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Paper

for CIEA8 (Madrid, 14-16 June 2012)



Panel 25: Cultura, Media y Cine Africano

Digital cinema and urban identities in Nairobi: the Slum Film Festival

Federico Olivieri, May 2012

Abstract

In Nairobi, Kenya, in the last years, digital cinema has originated a series of
audiovisual products and cultural initiatives that have never had space among the
most disadvantaged social sectors in East Africa. Not only is cinema used to promote
cultural and artistic actions in the slums - the most marginal city areas - but
organizations such as Hot Sun Foundation in Kibera and Slum-TV in Mathare are, for
the first time, offering audiovisual training for the creative youth of these slums
helping them to find new opportunities to produce films and spread their own stories
about these growing urban communities. A result of this growing digital
filmography, the Slum Film Festival emerged in 2011 as the first event ever dedicated
to the productions and images of these informal settlements.

This paper will not only look at presenting this specific cultural event as both mirror
and reflection of a new digital cinema order in Kenya, but it will also try to shed light
on new processes of urban identity construction in todays East Africa.


FOREWORD:

This paper has been developed in collaboration with Ann Overbergh, who is also
presenting her work Technological innovation and the diversification of
audiovisual storytelling in Kenya in the CIEA8. Due to the proximity of our study
topics based on contemporary Kenyan audiovisual panorama, this paper is to be
considered as a complement of Overberghs presentation.

The title of this paper and part of its initial contents presented in the original
abstract submitted to this CIEA8 Congress call - have been modified due to new
observations reached in the process of researching and analyzing the topics.


INTRODUCTION:

After more than a decade of significant growth in African film production thanks to
the emergence of digital technology, countries like Nigeria have surpassed
Hollywood in terms of the annual number of film productions. According to
UNESCO data, between 2005 and 2009, the Nigerian film industry Nollywood,
produced an average of 1,093.5 films per year (UIS, 2009). With this number, the
African continent is now the second largest producer of films in the world, just
behind prolific Indian film industry of Bollywood.

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Digital cinema and its so-called video films have not only allowed audiovisual
production to become an accessible business and communication sector for a
growing number of artists and reporters in the continent, but have also
contributed to the proliferation of indigenous stories and, thus, of representations
which are constantly (re)defining the meaning of contemporary African identity.
Just as Gambian scholar of African literature and cinema Dr. Mbye Cham wrote,
cinema by Africans has grown steadily over this short period of time to become a
significant part of worldwide film movement aimed at constructing and promoting
an alternative popular cinema, one that is more in harmony with the realities, the
experiences, the priorities and desires of the society which it addresses (1996:1).

Likewise, Harding spoke of the ways in which African and British media produced
and presented visual images of Africa in the first years of the 21st century writing,
the video-movie [in Africa] provides a completely new genre which is entertaining
and local and which has come about partly through the availability of the video
[digital] camera and its ease of use compared to film cameras and expensive film
stock (Harding, 2003: 82).

In light of Ann Overberghs insightful analysis on Kenyas contemporary diverse
audiovisual panorama, it becomes clear that this countrys heterogeneous and
multicultural society is today, more than ever, making use of digital technologies to
redefine itself from within. The proven diversity in audiovisual production and
distribution in Kenya demonstrates that there is a growing sector that is opening
up new optimistic visions of technology-based economic growth and social
development and, more importantly, generating a broader spectrum of observable
local narratives that elucidate the complexity of Kenyan society. This diversity
promotes the existence of an unprecedented variety of local voices, which are to
be acknowledged, documented and taken into consideration for a clearer
understanding of todays Kenyan cultural identities.

Just as Overberghs writing on Riverwood, the Jitu Films, the urban underground
cinema of Nairobi, the Cinemart and the emerging mobile-handhelds distribution
models sheds light upon the existing diversity in audiovisual production and
distribution formats in Kenya, this paper will explore the opportunities that digital
cinema have created in Kibera and Mathare, Nairobis largest informal settlements.

In the most disadvantaged areas of Kenyan urban spaces, organizations such as
Hot Sun Foundation or Slum-TV have been providing training to the youth of the
slum in digital audiovisual production and encouraging these young filmmakers to
produce their own films and video-movies about the reality they live. This growing
filmography from Nairobis slums have inspired the creation of the Slum Film
Festival (SFF; www.slumfilmfestival.org), an innovative film-related cultural event
that emerged in 2011 in the two aforementioned areas of the Kenyan capital. I
posit that specific, innovative aspects of this event serve to showcase the impact of
digital technologies and digital cinema in the democratization and diversification
of audiovisual storytelling in Kenya.

