Award winning actor Joseph Kimani Wairimu, who captured the hearts of Kenya and the world with his performance as Mwas in the movie Nairobi Half Life is back.
Kimani is starring in a new movie titled Ni Sisi, which premiered yesterday at Starflix Theaters Prestige Plaza. Ni Sisi is the second feature film produced by SAFE, an NGO that uses street theatre, art and community programs to educate, inspire and deliver social change.
One of SAFE’s patrons is Daniel Craig, the current James Bond.
Soft spoken Krysteen Savane, who has acted on several local productions like Soul boy, Siri and Ndoto za Elibidi, is the film’s producer and the project manager for SAFE Ghetto.
“After the 2007 post-election violence, we saw that there was need to do something for peace. We came up with a play, Ni Sisi. In the play, a community lives in harmony, oblivious of each other’s tribes, until an aspiring politician comes and incites them to violence. The story is about Jabali (Joseph Kimani Wairimu), a young man in the community who has a dream about what is going to happen and tries to stop it with the help of some friends,” she says.
The SAFE team toured across the country with the play and the reception, as Ms Savane says, was more than they’d expected.
“The play triggered discussions among the people and communities we showed it to. People suddenly seemed to listen and have a change of attitude. We held discussions with the audiences at the end of the play and in one instance a group of youth came on stage and confessed that they had killed their friend during the violence and didn’t know what to do.”
Nick Redding, the film’s director, is a British-born man with a rich experience in the film industry. He has acted in, among other globally celebrated films, Blood Diamonds, The Constant Gardener, The Bill, The First Grader and the series Strike Back.
Redding, who has been in Kenya 10 years, is the founder of SAFE.
“I first came to Kenya to assist a friend set up a paediatric HIV unit in Mombasa. It is then that I noticed the serious lack of public health education in Kenya and wondered what our profession was doing about it.”
He organised an educative play with some doctors in Mombasa at the time and took it out to the people. “The reception was good, I decided to do big plays. We started performing in slums and rural areas for free. We realised that by using art, you could make people think differently while at the same time entertaining them.”
Today, SAFE has three chapters — SAFE Ghetto based in Nairobi, SAFE Pwani based at the coast and SAFE Maa in Loita Hills. SAFE now employs over 50 people.
“Other than me, everyone else that works at SAFE is from the target communities. I am just a facilitator. We have been working in the slums for the last five years and the spirit and resourcefulness of the people there is remarkable and humbling.”
After the elections in 2007, most actors in SAFE were affected by the violence that followed. Due to this, SAFE decided to turn the play Ni Sisi into a movie.
“We had filmed the performances of the play as it toured round the country, but we still felt the videos were not strong enough. A friend of mine suggested fusing theatre with film and I know a good idea when I hear one,” Redding says.
Ni Sisi combines film scenes and those of live stage performances in slums and rural areas. “When you watch this sort of thing, you not only watch the film but you also watch the audience react to it. We wanted to release the movie sometime in February so it can have an impact before the elections,” Redding concludes.
“Please call me Babu. That’s what everyone calls me,” stays Jospeh Wairimu Kimani, the movie’s main act.
“I play Jabali the lead character. Jabali has a dream about the politically motivated chaos that is going to befall his community and sets about trying to stop it.”
Kimani, an activist who aspires to be a film director, holds the project close to heart as he experienced the post-election violence first hand while living in Huruma. “I am just glad that I can use my talent to influence people positively and try to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of what happened in the last elections.”
The film star has taken his peace initiative further than just the stages and films. “I have been working with Boniface Mwangi of Pawa 254 in different areas of Nairobi such as Kamukunji and Starehe. We’ve been going round in video joints and social halls screening documentaries of the post-election violence. We have already done 100 screenings.
At one of the film shoots one evening in a remote part of Kikuyu, a scene depicting the infamous road blocks was set up. Rocks were positioned all round the road and set on fire by the special effects experts.
Using overturned carts, tires and sticks, the special effects specialist set up a flame bar. Curious and confused motorists using the side of the road not blocked, either speed past or slowed down to stare at the chaos, not sure what was happening.
The first sequence for the evening was of a dead body by the roadside and two opposing groups; one trying to save a girl, Roxanna, and the other trying to kill her. Loud, angry chants from the actors of “kata! Kata!” are so convincing that a few passers-by run away in fear.
Towards the end of the scene, a local drunk from a nearby bar lurches at the camera man in a drunken stupor, but no one is in the mood for play. He is quickly handed over to the police and the action resumes.
For the umpteenth time, Roxana, played by Papa Shirandula star Jackie Vike is dragged to the road and beheaded by the mob of actors. All this happens as her friends, including Jabali, struggle to help her but are held back by friends who know better. Jackie gives an outstanding performance despite the cold and the brutality of the scene.