NEWSLETTER – DECEMBER 2010
The last newsletter left us shooting “Doctor from the Hippo Lake” with Farbyka of Czech Republic in November 2009. At exactly the same time we were prepping and shooting “Civilisation” (Working title) for Zentropa of Denmark, directed by Susanne Bier (and that is probably why it was not mentioned at the time.
“HÆVNEN” – “IN A BETTER WORLD”
After traversing the length and breadth of ‘desolate looking locations’ in Kenya, including a fascinating research trip to Dadaab, Kenya’s biggest refugee camp close to the Somali border, we returned to a small group of IDP tents in Kekopey, close to Gilgil town in the Great Rift Valley. It turned out to be the perfect decision for several reasons, not least for being very manageable logistically as it is only 2 hours’ drive from Nairobi.
Secondly, Kenya was suffering the worst drought in memory and the nearby Lake Elmenteita completely dried up during the time we were filming.
And last but not least, the moral dilemma of filming Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) did not come into the picture because the IDPs had bought the 12 acres of land on which their camp was situated. Unfortunately, the group had split and our policy of helping a community project was not going to work because one group had decided to move on and so the two committees had different needs. However, both committees were very organized and paying equal location fees into their bank accounts ensured the money was shared correctly.
The IDP tents were now pitched in two distinct groups at either end of the plot of land, with a space in the centre which was where, conveniently, we built our Field Hospital compound, and filled the gaps with more tents.
Construction took 3 weeks, whilst we were casting and training actors in Nairobi. As is usual with visiting productions, the Zentropa producers were talking of casting the principal parts, particularly that of the evil warlord, from South Africa, Europe or the US. And, as usual, we found the perfect thespians in Kenya.
The weather also cooperated perfectly, with winds and dust sweeping through the camp, tents flapping and little black kids’ faces turned white with panda eyes. After we left, the rains came and have barely stopped in this region until now.
The film survived an attack by the Kenyan gutter press suggesting it was fermenting a war in Sudan, and has been released to great critical acclaim around the world. The Danish title is Hævnen, and it is released in English (subtitled) as In a Better World. It is the Danish entry for the Oscars as Best Foreign Language Film, and has received a nomination in the same category in the Golden Globes. Congratulations to Writer/Director Susanne Bier.
“KIDNAPPET” – “LOST IN AFRICA”
Whilst we were shooting with Zentropa, another Danish Producer and Director were busy prepping a Danish feature film in Kibera – famous as Africa’s biggest informal settlement or slum – casting and location scouting. After they met with Jenny, they decided to work with Pontact.
We shot this delightful little kids’ movie in March and April 2010, three weeks in Kibera and then various locations around Nairobi for 4 weeks. As always, it was low budget and because we were working with children, we worked an 8 hour day and 5-day week. Kenyan freelance crew could not believe their luck.
Apart from the lovely Connie Neilsen and Lars Mikkelsen and a ten year old actor from Denmark, all the other characters were cast locally, including 6 children and teenagers for whom the production company is now providing an education.
The movie has been released in Denmark and two of our Kenyan child actors have received nominations in the Danish Film Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category.
LOVE PRODUCTIONS – Actuality programme for BBC2
In September, Pontact ventured into a new – for us – type of production with Love Productions from London. To raise awareness of life in the slum, and with the assistance of Comic Relief, four A-list celebrities were brought from England to live in the slum for 6 days.
Our Production Assistant, Lillian, has a house on the edge of Kibera which is becoming the accepted production office for our Kibera shoots. But this time, her family was stretched to the limit with a constant stream of people all day and night which, at times became quite manic. Lillian’s family accepted it with good humor and fortitude. The Caterers took some time to understand the brief, but eventually got used to delivering food in backpacks around the slum.
With 8 filming teams shooting 24 hours and changing shifts at very unsociable hours of the night, it was a scary week for us – even though we had one of the leading security companies in Africa looking after us. And for everyone it was a very emotional rollercoaster. The programme will be aired prior to the Comic Relief fund raising on BBC2 in March 2011 and we’re sure that it will raise awareness of slum dwellers’ plight and bring in funds.
Pontact’s policy of helping communities wherever we film has been taken up by other production companies, we are happy to report. It does mean that after every major shoot, we are left “holding the baby”. Happily all the Samburu boys have proceeded to their secondary education and Esther, the star pupil, is in Germany preparing for University.
After two shoots in Kibera informal settlement, Pontact has an impeccable reputation for delivering what we promise. Lillian, living so close and having been raised in Kibera herself, is “Mama Film”. She is supervising the schooling of the 6 kids who acted in “Lost in Africa” with the funds that come through Pontact from SF Film in Sweden.
We are also looking for needy causes to donate funds from Love Productions. One would think this is easy but with 6,000 NGO’s, the majority of whom greedily pull in donor money but seldom pass it on, we must be cautious.
The former IDP camp in Kekopey is unrecognizable today. Houses have replaced most of the tents and there is even a bit of greenery. The bad publicity by The Standard newspaper necessitated a visit to the camp by a film crew from the Ministry of Information & Communication to carry out interviews that only showed positivity and happiness from the residents. They said that having the film crew in their midst gave them new energy and changed their lives for the better. Besides employing hundreds of local people as Extras and unskilled labourers, we donated all our construction materials to them. We also built a new classroom for the local primary school.
The Kenya Film Commission has a new CEO and Head of Marketing, and are in the process of finding a new Head of Programmes. The stakeholders have presented them with a list of our needs and we hope that this team will succeed where others have failed.
The most urgent issue has come about by the Immigration Minister increasing the fee for Special Passes to K.Shs.25,000 per person, whereas film crews have always paid a special fee of K.Shs.2,000. Whilst we wait for this matter to be resolved between the KFC, our Ministry and Immigration, and should we require any Special Passes, we shall be requesting special dispensation until it is satisfactorily resolved.
Meanwhile, the weather is glorious, the new constitution is showing results, and the economic climate is favourable for filming.
We eagerly look forward to working with you on your film.