In this paper my definition of cinema is an inclusive one, comprising new
technologies, different film formats and the many screen media that can be related

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to its concept. Likewise, my use of digital cinema is also intentionally broad and
refers to the different genres and formats of presenting audiovisual stories by
making use of computer-based technologies and/or non-analogical media.

I will start this paper with a presentation of this new film festival in Nairobi and
the factors that influenced its birth. After this I will comment on some of the main
festivals features and on some of main aspects that made it possible. My analysis
will also explain how this festival reinforces and contributes to new urban
identities in Nairobi, particularly those of the growing numbers of Nairobis slum
dwellers.

Finally, armed with a nave optimism, I will conclude with some general
observations on how these examples of slum audiovisual storytelling are a
precursor to a prolific future for Kenyan digital cinema.

Methodology and analytical positioning

Before I introduce my methodology, I am obliged to acknowledge my position as
both researcher and participant in the case study/event that I present here. The
latter might raise questions of positionality and objectivity in my research analysis,
but I am convinced that my double-relationship with the case of study has given
me unique access to its features, a clearer understanding of its social potential and
impact, its possibilities, and, above all, its real context of existence.

As Overbergh stated in her study, very little literature exist on Kenyas
audiovisual industries. Even less writing has been done on production and
consumption of cultural products in the Kenyan growing informal settlement. For
this reason, this paper can be observed as an initial interdisciplinary work in which
different sources of information and human experience are combined to throw
light on a unique and emerging audiovisual production and cultural practice in
urban Kenya. At the same time, by documenting and informing on a specific film
event, this paper will also be framed in the recent and growing field of film festival
studies.

I used different processes to obtain mainly qualitative information about my
objects of analysis. First, my research on related theories to these fields of study
allowed me to ground much of my discussions, especially those about
contemporary Africa (digital) cinema and of identity formation through this
medium. Second, my involvement, attendance and active participation in the
organization of the first SFF edition allowed me to experience and contribute to
the creation of such a cultural event. As mentioned before, my double-position as a
participant and observant in this festival helped me to obtain a clear view from
inside and to easily find updated data about the upcoming second edition of this
event. Third, as part of my specific fieldwork for obtaining original, first-hand
qualitative material, I undertook several formal and informal interviews during
and after the celebration of the 2011 SFF edition. These interviews were mainly
with participants and spectators of the SFF in Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi
and one of the locations of the film festival. Written notes of their comments and

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audio-recorded interviews with these individuals were my main forms of
collecting data for my study.

One might also say that this paper is based on the data and the insight I obtained
after two full years of work as the cultural cooperation assistant of AECID (Spanish
Agency for International Development Cooperation) in Nairobi. Charged with
implementing the Culture and Development Strategy of AECID in Kenya (2007), I
have coordinated different initiatives for the promotion of local cultural industries
as part of my professional duties. It is this framework of academic and professional
experiences that has permitted me to engage so closely with the SFF and motivated
me to study it in greater depth with this research.


SLUMS ON THE REELS 1

According to UN-Habitat (the United Nations agency for human settlements),
almost 60% of Nairobi population lives in slums (Bekker, 2012). With rapid
urbanization in Africa, this number is growing every year.

Despite the lack of formal structures, infrastructures and services, slums are the
home to growing numbers of Kenyans and other neighboring African nationals, in
which much more can be seen than just a mass of undeveloped mud without any
opportunities of employment, social protection, adequate housing, or any form of
public services, as Adam W. Parson concludes in his book Mega-slumming, a
partial description of Kibera, Nairobis biggest shantytown (2009: 7). Slums are
home to the majority of the youth in Kenyan urban areas, and it is in this
environment that the hopes and voices of new generations are pressed to find
alternative ways of expression and social impact.

In 2007 Hot Sun Foundation in Kibera and in 2006 Slum-TV in Mathare, the two
biggest slums in Nairobi, started using media and audiovisual production to
develop youth talent and empower the most disadvantaged people in Nairobi to
tell their stories through film.

