THE REEL: ‘Family Meeting’ - Destroying Kenyan film clichés

Wednesday March 18 2020

Starring Raymond Ofula, Gitura Kamau, Maureen Koech, Florence Nduta, Abubakar Muindi and Akinyi Olouch, it is heavy in comedy and drama. PHOTO | COURTESY | FAMILY MEETING

Family Meeting is Furet Productions latest feature film that premiered this past weekend at Diamond Plaza. The woman behind this project is Betty Kathungu-Furet, a champion of independent filmmaking in Kenya, along with her associate and the movie’s director, Simiyu Barasa.

Funding for this movie took some ingenuity on the part of the producers, who had it crowdfunded with the help of Kenyans on Facebook. They did not just want to make this movie, they needed to.

The passion is all on screen, and the ingenuity did not just end with the budget. Set to tour in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu, it aims to hold Kenyan cinema to a standard never seen before.

There’s a certain sense of unknowingness in Family Meeting that provides it with all its spunk. It is coy about what it really is before unleashing its true colours.

Starring Raymond Ofula, Gitura Kamau, Maureen Koech, Florence Nduta, Abubakar Muindi and Akinyi Olouch, it is heavy in comedy and drama.

A family comes together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the parents. Things begin to go wrong and secrets change the entire perspective. It takes place in one location, thus the directors, Betty & Simiyu, were inclined to stage it as a play but were smart enough to add cinematic visual flourishes here and there to reaffirm the audience in the medium.

Movies are generally hard to judge, especially when they are trying to be the pioneers of a new genre, but like all films, this is not a perfect movie.

The trap most Kenyan films fall into is uncoordinated editing, which sucks out the rhythm and life from the movies made here. The same applies to this one.

The best scene in the movie is quite romantic in nature. I would have loved to see them tackle the genre at the highest level possible because there was real poignancy between the two characters in it who had ‘history’.

It is important to note that Betty worked for some time as an actress before jumping behind the camera so I wouldn’t be far off in saying that her hand in this went a long way in guiding the cast’s performances.

Allison, played by Maureen Koech, has a very small role, but when I think of her part in the movie, I remember the old time obnoxious phrase that goes, ‘There are no small or bad parts, only small and bad actors.’

The subtlety in which she plays the intrusion and the outsider, as the fiancée to one of the sons, was extremely charming. The father figure of them all, played by Raymond Ofula, had fun shouting at everyone, he was genuinely terrifying at his best.

The gold is in the acting and in the direction. In the way that every audience member will be sure to feel a prick of deja vu at some moments. It is all too direct, yet it manages to balance not being too much on the nose that it hurts. Its message is clear to understand.

Kenyan film, like most cinematic work across the globe, seems to borrow from Hollywood more than anywhere else. Tropes, ideas and even visual language.

Family Meeting’s brilliance is its destruction of Kenyan clichés. The film is so Kenyan, in fact; I worry about how it may be received (if indeed it will be) outside the country.

It has sharp, witty dialogue; reminiscent of the changing times too of American comedies of the forties, which also self-criticised their culture in an innocent way before they got their hands dirty and, in the words of Pauline Kael, “had something to be really guilty about.” These are positive symptoms of progress.

Consistent rolling out of movies and having premieres all over the country is the only way to go, in my opinion, with expansion coming after that; a wonderful plan. A plan that needs the support of the entire nation.

You want to see a movie as good as any Hollywood comedy released in the last year, but one that is about you? Watch Family Meeting.

The movie can be seen at Diamond Plaza and Anga Cinemas countrywide.