exploits her employers' absence to secretly learn typewriting. A bright light then shines for Naliaka as her employer's children also help her to polish her spoken and written English.

It eventually dawns on her that she can do better than being a house girl and decides to look for a typist's job. Her employers, though perplexed, advise her to travel upcountry to inform her parents of the decision to change jobs.

But while upcountry, her father (Ouko Otumba) is not impressed by her idea of looking for a new job and decides to marry her off to a drinking mate against her wish and that of her brother's. She eventually runs away from home and hikes a lift back to the city, where initially challenges of city life and temptations almost dash her hopes.

However, lady luck smiles her way when she meets a corporate executive, Pik (Ken Ambani), who offers to pay for her accommodation. But when Pik makes some sexual advances, Naliaka decides to chicken out. However, the story ends on a happy note when Pik secretly organizes for her to get a job in one of the firms he is associated with. Finally, in a dramatic turn of events, they fall in love.

Shot in the beautiful sceneries of Nairobi, Coast, western Kenya and the Rift Valley, the movie shows excellent locations, which Kenya has to offer for both local and foreign films. It has been well received both locally and overseas. When it was first launched in Zanzibar, many people asked for a second screening.

Although it was disqualified from among the other 200 entries that were competing at the festival due to late entry, it was greatly applauded and Wandago is sure to enter it next year, with confidence that it will win.

The film, whose production was funded by the United Nation's Development Programme (UNDP)'s Gender Mainstreaming and Empowerment Project, premiered at the Nairobi Cinema on July 30. Speaking during the occasion, Health Minister Charity Ngilu, who was the chief guest, commended Alwan Communications for producing a film that raises issues relevant to young audiences.

She said the film contains powerful messages and should serve as a powerful communication tool all over Africa, given its relevant timing. The script was written by Brutus Sirucha, who also assisted Wandago with directing.

Other members of the cast included Telly Savallas Otieno, Anthony Kinuthia, Rachel Ouko and Akech Masira. After screening in Nairobi, the film will be shown in Mombasa and Kisumu after which it will be screened in Holland, Canada, Belgium and South Africa.

But the production of this film was not without challenges. Besides working on a shoe -string budget of KES 2.1 million (US$ 28000), Wandago says: "The most difficult challenge was translating the changes that Naliaka underwent into film". In the movie, Naliaka undergoes various transformations - from a naïve 14 -year old village girl to a beautiful city-wise woman and a successful secretary.

However, the veteran director - whose film career has seen him work in Germany and Holland among other countries - faced the challenges head on. His first step was to conduct an open and transparent audition, explaining to the cast that they would operate on a limited budget. Luckily, the whole cast was very understanding, and so the cameras went rolling.

Wandago's next step was to shorten the filming period from four weeks to two weeks, given the limited budget. However, the filming crew was caught up in a hitch which almost delayed the whole process, when a certain church leader, who had authorised the premises to be used as location suddenly changed his mind and demanded hefty payments.

The success of "Naliaka is going" comes hot on the heels of other equally successful gender related productions by Wandago such as "Metamo", a full length feature film and "Kenya Women Pioneers", an audio-visual documentary that highlights the achievements of Kenyan women.

Besides these, he has produced over 50 films, including drama, docu-drama and plain documentaries featuring gender issues, health and environment. He has also produced several programmes on gender, which have been aired on local radio and Television stations.

Among the films, produced through his Alwan Communications Company include "Keeping Safe", "Peaceful Co-existence", "Girl child song and poetry", "Kachinja", "Feeding the Nation" and "Duogo".

The prolific film producer says the major problem plaguing the Kenyan film industry is lack of funds. The government has also in the past shown little interest in the industry, while TV stations shun local productions. In contrast, a small country, like Burkina Faso, for instance, has a national film fund established by the government to help local producers.

However, with the new government in power, the situation in the local film industry is bound to improve. Wandago is grateful for the quick response he received from the Information and Tourism ministry when he approached it for licensing and censorship of the film. The ministry further extended its generosity by allowing the producer to use their facilities for editing.

A confident Wandago says that since the current Information minister is a media personality, who understands the industry's woes, good news could be in the pipeline. Wandago envisages a scenario where the government collaborates with local producers to produce films on a cost -sharing basis.

Spurred by the success of "Naliaka is going", Wandago is now looking for funds to translate into film his own stage productions of "At your Service" and "Duogo" - a story of a pastor who comes face to face with his African traditional background and has to make a difficult choice. Also in the line-up is "Lwanda Magere", the story of a legendary Luo warrior.

Alwan Communications can be contacted at:
P.O.BOX 51841, 00200,
TEL. 254-20-2730633,
FAX. 254-20-2730632

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