Hot Sun Foundation considers that training [the youth] in filmmaking enhances
their creative potential, thereby creating role models and leaders from within their
communities (Hot Sun, 2007). Similarly, Slum-TV focuses on audiovisual
production and training because its mandate is the presentation of the true
context of Mathare. This is a wide spectrum approach -covering the good and not-
so-good aspects of Mathare (Slum TV, 2006). It is clear that for these two
organizations, filmmaking and audiovisual story-telling are a creative way to
empower the youth and to counteract the simplistic and misinformed
representation about slums and slum dwellers often aired by mainstream media.

From these film schools in the slums, a new Nairobis digital film production has
emerged in the last years, which gave birth to the idea of promoting a specific film
event of and for these informal human settlements. This initiative was imagined as

1 This was the main slogan used during the first edition of the Slum Film Festival. It condenses the

philosophy of this cultural event in which cinema is both from and for the slums.

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a way to both spread and promote these indigenous cultural products created from
within, but also to acknowledge and publicly identify the young, upcoming talents
of the ghettos.

Attempting to bring African films closer to their primary audience2, I was also
considering the idea of organizing free public African cinema screenings in some of
Nairobis slums as part of the cultural cooperation activities of the Embassy of
Spain in Kenya. My intent was to offer new cultural experiences to the most
disadvantaged urban communities in Nairobi, but also to get Kenyan audiences to
consume some of the most internationally acknowledged African audiovisual
products. However, the more I researched the possibility of organizing free public
African film screenings in the informal settlements, the more I realized that
besides offering visual entertainment, internationally acclaimed productions from
South Africa, Senegal or Ghana, to name just a few examples, would not generate
any major effects in the local audience. However, after several constructive
conversations with Mr. Sam Hopkins (co-funder of SlumTV), Ms. Mercy Murugi
(director of the Kibera Film School and executive director of Hot Sun Foundation),
Mr. Kenneth Wendo (Slum TV programme coordinator) and Mr. Josphat Keya (Hot
Sun Foundation project coordinator), I supported the idea of fostering cultural
activities with which slum dwellers could easily identify and from which they
could also get inspired. This project was further developed by the implication and
dedication of the members of Hot Sun Foundation and SlumTV from March 2011
until the beginning of its pilot edition later in August3.

As stated in the press conference launch in Nairobi4 in August 2011 and in all the
public information material of the first edition:

The SFF is a pilot film event that will focus on movies made by and about the
slums. This first edition will pay special attention to the images of slums
around Nairobi, with the vision of expansion to include films from other
slums around the world in future celebrations. []
This event does not want to legitimize the existence of these informal human
settlements, but to raise more public attention while changing peoples
perspectives towards these spaces and the people who live in them. (SFF,
2011a)

2 As Mozambican filmmaker and Dokanema Maputo documentary film festival director said once

at Tarifa African Film Festival: The biggest paradox of African cinema is that of not being able to be
confronted with its own organic audience with the African spectators (Pimenta, 2009).
3 The first edition of the SFF was officially founded and organized by Slum TV (www.slum-tv.org),
Hot Sun Foundation and its joint organizations Kibera Film School and Kibera TV
(www.hotsunfoundation.org), and the Embassy of Spain in Kenya/AECID (Spanish Agency of
International Development Cooperation). It also counted with the collaboration of Film Aid, the
Mathare Spacial Training Centre and the Nairobi Art Centre (SFF, 2011a). It was run on a very small
budget of approximately 600.000 Kenyan Shilling (equivalent to circa 5,500 Euros). Half of this
budget was donated by the AECID cultural funds of the Embassy of Spain, while the other half was
given in kind by the aforementioned implementing and collaborating organizations.
4 The first SFF press conference was celebrated at the premises of the Embassy of Spain in Nairobi

on Thursday 4th August 2011. In this media event the following representative spoke on behalf of
the involved supporting institutions and organizations: Mr. Javier Herrera, Ambassador of Spain to
Kenya; Ms. Mercy Murugi, Executive Director of Hotsun Foundation; Mr. Kenneth Wendo,
Programme Coordinator of SlumTV; and Ms. Alex Percival, Director of The Nairobi Art Centre.

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The first SFF took place from 8th to 21st August 2011 at the Kamakunji and
Mabatini community open-grounds, the two main open-air public spaces in the
shantytowns of Kibera and Mathare respectively. In two weeks full of activities, the
event attracted more than 3,000 people to the programmed screenings and
parallel events in each slum5.

