6 December 2012

Kenya: Meet the Filmmaker Screening Out Social Evil

Samuel Oluoko, the man who produced the award-winning "The Briefcase" film last year, is back with another Eastlands-based film, 'Bitter Innocence'.

Whereas 'The Briefcase' was based on the lives and social evils of the people who operate from the Dandora dumpsite, the theme of 'Bitter Innocence' is family-based girl-child abuse where a young school girl from one of the less endowed estates of Nairobi faces all manner of abuse from her own mother.

Through the assistance of the Italian Embassy, Bitter Innocence was launched at the Italian Institute of Culture last Saturday.

It highlights the plight of the11-year-old girl who is overworked by her mother, mercilessly beaten, denied food and the chance to do her homework and eventually even tries to use her as a sex slave.

Attempts to have the girl gang-raped, however, backfires on the mother. Oluoko produced the film on a shoe-string budget and says he ended up being the producer/director of the movie as he was unable to get a professional to take the director's job on a voluntary basis.

"I needed more professionals to work with but without the capital to bring them on board, I was forced to take most of the work myself. Other crew members were volunteers, some from my college days but mostly from the Great Potential African Youth (G-Pay Africa) youth group of Dandora." This is the same group he used during the filming of The Briefcase.

The film idea was born out of Oluoko's earlier life in the Dandora slum where the kind of abuse depicted in the film occurred often.

"I witnessed these incidents almost daily but these were stories that were never told and so I promised myself that when I got the chance, I would tell them."

The actors in the film are the same young people from the slum; youth with talent who are yet to get the big break and who work for free in the hope that the exposure will someday take them places.

The lead actor is 11-year-old Esther Waithera. Following the launch, Oluoko will now approach organisations that champion children's rights and other well-wishers to fund free screening of the film in the slums, low cost estates in Nairobi and other towns.

He hopes to get funds to produce copies of the film for distribution to some of these areas. Hopefully parents in these areas will learn a thing or two about children's rights and what would happen if they do not honour them.

"If you have girl children, you need to honour them, give them the freedom to express themselves, give them parental love, freedom to interact with their peers and the space to develop their talent," Oluoko advises.

Briefcase, which was funded by the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication and filmed at the Dandora dump site, won the award for the best feature film at the Kalasha Film Festival in the student category last year.

Its lead actor was Kamau Mbaya who acts as Baha in the Citizen TV series, Machachari. Oluoko, who came up with 'The Briefcase' idea, wrote the script and produced the film with the financial assistance from KIMC.

The film depicted life at the dump site with its attendant social evils and crimes. "Outwardly people see the dump site at Dandora as that filthy place where all the garbage in Nairobi is dumped, but on the inside a lot happens, including illegal drug rings and other social evils that people do not know about. This is what the film was about."

Oluoko, who was trained in filmmaking at the KIMC, runs a 'small' film company, Film Production Technics, that works at developing talent for youth in the slums and low cost estates of Nairobi.

"Before I joined filmmaking, I was trained as an electronic technician and went into electronic devices maintenance, but I always had this burning desire to become a film producer."

In 2007 he registered for a filmmaking course at KIMC, attending night classes as he continued to earn a living through his electronic repairs job.

The 35-year-old initially worked with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation before being contracted by Citizen TV as part of its technical crew, working specifically on the 'Mother-in-Law' drama series.

"I am the programme's lighting director but I also deal in sound, camera work and grips." Oluoko says upcoming film producers in Kenya face a myriad of challenges not least of which is accessing the 'exclusive' big boys film making clubs and the Kenya Film Commission (KFC) the body charged with promoting the film industry in the country.

"If you do not have a 'source' that can take your hand and lead you through the offices to get funding and recognition, your dream of becoming a filmmaker remains a pipe dream. I hear there are some film-based associations but if you do not belong to any, nobody will recognise you as a credible filmmaker."

Consequently, Oluoko says, even if you make an award-winning film, the Kenya Film Commission would not rate and commission your movie as one that has done the country proud.

"Some of the conditions for joining these associations including the financial ones are impossible for some of us to attain," Oluoko says. He complains that the registration process for a film company to be identified with the Kenya Film Commission and the department of film services is also too rigorous for one with no financial backing.

But those who attended the launch including a representative of KFC, Kenya Film and TV professional Association, The Third Force (River Road-based film producers association) and Jamii Bora promised to assist Oluoko and other upcoming filmmakers to produce better local movies.

For the launch, Montage Media assisted Oluoko in the printing of banners and posters, while Amin Khan who is the patron of G-Pay was the emcee and facilitated the day's refreshments.

The producer hopes by launching his film in the upmarket Westlands area as opposed to the launch of 'The Briefcase' in Dandora, he will attract people who can assist in its promotion.

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