Why Kenya's film business is still going south

Why Kenya's film business is still going south

It's been years since the government formed the Kenya Film Commission (KFC), but so far it has done nothing to change the industry in Kenya, according to players. By Hilary Kimuyu

The commission came into full function in mid-2006, formed with the aim of promoting the film industry locally as well as internationally.

Film directors who spoke to Sunday Nation said there had been no change and it was disappointing to see films being shot in South Africa or Tanzania yet the events they are based on events that happened in Kenya.

When the commission was launched, the government pledged to guarantee the security of the actors, crew and equipment and provide a suitable tax incentive package including relevant rebates, waiver of government-related fees including those relating to filming, national parks and heritage sites. This has not happened.


Since he took office as the commission's chairman, Mr Chris Foot has struggled to change the industry's fortunes in the country.

In 2015, Mr Foot admitted that Kenya had been losing out to South Africa in terms of feature films, attributing this to South Africa's tax rebate system.

"The reason we are losing films to South Africa is because we do not have a tax rebate and we are working on that.

"South Africa offers a 35 per cent tax rebate to make movies there. That is why there is this constant flow of good Kenyan stories going to South Africa and that is one thing that Kenya needs to change," he said.

Three years down the line, nothing much has changed.

In 2015, the commission was given an expanded mandate to set up a Film Fund, which they are yet to do.


Ms Liz Karanja, a filmmaker based in Mombasa, said Kenya has the potential of shooting Oscar award-winning movies.

"It is sad that good stories like the Westgate attack or even Eye in the Sky, which are Kenyan stories, were shot elsewhere," she said.

"Our government imposes unrealistic taxes, licences and too much restriction on film production, which discourages the local producers from doing anything at all," she added.

She cited the example of how the film industry in Nigeria and Ghana started, saying they were fully supported by their governments and that was why their progress was major.


Ms Karanja said if the government was to support them with resources like free access to locations such as historical sites and streets, the cost of making of films would be cheaper.

She advocated the use of props such as guns and drones for shoots and tax waivers on import of film equipment.

Mr John Karanja, who has been producing films in Kenya for more than two decades, blamed both the government and the industry.

"KFC is legally in charge of film development in the country. However, since its formation it has been underfunded.

"In 2005, Raphael Tuju, then minister for Broadcasting, told us: 'Here is the commission you asked for'. But, we wasted the opportunity to use it as a tool for growth," he said.

Kenya Film Classification Board chief executive officer Ezekiel Mutua said if the industry players come together there can be growth.

"We can build our own Nollywood, Bollywood or even Hollywood because we have what it takes. Kenya has some of the best filming locations in the world and we have predictable weather. We can make this a filming hub," he said.


Dr Mutua admitted that the country had not marketed its self properly.

"We focus on the negative and a lot of times people think Kenya is burning because of what they see in the media," he said.

Dr Mutua it was a shame that the greatest movie that marketed Kenya - Out of Africa - was made in 1985.

Actor and filmmaker Shirleen Wangari said the country is losing so much film revenue.

"So many jobless people who could have earned rent, medical cover, school fees and food are not doing so because our government is not doing everything in its power to make Kenya more attractive for filming," she said.


She called for the formation of a committee, including government and film producers, to come up with the best deal for investors.

"We need some action, not just talk. The international filmmakers will definitely respond if there are efforts to attract and retain them," she said.

One of Kenya's biggest casting directors, actor and also a film producer, Mr Gerald Langiri, said for so long Kenya has been marketed as the best filming location and although it has beautiful locations, so do countries such as Tanzania and South Africa, which keep getting business.

"What they have that we lack are better and enticing policies and no major red tapes. Their taxes are much less," he said.


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