As stated in the mission of SFF, the cinematic programme of the event in 2011 was
to consist of films of different genres, made by slum filmmakers which gave a
realistic representation of the reality of a slum. A total of 50 films meeting these
criteria were selected and projected onto large screens in these venues,
demonstrating the current consistency and variety of this incipient slum
filmography.

In addition to the film program, a series of complementary parallel activities were
organized throughout the festival days to make this first festival in the slums a
stage for other local artists to share their talent, messages, and artistic style with
their community. In both slums, a morning filmmaking workshop was offered to a
group of 12 young students from these shantytowns. Celebrated at the premises of
Hot Sun Foundation in Kibera and the Special Training Centre in Mathare, this
educational activity gave these youth the opportunity to learn how to visually tell a
story using digital technologies (digital cameras of different kinds). Employing the
theme My World and Who I am, this introductory workshop allowed these groups
of SFF participants to produce their own short films for the first time, fulfilling one
of the primary aims of the festival: promoting interest in filmmaking within the
youth in the slums, enabling them to use it as a tool of development and self-
representation for the people in the slums and creating access to the media as
skills for the same (SFF, 2011b).

Other initiatives such as a free art workshop6 and stage performances by local
artists7 were scheduled in the morning and early afternoon hours before the daily
evening film screenings. In all of these complementary cultural activities, the local
participating artists offered all the performances and shows without requesting
artist fees or allowances. While some would say that this is an inappropriate
practice in an environment that attempts to create a viable and sustainable
creative industry in the slums, it can also be viewed as a genuine engagement of
the community in a new cultural initiative that, for the first time, was owned by the
slums and for the slums.


5 This figure is a realistic and prudent estimation of the general audience that attended some of the

daily SFF public activities in each slum. The final number has been calculated by multiplying an
average daily audience of 500 people in each of the 6 days of public open-air screenings.
6 The 2011 SFF Art Workshop was offered by the Nairobi Art Centre (a private school in Nairobi)

and taught the initial steps of hand-drawing and painting to young students from Kibera and
Mathare on the 9th and 18th of August 2011.
7 More than 30 groups of local artists performed on the SFF stage from 2 to 6pm every day of the

festival before the evening film screenings. Some these performances and shows during the 2011
SFF programme were: Mc Jahill Open-Mic sessions, the Pillars of Kibera acrobats, Mathares Tremaz
drama, the dances of Kibera Hamlets or Nairobi Ngoma, or the concerts of Kuruka Maisha, B52
Music, John and the Band, and Lady P.

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After sundown in Nairobi when the slum community open-grounds became dark
enough to start projecting films, the SFF commenced the magical experience of
showing a movie on the big inflatable screen. Large groups of children sat on the
floor in the first lines, close to the screen, while hundreds of people of different
ages stood standing, even from a distance, to watch the movies. Although this was
not the first time that people in the slum saw a movie on the big screen, it was one
of the first times that they saw their own narratives on the big screen.

The film selection of the first SFF showed 50 different movies made in Nairobis
slums or by slum filmmakers. The genres of these indigenous audiovisual projects
and products were diverse ranging from professionally produced feature-length
films, to short personal testimonials made by the filmmaking workshop students.
Despite this diversity, about 90% of the film programme was formed by short
films, mainly related to the Kibera Film School students work, Slum-TV
collaborative projects or other audiovisual productions made by independent
young filmmakers who received funding from non-for-profit, cultural or aid
organizations working in these slums8. The first edition of the SFF also screened
three recent, internationally awarded Kenyan films shot in Kibera 9 . Every
screening also included a few explanatory words from the filmmakers or local
participants in these productions.

The upcoming SFF edition, now under preparation, will also showcase East African
slum-related productions from slums of the countries of the East African
Community - Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. To broaden the
representational space of the SFF, the organization has opened a call for entries
within the following official competitive categories: Short film drama (duration:
maximum 20 minutes); Short film documentary (20 minutes); PSA - Public Service
Announcement (maximum 1 min); Music Video (maximum 5 min); and Community
News - reporting or feature (maximum 10 min). Other slum-related film genres
outside these features will be also considered, but for the non-competitive film
categories.

The festival specificity: audiovisual trends and human impact

The SFF represents an innovative cultural initiative through which traditionally
disenfranchised urban communities are given a platform to be heard by a wider
audience, represent their viewpoints, and command a more positive attention of
the media.

