KIFF: Kenyans need to tell their own story

It’s a Kenyan story. The First Grader, a film based on true events surrounding Kimani Maruge’s entry into primary school at the age of 84, is a Kenyan story.

It is very well done, with the producer and director expertly tugging at emotional heartstrings, taking a closer look at the life of Kimani, who made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest person to join primary school.

The First Grader, however, is a Kenyan story told by Justin Chadwick, a Brit. At first, it would irk the Kenyan to notice a few South African accents, but as the story goes on the main actor (Kenyan Oliver Litondo) captivates and with Justin’s guidance displays courage and resilience in his quest for education.

There is nothing wrong with the way the story is told. Litondo and Justin show Kimani’s determination to go to school despite opposition from members of the community where he stays and the government as well. Kimani, a former Mau Mau prisoner, has been tortured in the hands of the British army and is therefore not afraid of anything.

His future is however haunted by his past, and as this unfolds, it becomes clear why he is insisting on going to school and why the government should let him.

The First Grader, which was released in July this year, was shown at the opening of the Kenya International Film Festival (KIFF) on Friday.

Litondo, who was among the chief guests, challenged local producers not to disregard Kenyan stories as they work on new films.

“This is a Kenyan story. We must tell it,” he said to a black-tie audience in his soft but firm voice.

“We shot the film with amazing talented children, most of whom had never been in a movie before. Kenyan producers must recognise and work on these local stories.”

He mentioned Wangari Maathai and Samuel Wanjiru’s stories as brilliant examples that should be picked up and worked on locally.

KIFF Executive Director Charles Asiba lauded the growth of the film industry, calling on all Kenyans to be serious about it.

“The film industry is now. At the moment about 96% of it is made up of the youth. This is the future ladies and gentlemen. Film can spur development.”

This year’s festival that opened on October 21 runs until October 30, and will showcase about 360 films, most of them local. It is the first time the event will take place outside Nairobi, with concurrent screenings in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret.

Nairobi screenings will take place at Alliance Francaise, Prestige Plaza, National Museums of Kenya, Goethe Institute and the Sarakasi Dome. Entrance is free.

There will be sessions on the sidelines, which will be dominated by learning how to do soundtracks, as part of this year’s festivities.

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