Nairobi Half Life: 10 years after the golden age of Kenyan cinema
Friday 04 November 2022
Nairobi half-life was a game-changer for the Kenyan film industry when it premiered on August 10, 2010.
It ushered in an era described as “the golden age of Kenyan cinema” by the film’s director, Tosh Gitonga, speaking two weeks ago at the Zehneria Portico in Westlands.
The event, “Maisha ya Half Life”, was designed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the film’s world premiere and to see how relevant it still is a decade later.
Nairobi half-life was also considered a pioneer who dared to expose some of the most sinister and seedy aspects of crime in the city. He has been praised for painting a realistic portrayal of the painful struggle to survive in Nairobi.
The film went on to win international awards, as film distributor Trushna Patel of Crimson Multimedia explained during a series of panels hosted by filmmakers Ginger Wilson of Ginger Ink and Sarika Lakhani of One Fine Day Film. The film is the result of a collaboration between Kenya and Germany, notably with GIZ and the Kenya Film Commission.
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The three panels featured distributors, producers and actors, moderated by Mugambi Nthege who co-starred in Nairobi half life with Joseph Wairimu, Paul Ogola, the late Maina Olywenya and others.
The final panel also featured Serah Mwihaki, the film’s lead screenwriter. “But I was not alone,” said Mwihaki BDLife shortly before his panel was called.
“I was joined by Billy Kahora, Joy Wayodi, Sam Munene and Potash, and we Skyped frequently with our German counterparts as we developed the script,” she added. “Ultimately what we wanted was to write a film that was truly Kenyan,” she said.
The panels were attended by a room full of young filmmakers, many of whom were eager to ask the panelists questions. It was during these questions that Gitonga told the young people that they were living in a “golden age of Kenyan cinema”. The implication being that the effects of Nairobi half-life (NHL) were revolutionary.
One suggested that the history of Kenyan cinema could be written in pre-NHL and post-NHL terms since the world looks at African cinema very differently today than a decade ago. In 2010, there was no African film industry apart from the fledgling ones in Nigeria and Kenya. You had Ginger Ink and a few filmmakers on River Road, but a little more.
But today, the film industry is in shock, as evidenced by Kenya Film Commission CEO Timothy Owaso, who attended the panels. We have movies like Wanuri’s Rafiki go to Cannes and Superbike nominated for an Oscar and countless more upcoming movies we’ll hear about soon. We even have a Nairobi film festival and a DocuBox which helps to make more Kenyan documentaries.
And now we even have Netflix picking up four Kenyan-German collaborations. They understand Something Necessary, Lusala, Super Moto, and Nairobi half-life. Additionally, Gitonga is dating Disconnect 2 on Netflix very soon.
“It is important for Kenyans to watch all these movies because Netflix takes into account the eyeballs watching them. The more eyeballs watch our films, the more they will support the making of more Kenyan films,” Ms Wilson told the BDLife.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Nairobi Half Life Live took place at Westgate Mall where four of the filmmakers including its executive producer Tom Tykwer commented as the film was screened to a full house who came to see the Kenyan film some had seen and others not because they were too young in 2012 to come to the cinema to see films.
“There will be headphones ‘and a box of popcorn on every seat,'” explained Mugambi, who also hosted the film’s screening and was one of four spokespersons to discuss the film.
“You can either wear the headphones and listen to reviews of the film by its makers, or flip the switch on the headphones and listen to the film itself,” Mugambi said.
I listened to both the commentary and the film, finding Nairobi half-life even more relevant today than when I saw it 10 years ago. His only element of nostalgia: the Phoenix Theater existed then but not now.
“We are also celebrating the film’s arrival on Netflix along with three other Kenyan films produced by Ginger Ink and One Fine Day Films,” said Ginger Wilson, CEO of Ginger Ink which co-produced Nairobi Half Life with German Cooperation (GIZ).