In light of the SFF movie categories, the film festival is a groundbreaking event in
the world of film because its cinematic programme represents the audiovisual
trends of a specific contemporary African cultural urban environment and its
emergent film industry. The short formats of these competitive film categories

8 Some of these organizations are the Mwelu Foundation (www.mwelu.org), FilmAid, and USAid,
among others.
9 These internationally recognized Kenyan films were the feature-length social tragedy
Togetherness Supreme (made by Nathan Collett), the urban legend fictional movie Soul Boy (by
Hawa Essuman) and the docu-fiction social drama Ndoto Za Elibidi (made by Nick Reding and
Kamau Wa Ndungu).

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define the predominant production and consumption of audiovisual texts in
Kenyan slums, which generally lack a solid indigenous cinema and an audiovisual
exhibition infrastructure. In all of the long interviews that were carried out while
researching film culture in the slums, the young interviewees consistently stated
that the main commercial venues in which cinema is consumed in the slums are
the video-halls - exhibition rooms where different kind of films are commercially
shown on TV screens to medium to small audiences (Aka, 2012; Omondi, 2012;
Onyango, 2012). The dominant method of cinema consumption in Nairobis slums,
however, occurs in private spaces, since most residences in the slum have a
television equipped with a DVD-player. This, of course, creates an environment in
which cinema is not a social experience, but a private activity mainly related to the
consumption of pirated foreign movies that slum dwellers can find at affordable
prices in the local markets.

The SFF challenges these conventional methods of cinema consumption by the
sheer force of its format open, social screenings, in which the audience shares a
common cinematic experience - an experience, no less, showcasing the recent slum
film production to its own community on a regularly scheduled basis for the first
time. An anonymous 23 years-old Kiberian gave the format a generally positive
review saying that he liked the way they screen films during the SFF (SFF,
2011c). However, Ronald Omondi, a 23 year-old Kiberian who participated in the
events film workshop, offered a stronger opinion on the SFFs contribution to the
community stating that the SFF is like a platform for every youth, since young
people get to discover what is happening in filmmaking in the slums (Omondi,
2012). Omondi further added that, it is important that the SFF showcases films
about and made in the slums because, contrarily to those films that we can see in
the video-halls, these films are made by people who have not achieved their
dreams yet. The SFF gives the people who have not reached that level of
recognition a place and a chance to express themselves and their talent (2012).

Because of all this, it can be observed that this film event does not only create a
structure for a new and diverse filmography from the most populated and yet
underserved urban areas of Nairobi, but it also generates a new cultural
experience for slum dwellers to define their own identity. The SFF seems clearly to
be one of the first platforms for (digital) cinema from and for the informal human
settlements.

When I asked the community journalist and member of Kibera-TV Roy Paul
Onyango Okello about the relevance of strengthening [through the SFF] the
feelings of belonging of Kiberians to Kibera, he felt that it was an important goal
because the SFF is installing confidence in people in the slums. It shows people
something like that common saying shared by many slum artists: Its only our
roofs that are rusted, but not our brains (Onyango, 2012). Chris Olwenyi Aka, a
24-year-old community-radio presenter from Kibera, shared the sentiment:
People normally think that, by coming to the slums, they will only meet criminals
and they will find themselves in danger. The SFF will change their perspectives and
it will also give feedback to the people of the slums (Aka, 2012). These
observations evince the extreme though tacit tension between the external and

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internal perceptions of slums and slum dwellers, caused by the misinformed
representations of slums by mainstream media and NGO-related reporting.

Informal settlements (or more colloquially, slums) lacking clean water,
electricity, sanitation and other basic services and infrastructure, regrettably
adhere to the descriptions of the UN-Habitat report:

Since it first appeared in the 1820s, the word slum has been used to identify
the poorest quality housing, and the most unsanitary conditions; a refuge for
marginal activities including crime, vice and drug abuse; a likely source for
many epidemics that ravaged urban areas; a place apart from all that was
decent and wholesome. Today, the catchall term slum is loose and
deprecatory. It has many connotations and meanings and is seldom used by
the more sensitive, politically correct, and academically rigorous. But in
developing countries, the word lacks the pejorative and divisive original
connotation, and simply refers to lower quality or informal housing.
The term slum is used in the Report to describe a wide range of low-income
settlements and poor human living conditions. A simple definition of a slum
would be a heavily populated urban area characterised by substandard
housing and squalor. (UN-Habitat, 2007)

However, even today and even from within Nairobis urban life (as I stated above, a
city with unfortunately growing slums), slum dwellers are still often perceived as
holders of those negative and pejorative qualities related to this concept.

