This Newsletter comes with apologies for the long silence. It is 2 years since Kenya’s disastrous Elections and going through my Letters from Kenya at the beginning of 2008 brings it all back with a prayer that our politicians have learnt a lesson and let that never happen again. One wonders reading about their endless posturing and greed in the daily papers.
KENYA FILM INDUSTRY
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES: A great deal of time and effort during the past 2 years has been spent persuading and almost succeeding in getting the Kenya Government to offer a Financial Incentive / Tax Break to Producers to bring Kenya in line with her major competitors. In fact, month after month I’ve been telling myself that I’ll send out a Newsletter when we announce the Financial Incentive!
As a Board Member of the Kenya Film Commission, I have represented Kenya at the AFCI Location Trade Shows in Santa Monica in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2008, our main agenda was to restore confidence in Kenya after the awful violent images which were sent around the world again and again. In fact, that year the FAQ was, “Are you OK?” In 2009, with a much reduced budget KFC exhibited again, this time joined by some fellow filmmakers. KFC’s best move was sponsoring internationally respected Kenyan Location Scout, Robin Hollister to represent us.
Soon after our return from Santa Monica in April 2009, and riding on the positive buzz we brought back with us (17 possible US productions for Kenya), the Minister for Finance announced that filming would be free of taxes and duties. We, the stakeholders, have put forward our recommendations for accreditation of bona fide filmmakers, as well as a comprehensive list of duty free filming items. But six months on from the Budget announcement, we are still being told it will get Cabinet approval “this month”.
LOCAL INDUSTRY: However, thanks largely to rapidly advancing technology and with the help of the Kenya Film Commission, there is now a fledgeling local film industry in Kenya. We are a long way behind Nigeria and other West African countries but we are getting there. The Financial Incentives will also greatly help our local film makers.
INCREASE IN PARK ENTRY FEES: As expected, some National Parks and Reserves increased their entry fees with effect from 1st January 2009. KWS Filming fees, so far, are not affected.
Kenya Wildlife Service: the following are the new daily entry rates for non-residents in National Parks: Amboseli and Nakuru US$60; Aberdares, Tsavo E&W, Meru, Chyulu, Mt Kenya, US$50; Nairobi US$40; Hell’s Gate US$25; Longonot, Shimba Hills and Kakamega US$20.
Maasai Mara: the Mara Conservancy increased their daily rate for non-residents to US$60, closely followed by the Narok County Council.
LOCAL COUNCIL FILMING FEES
This is a subject we urgently need to address. Local authorities should be competing to attract film productions but in Kenya it is the opposite, the competition is who can charge the most exorbitant filming fees. It all started with Isiolo county council after Survivor Africa quite rightly paid very high fees for exclusive rights to Shaba National Reserve for 6 months. We, the stakeholders, are continuously lobbying government to regularize Filming/Location fees countrywide and will continue to do so.
TAKING THE FLAK
After the very successful BBC Pilot (The Calais Rules) shot in Nakuru in 2007, the series was given the green light, and a new title “Taking the Flak”, and was scheduled to shoot in Nakuru from January to March, 2008. Nakuru was one of the worst hit areas during the post-election violence and, although by June things had calmed down, the Nakuru Showground (one of our principal locations) was still occupied by hundreds of displaced families and the BBC obviously had to find an alternate location. Sadly for Kenya, Arusha Tanzania was chosen for shooting in August/September 2008 . As Tanzania does not have a film infrastructure, Crew and Cast still had to come from Kenya which was coordinated by Pontact. Cost constraints brought about by the move on an already low BBC budget prevented them from having any Pontact production supervising crew on location which taught us a sound lesson.
MEMORIES IN THE FUTURE
Before the smoke of the post-election violence had settled, intrepid Zentropa from Denmark arrived to shoot an innovative pilot for a feature film on Stills + Visual and Sound FX. Soysambu Conservancy and Elmenteita in the Rift Valley presented the perfect location for the planet destroyed by man. Soysambu - because raging bushfires had decimated more than 5,000 acres of savannah, even spreading into Lake Nakuru National Park. And Elmenteita - because there was a new IDP camp there. Far from upsetting the recently displaced families, the filming provided them with a welcome distraction, as well as financial reward and supply of fresh water for all for some months. It was still heartbreaking to hear their stories, particularly the children.
