A Kenyan television and film director is the recipient of an award at this year’s Picture This Film Festival (PTFF).
Aggie Nyagari won Special Mention for a 30-minute drama and a Dodie Spittal Award for her dramatic movie, Lisilojulikana (The Unknown), at the annual film festival’s 17th edition in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Lisilojulikana is a fictional story about a girl who has cerebral palsy and faces rejection when she goes to live with her poor aunt and uncle in a village where the villagers view disability as a curse.
The film is inspired by real events and helps to raise the profile on the misconception of persons with disability in some societies within Kenya.
There weren’t really any nominations for this award. The festival simply selects winners from the entries they receive, and Lisilojulikana’s producer Elspeth Waldie had submitted her entry.
The PTFF, which features films about disabilities or those produced by persons with disabilities, ran from April 11 to 13, and Lisilojulikana screened to an audience on April 11, followed by a question-and-answer-session between Aggie and the audience.
“The film is about a girl who has cerebral palsy who is sent to live with her relatives in the village in Nyahururu after both her parents die. Her journey is a tough one as people in the local community reject her as being ‘cursed,’ and she has to work hard to dispel beliefs that she is useless and, finally, manages to win them over,” she said about the film.
When Aggie started the project, she was hoping to address a real life situation that many people living with disabilities have to go through daily.
She wanted to bring to light the unfortunate and unfair conditions that they live with that some societies believe to be the normal treatment of persons with disabilities.
MAKING THE FILM
She, therefore, chose to shoot the film in an authentic location, hoping to educate the locals at the same time. The process of making the film was a tough one and they had to train locals to act since they were all just volunteers with no acting experience.
“We also worked with a lot of children as you’ll see in the film, and if you know, there’s a saying that children and animals are the hardest to work with in film (but deliver the most authentic performances). The entire filming process took six weeks and the post-production about nine months,” she said.
It was shot in two different locations, mainly to contrast the lives of both places. Almost the entire film is shot in Nyahururu, where the story is set, and then Nairobi is the setting of the story 30 years later to show what happened to the children when they were grown.
Aggie got into film because she felt the need to express herself visually. She used to read a lot of novels when younger, and always wondered what it would be like to have the stories play out on screen.
She initially wanted to be an actress, but as she got older, she became surer that she wanted to be behind the scenes and tell the stories rather than be the face.
She took a diploma course in TV and video production at East African School of Media Studies in Nairobi, which she says gave her a great introduction to what the industry might be. In reality, she credits everything she knows to learning on the job.
“My first attachment was with the Kenya Grip Company Limited. I worked as a grip for nine months. This was great; it allowed me access to sets of TV commercials, music videos, some TV shows and I was even on the set of Malooned. I learnt a lot about the different roles played by different departments and saw first-hand how they worked together,” says Aggie.
She currently runs her own company, Flick 7 Pictures, which gives her more creative control and she gets to make her own decisions without any outside influence.
She wants to make more films that address real life issues, especially things that have affected her, her most honest source of inspiration.
They are in the middle of the post-production of a web series that they filmed last year in Kenya and hope to release it before August this year.
Aggie thinks of herself more as an actor’s director, saying an actor’s performance carries the majority of the weight of the storytelling process. It also helps to work with cinematographers that can make the camera a part of the story’s characters with interesting shots.
Aggie feels she is yet to be ‘discovered’ in Kenya. “People still prefer Western content and it’s hard to be heard when you are a producer of local content,” she says.
“I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years and we still have a long way to go embracing our own. Lupita Nyong’o herself, whom I’ve had the privilege of working with, wasn’t taken seriously until she won an Oscar, yet she had been in the industry producing content for years,” she argues.
Abroad, it seems people are more interested because filmmaking is taken more seriously as an art form, and many people at the first meeting ask for her website details, links to her work, and give feedback once they have watched something.
“It’s just a matter of time, I think, but Kenyans will eventually embrace their own. I hope that the Kenyan film industry doesn’t give up fighting to become more relevant.
“And the more we keep pushing forward, the more doors we’ll open for future generations and, eventually, Kenyans will be proud of Kenyan content and have no choice but to embrace and celebrate the local film industry,” says Aggie.
These have been an interesting two weeks for film creatives in Kenya. Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki was chosen to premiere at the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in May.