Commenting on the influence of the urban slum environment in the lives of its
inhabitants, Chris Olwenyi Aka believes that this term can be interpreted very
differently, especially when repossessed by its own community:

For me, in an art way, the word SLUM means Simple Living and Uplifting
Mind, while GHETTO, as we also call these areas, means Getting High
Education To Teach Others or getting life-skills to teach others.

[]Even if you are from a slum and you come from the poorest environment,
you always have something positive to show out. [] In some ways, this
event [the SFF] affects the way people feel that they belong to this slum. It
has an impact, since slums have always been portrayed in a bad way, but
when you emphasize on the positive, it can also build up people (Aka,
2012)

Akas comments reflect the impact that such a cultural event can have in the daily
lives of the most disadvantaged urban areas, its own primary and organic
audience. By showing different audiovisual local stories to its own community, the
SFF can reinforce social integration and identification within slum communities,
resulting in the construction of more solid urban cultural identities.

To better understand the relations between cinema and identity formation, a look
at Stuart Halls theories and the way cultural identities are formed can be

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clarifying. Though a theoretical presentation might seem a digression, it will be
useful in clarifying our papers conclusions.


INTERMISSION: A look into identity and cinematic representation

While the term identity theoretically refers to who a person is, or the qualities of
a person or group which make them different from others (Cambridge Dictionary,
2009), Stuart Hall argues that the production or creation process of cultural
identities can only be understood as the result of a process of representation. In
other words, according to Hall, any definition about the concept of identity can
only appear in the individual or social act of construction of meanings, which is
constantly in evolution and therefore never absolutely complete. In this
production of meanings, furthermore, filmmaking and cinema play, like other
major mass cultural forms, a central role.

Following Halls theories, instead of thinking of identity as an already
accomplished historical fact, which the new cinematic discourses then represent,
identity should be observed, instead, as production, which is never complete,
always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.
(Hall, 1996: 210)

From this important premise for any analysis dealing with identity in cinematic
representations, the Jamaican sociologist and cultural theorist continues
explaining that cultural identity can mainly be conceived under two different
perspectives or ways of thinking. The first position observes identity in relation to
the idea of one, shared culture, a sort of collective one true self, [] which people
with a shared history and ancestry hold in common (Hall, 1996: 211).

The second way of conceiving cultural identity is, according to Hall, that which
involves the ideas of differences and discontinuities, a perspective which brings
special attention to the interrelated notions of history, transformation, narratives,
construction and positioning. In this second assumption therefore, cultural identity
is not considered as a universally defined element existing a priori, but it is a
transforming position that acquires its own (personal) meanings in relation to the
discourses of history and culture, both individually and collectively perceived:

This second position recognizes that, as well as the many points of similarity,
there are also critical points of deep and significant difference which
constitute what we really are: or rather since history has intervened
what we have become. Cultural identity, in this second sense, [...] is not
something which already exists, transcending place, time, history, and
culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like
everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far
from being eternally fixed in some essentialized past, they are subject to
continuous play of history, culture, and power. Far from being grounded in
a mere recovery of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which, when
found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the

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names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position
ourselves within, the narratives of the past. [...]

In this perspective, cultural identity is not a fixed essence at all, lying
unchanged outside history and culture. It is not some universal and
transcendental spirit inside us on which history has made no fundamental
mark. It is not once-and-for-all. [...] It is always constructed through memory,
fantasy, narrative, and myth. (Hall, 1996: 212-213)


ACTION: (film)making Nairobis slum identity

Halls framework for the construction of cultural identities is a particularly apt
lens through which we can view the relationship between the SFF and an evolving
slum cultural identity. The messages of the programmed films, when viewed by the
communities in which they were filmed, reinforce an individual and collective
memory, fantasy, narrative and myth. This creation of a new urban identity
through each one of these factors (memory, fantasy, narrative, and myth) is best
illustrated by looking at some of the selected films in the first SFF.

One Goal, One Hope is a touching documentary by Jeff Mohammed, that shows the
inspiring life story of a man from Mathare who lost a leg to polio yet continues to
pursue his dream of playing football. In showcasing the life condition of many
residents of the slum, this film demonstrates the use of audiovisual storytelling in
creating memory and social consciousness about the realities of the slums and
their individuals.