DOCUMENTARIES & STILLS SHOOTS, 2008-2009
Apart from supplying numerous small documentary crews with Licences and Permits under the Pontact umbrella, and a successful stills shoot for Mercedes, we coordinated several episodes for two major series for History Channel and Animal Planet. The former (with Global Film Solutions NZ, and Cabana 9 LA) is entitled “The Conservationists” with the crew and presenter literally risking their lives to get the film in the can. Off the coast of Liberia, they encountered murderous pirates on the high seas, and in Congo infiltrated the lucrative and dangerous charcoal trade. Although our involvement in those two countries was minimal, the Kenyan episode might be considered rather tame in comparison. They tackled the poaching problem in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and provided valuable hi-tech equipment and training.
For 3 months (August-October) a crew from Authentic TV, Los Angeles, shot 10 episodes of a series entitled “Night”. It was the dream safari, traversing the best wildlife areas of Kenya, living under canvas most of the time in luxury tented camps – the only hardship being that it was entirely shot at night. They were accompanied by Pontact’s Location Scout/Manager – Andrew Nightingale – whose knowledge of the bush is second to none and who manages to make any trip exciting and fascinating. We haven’t yet seen the end result although it has been aired in the USA and has just begun on our DSTV Africa.
This was a low budget TVC shoot for Humana, a Dutch organisation which raises funds for education, medical and water projects in Africa, through the sale of second hand clothes in Europe; and the start of a long and, we hope, fruitful relationship with Pink Rabbit of Amsterdam. With such a thriving industry of Mitumba (second hand clothes) in Kenya, we had no problem filling a 7-ton tipper truck with clothes. To have a herd of giraffe crossing the road in front of the truck was a bonus none of us could have planned, and the client could hardly believe!
BANGED UP ABROAD – Ep.12 Sierra Leone
Pontact has had some long and logistically difficult shoots which would have defeated a lesser team. But we have always overcome those difficulties and silenced all the critics waiting to say “I told you so” and over the years, built up a formidable reputation. However, we are not ashamed to admit that LUA-Sierra Leone nearly sunk us!
Jenny started prepping long distance from Santa Monica when she was attending the AFCI Locations Trade Show, confident that our ‘A’ team would be available to work in May as it was the rainy season, only to find that almost all freelance crew were shooting. However, finally with a few ‘A’ Team all-rounders and some willing but not very experienced ‘B’ Team, we managed to get a crew together ready to shoot in Malindi. At this stage I should point out that if anyone is looking for a Sierra Leone location, Malindi is ideal.
The only week in the past two years that we did not want rain, it came down in buckets. The English crew brought with them a nasty ‘flu bug which the DOP tried to ignore and consequently had to be flown home and replaced. And the Commissioner of Police refused our application to hire weapons, for the first time in 20 years. Appeals from the highest seats in Government were ignored until finally a personal connection of Jenny’s persuaded him to sign the approval.
It is usually the productions that try you the most turn out the best and this is certainly the case with “LUA Sierra Leone – The Phil Ashby Story”. It is a little gem; and our thanks go to Director Renny, Producer Hannah, and the whole crew, but most of all to General Opande, former commander of the UN Forces in Sierra Leone.
The Climate Nerd is a popular childrens TV character in Denmark, and we filmed a few hilarious slots with him for Zentropa. He was christened Mr. Maize (after Mr. Bean) by the local populace and collected quite a following. This was commando shooting at its best (small, multitasked crew) and Producer, Ida, stayed on in Kenya to begin the location scouting for “Civilisation”, part of a Zentropa feature film.
THE DOCTOR FROM HIPPO LAKE
Next we were shooting part of a comedy for Farbyka Productions of Czech Republic in Western Kenya – Kisumu, Kakamega, Kericho, and eventually a reduced unit in Nakuru and Naivasha. With an extremely efficient Producer, they had already done their location scout and made all their shooting decisions before they approached us. They only required a small Kenyan crew – PM, PA, Lighting and Grips plus drivers. The Czechs obviously all have a wealth of experience in film. What a pity their command of English is so sparse. Even so, the Czech Ambassador to Kenya is a former film maker, has great ideas for developing the industry in Kenya, and is obviously a “mover”. We are looking forward to a fruitful working relationship with her in the New Year.