You crack up at the jokes, tweet about the film and then realize: I have no idea where to buy it on DVD. On May 21st, expatriates and locals congregated at the Alliance Francaise to watch a local film: The Captain of Nakara which was part of the European Film Festival lineup in Nairobi.
By the end of the evening, no one in the audience knew where to watch The Captain of Nakara again. More than one person asked: “Where can we buy the film?” Even though the Director (Bob Nyanja), script writer (Cajetan Boy) and the lead actor (Charles Bukeko) were present, they could not confirm where we could purchase the film on DVD. “I try to make films, but I cannot crack distribution,” Nyanja admitted.
Meanwhile, the Kenya Film Commission (KFC) Commissioner, Mwaniki Mageria, said of the distribution problem that his organisation: “is working on it…We are working with hawkers [and] vendors.” Mageria repeatedly reiterated that the commission is committed to finding a solution to the problem, so local content can be consumed.
While the KFC figures out how to handle film distribution, some filmmakers have chosen to go ahead and done it independently, notably, Nairobi Half Life (NHL). That doesn’t mean it was easy.
NHL’s Producer, Sarika Lakhani, spoke of the difficulty in buying Kenyan films on DVD: “There is no distribution network in place which allows the consumer to find content he wants to view, like a “one-stop-shop“, where one can buy any kind of Kenyan movies for a reasonable price. These days, one needs to go to River Road to buy their films, to Nakumatt (supermarket) to get Nairobi Half Life or House of Lungula – if you have even heard of any of these films….”
Marketing is a big challenge in the country, made harder by the fact most filmmakers don’t have a budget to run a properly organized campaign. However, the film’s quality is still a priority for filmmakers who want to reach global audiences.
Lakhani explains: “Our initiative is about high quality films made in Africa, so we wanted the Nairobi Half Life DVD to be of very good quality too. We couldn’t find a local provider offering a good service for manufacturing high standard DVDs, so we decided to buy a bulk off our German DVD distributor and ship them to Kenya in order to distribute them there. So the DVDs were available in Kenya and Germany roundabout the same time.”
Whilst Hollywood movies debut on the big screen and later go on DVD, Kenyan films are rarely screened in the four cinemas available in the capital city. In short, Kenyan filmmakers are not recouping their cash. Even for a wildly popular film like NHL, it’s tough. Did the film make its money back? “No. And it won´t in the next 50 years,” Lakhani states. “We, the rights holders, received $20 000, which we reinvested in the distribution of the movie,” she adds.
There are platforms like Buni TV which try to bridge the gap between the filmmakers and viewers by offering African movies, documentaries, animation, web series, TV shows and more online and on mobile phones for a fee. Editors curate the content which means audiences are still not exposed to the wide range of film, good or bad, that are locally produced.
Hollywood and Nollywood content is flooding the local market, and Kenyan filmmakers are having a tough time competing. While it may appear Kenyans are not as interested in their content, because pirated Hollywood and Nollywood films that are sold for peanuts are popular with locals, distribution challenges threaten to stifle the Kenyan film industry. The hope is that KFC supports the local industry in a more timely manner, but if not, filmmakers will have to keep exploring different business models to help them recoup their money while churning out films to entertain audiences.
A daunting task indeed.