The docu-fictional short Poa Rowe, also made by J. Mohammed, tells the imaginary
story of an anthropomorphized river in Mathare who speaks to a young child
concerned by the environmental degradation of his neighborhood. Shot in
Kiswahili and local Sheng slang 10 , this movie can be interpreted as a
representation of fantasies that are also participating in the construction of a
specific slum identity.

Sita Kimya, a participatory community video-film shot in Kibera, follows the lives
of perpetrators and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. While fulfilling
purposes of social sensitization, this movie can be seen as a form of documenting a
specific slum narrative or social (hi)story.

Last Moment, a fictional short made by Victor Oluoch from Kibera, tells the
tormented love story of Suzan, a Kiberian who discovers the dirty games played by
her secret admirer, which affects her first love relationship at her 18th birthday
celebration. Similarly, the courageous short film Silent Battle, directed by Josphat
Keya, talks about the struggles of 16-year old Vinnie who tries to find help in
knowing more about his homosexuality. While focusing on individual stories and


10 Sheng is a Swahili-based patois or slang-based language, originating in Nairobis slum and
suburban areas, and influenced by the many tribal languages spoken there. Primarily a language of
urban youths, the word is coined from the two words - (S)wahili and (Eng)lish.

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human sentiments, these productions try to challenge social preconceptions and
deconstruct myths of these slum communities.

Finally, based on the true events and the ethnic conflict of 2007 Kenyan Post-
election violence, the feature length docu-drama Togetherness Supreme, directed
by Nathan Collett and produced by members of the Kibera Film School, engages
with an important part of recent Kenyan history from the perspective of slum
dwellers. While exploring the difficulties of Kamau and Otieno, two Kiberian
friends affected by the tragic historical events, this movie represents a specific
slum narrative with which a crucial episode of slum history is re-thought and
shaped into slum identities.

While the previous examples clearly demonstrate the role of memory, fantasy,
narrative, and myth in identity construction, this novel slum filmography can also
be observed as the one of the first phases of a prolific slum audiovisual culture that
speaks of what the slums might have become (Hall, 1996) and how people in the
slum are engaging with this process of cultural identity construction. The novelty
of the SFF lies in the fact that the myriad stories contained in these films negate the
monolithic and simplistic perception of the slum by those who are not familiar
with these human settlements. By contrast, these representations are more
realistic and constructive in shaping the cultural identity of these often-forgotten
urban spaces. And by challenging these perceptions and making the realistic
representations more visible both internally and externally, the SFF will make this
identity construction process more prolific, elaborate and solid.


FINALE: Towards conclusions

With no doubt, the key factor in innovating and diversifying the field of audiovisual
storytelling in Kenya has been the advent of digital technologies. In no other sector
of Kenyan society is this more evident than in the most disenfranchised areas of
Nairobi, the slums. The SFF has become one of the most significant examples of
how slum artists have started to redefine their own representations and identities
through this medium. And in this self-creation of identity, the slums are offered a
fresh and cohesive point of view of their own realities one of hope and positive
reflections through which inspiration, integration and identification generate self-
confidence in oneself and ones community.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that film is but one of the many cultural
products that create slum identity. According to all the interviewees, the most
influential indigenous cultural form at present is music, with local hip-hop
concerts being among the most demanded and consumed cultural products in the
slum. Outstanding as an unprecedented local initiative, the SFF is in its nascent
stages and it is hence unclear how slum digital cinema will continue to evolve and
how this will affect the diverse Kenyan audiovisual panorama. What is clear,
however, is that the SFF has emerged and, with it, a slum filmography has actively
started to shape new urban cultural identities in Nairobi. Observing this promising
beginning, the slum digital cinema contains great potential to become a dominant
audiovisual production with its own specific formats and genres which will

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certainly develop in harmony with the technological innovations and the
diversification of audiovisual storytelling described by Ann Overbergh in her
paper.

Finally, it is important to clarify that the SFF has been possible thanks to the
existence of cultural organizations such as Hot Sun Foundation and Slum-TV in
which a slum filmography has been able to materialize. The existence of such
cultural industrys promoters in Kibera and Mathare is what makes these slums
among the best-served informal settlements in Kenya. That these cultural
organizations are only in the aforementioned slums makes slum filmmaking a
unique experience that unfortunately is not generalizable to slums with a more
resource-poor arts scene. In the case of the latter, the slum cinema and the SFF
ought to become an inspiration for these other slums and, as the festivals mission
suggests, also for all those other East African, African or world informal
settlements in which similar realities exist.

