Kenya: Taming Nairobians' Rage on Film

Kenyans have just a few more days in which to watch one of the best films recently made about the lives and struggles of ordinary Nairobians.

Tales of the Accidental City has already been shown at international film festivals in New York, San Francisco, and Cannes. And in July, it will be shown at the Durban International Film Festival.

Currently, it's being streamed at the Freiburger Film Forum website for free through Sunday, May 16. It's part of a Festival of Transcultural Cinema so it's watching just to see this ingenious film written and directed by Maimouna Jallow and starring Wakio Nzenge, Eddie Kimani, Mercy Mutisya, Martina Ayoro, and Tana Kioko with a cameo appearance by Sitawa Namwalie.

The story was originally meant to be a play about four very different Nairobians whose commonality is only that they all have been ordered by the court to attend an anger management class. Their 'crime' is an inability to control their emotions resulting in damages done to other parties.

Delightfully racous session

But then, the play was transformed into a three-part audio drama by Maimouna once Covid-19 led to the shutdown of local theatres. It's still online and also featured at the Ake Cultural Festival in Ghana.

Now in its third and most captivating iteration, Tales has been re-imagined as an ingenious 55-minute film that blends humour with truth-telling to reveal many facets of Nairobi's underbelly.

What's more, the anger management class itself is conducted on Zoom, so that the tales are told on a split-screen, as if in real time. We're able to see Counsellor Rose (played with ironic amiability by Wakio Mzende) as she tries to steer a delightfully raucous session featuring four fractious characters.

The four come from disparate socio-economic backgrounds, their meeting being just as 'accidental' as the city that's contributed to both their woes and outrage. But Counsellor Rose does a valiant job trying to keep order as each takes a turn revealing the hard times and emotional stress that many Nairobians may easily identify with.

For instance, Jacinta (Mercy Mutisya) is a businesswoman (and former house maid) who found her spouse Boni not only had a girlfriend who slept in her bed while she was out. He made off with the cash she had worked hard to save and stash under their mattress. That's what really set off her rage.

"Teaching him a lesson" is the vengeful motive that both Jacinta and Diana (Martina Ayoro) pursued and which got them both into trouble. But Rose's message is there are better ways to cope with one's anger than by violence and revenge. Whether her 'new age' techniques work for any of them is left up in the air.

In graphic detail, Jacinta tells how she got her CID cousin to track Boni down, corner and cuff him with two more CID cops so she could give him a healthy slap. Diana's payback to the woman who kidnapped her child in Gikomba was a stone thrown in the woman's eye, blinding the kidnapper.

Louis' (Eddie Kimani) crime is technically running over the mayor's dog. However, the backstory is more complicated even as it exposes the corruption in his former workplace. Throughout the class, he doesn't hide his disdain for having to attend Rose's session. But he is also 'paid back' with taunts from Jacinta who calls out this 'former' city councilman for his claim he was only in the council to clean up corruption in City Hall.

The last storyteller is Sarah (Tana Kioko) who admits she only landed at this Zoom session accidentally and wasn't sent by the court. But her story sums up the pain of poverty and of living as a vulnerable street girl who gets pregnant and gives up the child.

These are stories that rarely if ever get brought to the stage, leave alone featured in Kenya's fledgling film industry. Yet they give some of the truest pictures of the trauma that Nairobi city life brings to some of the most vulnerable urbanites. The street vender, ex-house maid, and single mother unnerved by Nairobi's hustling city life all are given voices in Maimouna's 'Accidental City.' And while nearly all the 'tales' give voice to women who are normally voiceless, even the former City Council man has a story we never hear, that of one ostensibly honest politician who tries but fails to fix a broken political system that's beyond repair.

Here's the link to buy tickets and watch the film during the festival: https://freiburger-filmforum.culturebase.org/en_EN/films/tales-of-the-accidental-city.18796

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