Kenya missing out despite unique movie shooting locations


The world movie industry is worth a whooping $180 billion. Of this, South Africa controls about eight per cent. West Africans too command a significant chunk of this pie with Nigeria’s movie industry rated as the third largest in the world after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood going by the number of movies released into local and international markets. by Macharia Kamau

Kenya, however, features nowhere in this lucrative industry with benefits accruing to the country being negligible despite having among the best shooting sites and a relatively high quality theatrical and production human resource.

Kenya has in the past attracted moviemakers who have shot chart topping and award winning films and movies on location in Kenya. Such movies include The Constant Gardner and The Tomb Raider; the Cradle of Life. Others include the 1985 classic Out of Africa that put Kenya on the global map as a premier filming destination. The lure seems to have, however, faded away as since 2005 when the Constant Gardner was shot, the country has not played host to international crews making high profile movies.

Local TV productions and short feature films and documentaries by Kenyan and foreign producers have kept the industry going and currently generate Sh6 billion. However, according to the Kenya Film Commission (KFC), the industry remains largely untapped and has the potential to be the country’s largest sector.

The Commission has plans to increase the number of movies being shot from the current 20 to 250, which would see an increase in the money generated by the industry to more than Sh40 billion in the next two years.

"Sectors that have been the mainstay of the economy are near exhaustion and have little room to expand. The film industry on the other hand has not been exploited. We have plans to grow the revenue from the Sh6 billion to Sh40 billion in the next two years," said KFC Chief Executive David Maingi. He says with time the sector could be largest in terms of contribution to the gross domestic product and the number of jobs created.

The Commission plans turn around the fortunes for the industry through an initiative to recognise excellence in filmmaking among Kenyans as a stepping-stone. The initiative, dubbed Kalasha Film and TV Awards, is the brainchild of the KFC and will be an annual fair where industry players will be recognised with mementoes and cash prizes.

"The Kalasha awards are benchmarked against other international awards like the Grammy and Emmy awards and will be a first step in getting the industry to recognised world over and from there proceed to market the country as filmmaking destination," says Maingi.

He says the industry captains would man the recently constituted Kalasha Awards Trust, with former Nairobi Stock Exchange boss Jimnah Mbaru being the chair while the judging panel comprises of renowned filmmakers.

The inaugural ceremony will be held on March 14. The Commission is currently receiving entries for TV programmes and locally made films. The awards alone, however, are not enough to awaken the industry and to be the largest sector in the economy, the Commission would have to deal with bottlenecks that face local and foreign film producers and mainstreaming local ‘backstreet’ productions into the national economy.

An under developed film production infrastructure, a prohibitive tax regime for foreign film makers and importers of film equipment and high and non-uniform charges by local authorities have been among the factors that have seen fewer films of international stature being shot in the country.

According to local production companies, a TV commercial lasting between 30 and 45 seconds can cost as much as Sh7 million when produced in Kenya, but is lower in South Africa and India.