The audiovisual digital production from the slums of Nairobi is diverse and
heterogeneous, with many different stories that explore and engage with what
being a slum dweller in a contemporary global city like todays Nairobi means.
With its own evolution, its aims and its features, its plans and ideals, its memories,
fantasies, narratives and myths, in only one year and a half the SFF has become a
groundbreaking cultural platform for the voices of the globally urban oppressed.
Only time will say how this event will evolve and how it will affect human
development and digital cinema in the slums in the future, but the SFF will
definitely stand as a milestone for the recognition of Nairobis most disadvantaged
urban communities and their invisible cultural identities.





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REFERENCES:

AECID [Agencia Espaola de Cooperacin Internacional para el Desarrollo
Spanish Agency of International Development Cooperation]. 2007. Estrategia de
cultura y desarrollo de la Cooperacin espaola [Culture and Development Spanish
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http://www.aecid.es/es/que-hacemos/cultura-ciencia/documentos/estrategia/
[Accessed on 20 May 2012].

Aka, Chris Olwenyi. 2012. Audio-recorded interview with author (14 April).

Bekker, S. and Therborn, G. eds. 2012. Capital cities in Africa : power and
powerlessness. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Cambridge Dictionary (2009). Identity. (entry in Cambridge Dictionaries Online)
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Cham, Mbye B. and Imruh Bakari eds. 1996. African Experiences of Cinema. London:
BFI Pub.

Hall, Stuart. 1996. Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation. In Baker,
Houston A. Jr., Mathia Diawara, and Ruth H. Lindeborg eds. Black British Cultural
Studies, Chicago : University of Chicago Press. Ch. 11: 210-222.

Harding, Frances ed. 2003. Africa and the Moving Image. Journal of African
Cultural Studies 16.1 (June): 69-84.

Hot Sun Foundation. 2007. Info on Global Giving organization profile. [Online]
Available at: http://www.globalgiving.org/donate/1433/hot-sun-
foundation/info/ [Accessed on 20 May 2012].

Omondi, Ronald. 2012. Audio-recorded interview with author (14 April).

Onyango Okello, Roy Paul. 2012. 2012. Audio-recorded interview with author (14
April).

Parsons, Adam W. 2009. Mega-slumming: A journey through sub-Saharan Africas
largest shantytown. London: Share The World Resources.

Pimenta, Pedro. 2009. Filmed interview with autor (26 May).

SFF (Slum Film Festival). 2011a. SFF Press-pack. Press release. 4 August [Naiorbi].

----- 2011b. SFF official web. [Online] Available at: www.slumfilmfestival.org
[Accessed on 22 May 2012].

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----- 2011c. SFF Audience Feedback written forms. 11 August [Archived at Hot
Sun Foundation].

Slum TV. 2006. How It All Began. [Online] Available at: http://www.slum-
tv.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21&Itemid=2 [Accessed
on 20 May 2012]

UIS [UNESCO Institute for Statistics] eds. 2009. Average national film production
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Filmography:

Last Moment. 2011. Directed by Victor Oluoch (Kenya, 1328). Available online at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWxtka1WQ5o [Accessed on 22 May 2012]

Ndoto Za Elibidi (The Dreams of Elibidi). 2010. Directed by Nick Reding and Kamau
Wa Ndungu (Kenya, 75)

One Goal, One Hope. 2010. Directed by Jeff Mohammed (Kenya, 13). Available
online at: http://vimeo.com/11428171 [Accessed on 22 May 2012].

Poa Rowe (River Talk). 2011. Directed by Jeff Mohammed (Kenya, 7). Available
online at: http://vimeo.com/33394453 [Accessed on 22 May 2012].

Silent Battle. 2010 Directed by Josphat Keya (Kenya, 1327). Available online at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG-S84hkBXs [Accessed on 22 May 2012].

Sita Kimya. 2010. Directed by Cajetan Boy and Lillian Thothoi (Kenya, 105).

Soul Boy. 2010. Directed by Hawa Essuman and Tom Tykwer (Kenya, 61).

Togetherness Supreme. 2010. Directed by Nathan Collett (Kenya, 94).


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