For those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, entertainment in the form of films was hard to come by, especially in the villages.
Television sets were hard to come by in homes, and where they were to be found, there were still some major hurdles.
Most of those to be found were black and white screens. In those days, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation was the only TV broadcaster.
The State-owned station would start airing at 11am and close promptly at 11pm with the national anthem and the Kenyan flag on the screen. And that was not all.
Very few rural homes were connected to the national electricity grid. So those who had TV sets and could not afford generators acquired car batteries which were used to run sets.
The batteries would be taken to the local shopping centre if it was connected to electricity to be charged and would be picked the following day since demand for their service was high (and supply was low).
But some enterprising Kenyans saw an opportunity and moved in.
The most prominent of these was Factual Films (1974) Limited.
The company would take movies to the people at various shopping centres across the country on a specific date every month. The movies were shown at night, from a vehicle and screened on a white screen.
WATOTO KAENI CHINI
They were popularly known as "watoto kaeni chini" (children, sit down) since adults would stand while children would sit in front of the screen so as not to block the standing audience.
The open-air films were very popular among the youth, and the young people used to look forward to the particular date of the month that the movies would be shown.
Bruce Lee and James Bond movies were the all-time favourites, and the people in charge of the filming would give a running commentary of the action since most of the rural audience would not understood the language used by the actors, which was mainly English, leave alone the theme and plot of the movie.
By an unwritten rule, girls were expressly banned from attending the movies, probably because they were screened at night. Boys being boys would get into all types of mischief like hurling rotten eggs into groups from “rival” villages.
With the advent of technology, things changed. Video shows were introduced in which audiences paid a little fee to watch their favourite movies, now in full colour.
And with more homes being connected to electricity, people acquired TV sets through which they could watch a variety of new stations offering a 24-hour repertoire of news and entertainment.
Factual Films and other similar companies such as Regional Outreach had to seek other avenues of staying relevant. Nowadays people are spoiled for choice.
However, the technological revolution seems to have bypassed some marginalised regions of Kenya, where many never even got to see the free public movies, leave alone enjoy the video shows which came later.
These areas include like northern Kenya and other remote areas where electricity, until recently, was unheard of. In these areas where many people lead nomadic lives, there are some who have never watched a movie.
To address this, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, has moved in to seal the gap.
KFCB and the ministry have started a programme where mobile cinemas dubbed Sinena Mashinani will broadcast free films to the public, using a model similar to that of the 1970s and 80s.
The movies will be broadcast to the public and, unlike in the past, these will be acted by locals and will be in vernacular.
According to KFCB CEO Ezekiel Mutua, the Sinema Mashinani concept will contribute immensely to the promotion of Kenya’s culture and moral values besides creating jobs and wealth for the youth.
“We want to support films that promote our cultural diversity. We are committed to mainstreaming film and art into the national development narrative,” said Mr Mutua.
Kenya has some of the best filming locations in the world and the creative youth can greatly benefit from them, he added.
“We want to reach them right in the village and build an economy like Hollywood or Nollywood. We have what it takes,” he said.
The inaugural Sinema Mashinani movie was shot in Isiolo after which the production team moves to Kisumu, Machakos and Kiambu.
It was launched at Al Falah Islamic Centre Isiolo by Mr Ezekiel Mutua and the producer of the movie Joseph Mucheru, among others.
The movie is a high-quality production and will be entered in competitions for international film awards.
“We wish to promote social values as well as culture.
“We will be involving locals in the scripting, shooting and acting,” said Mr Mutua during the launch of the programme.
The programme was launched at the Alfalah Islamic Centre in Isiolo Town.
MOBILE MOVIE SHOWS
During the launch of the ambitious programme, Mr Mutua said that the board has acquired vehicles to take mobile movie shows to various regions.
In Isiolo, the idea was introduced to the local people through a movie which is acted in Borana and Gabbra languages.
The two neighbouring communities in the region have constantly been at loggerheads, fighting over cultural differences and other issues such as cattle rustling.
The movie seeks to promote peace and understanding between the communities.
It stars Aisha Hussein, a Gabbra girl who falls in love and marries a Borana.
The girl is educated and employed in a government office where she rises to become the regional county commissioner.
Together with her husband, they strive to reduce animosities among their people.
The film is multi-pronged in terms of theme, since it not only deals with other issues of peace but also tackles topics such as the importance of educating girls.
“The film comes at a good time since our communities have lived without peace and development for a long time.
“For a region where girl education is not emphasised, I believe I played an enlightening role and the issue will receive more attention,” says Aisha Hussein who stars in the movie.
“Our aim is to promote positive cultural values among Kenyans. The films will be made by the people themselves,” said Mr Mutua.
The film was scripted by seasoned dramatists Joseph Mucheru and translated into Borana by Liban Liban.
The cast includes Aisha Hussein (Gumato), Liban Liban (Wario), Omar Godana Dida (Baba Wario), Halkano Roba (Umuro), and Halima Bocha (Qabal.
Others in the cast are Hussein Jarso, Adan Jarso, and Asri Godana.
Mr Mucheru has written many award-winning scripts and he says that he had to do a lot of research in the area the film is based on besides giving locals tips on writing and producing scripts.