ART CHECK

High time to celebrate women in the seventh art in Kenya

Female and feminist perspectives through film get recognition

In Summary

• Wifa Awards celebrate and support the work of women filmmakers and creatives

Women in Film Awards jury
Women in Film Awards jury
Image: JKS Makokha

In his Lectures on Aesthetics, German philosopher Georg Hegel classified the arts into five different categories: painting, sculpture, music, architecture and poetry. He did so in his lectures between 1818 and the late 1820s at the revered Heidelberg University in southern Germany, establishing himself not only as an art idealist but an aesthetician of remarkable comportment.

A century later, Ricciotto Canudo, a pioneer film critic from Italy who resided in France, would add film to the Hegelian list as the sixth art. He would later revise his taxonomy and place cinema as number seven, after positioning dance at number six in the catalogue of the arts.

Africans have demonstrated their input in film as an art and enterprise, with examples such as Nollywood. With the rise of film studies in Kenya, feminist scholars are appreciating the seventh art in light of our continental traditions of culture and performance. In fact, it is argued that recognition is needed of women participation in African cinema, including here in Kenya.

 

One such initiative of recognising female artists’ contribution in film in Kenya is the inauguration of a new prize and awards initiative. The idea for a Women in Film Awards was borne out of a pre-conference on women in film organised by ASMO (Alliance of Slum Media organisations) on November 14-15 last year at the West Meridian Hotel, Nairobi.

The Wifa director is Dr Susan Gitimu of Kenyatta University, who is also the director of Beyond the Film Ltd. The awards coordinator is Noel Awuor, a film producer. Fellow film producer Grace Mercy holds the position of awards manager this year.

The conference called for the designing of Wifa as a celebration and support node of the work of women filmmakers and creatives in Kenya, from directors to writers, producers, cinematographers, editors and sound designers and other women who work within all areas of film production.

The first Wifa awards ceremony aimed to bring women filmmakers together and provide a space where their diversity in Kenya is equally recognised and celebrated. This year's award theme was: “Celebrating the Drive, Spirit and Diversity of the Woman Filmmaker.”

Nominations opened on December 15 last year to January 15. Some 2,400 submissions were received by the deadline date. Voting was opened on January 10 and closed on January 20. The winners were honoured on March 4 at the Kenya National Theatre.

Speaking to the Star, Dr Gitimu pointed out that such an award is not only timely but emblematic, too. It participates in the unfolding critical examination of the contribution of African women to the seventh art. It reinforces the immediacy of taking stock of work done by women in support of art and their societies through a sector that continues to grow and attract the youth of today.

The award's objectives included: the celebration of female and feminist perspectives through film; encouragement of women filmmakers in Kenya; and empowerment of women to embrace cinema and its production and creation of linkages between market, academia and other pertinent players of this great artistic and labour sector.

 

The panel of judges included renowned gurus of Kenyan cinema Dr Zippy Okoth (Chief Judge) and Wangeci Murage, whose extensive knowledge of media landscapes in Africa and Middle East spans over two decades. Others included Suki Wanza, a film don at Kenyatta University and Multimedia University, and Rachael Mwara and Victoria Goro, who teach cinema studies at Multimedia University and Kenya Film School respectively.

Wifa was sponsored by the Kenya Film Commission, among others. The Guest of Honour at the awarding ceremony was Dr Josephine Ojiambo of Commonwealth Business Women Network-Kenya. Other guests included Dr G. King’ara, director of KUTV.

Some of the nominees for different awards this year included, among others, Judy Kibinge, Wanuri Kahiu and Oprah Oyugi. The most exciting new entrant into the field and a winner whose star is on the rise is Alice Kombani. She is an emerging film director and wife of award-winning novelist, Kinyanjui Kombani.

It is the hope that this is a step in the right direction that will be supported and its sustainability fortified. Women were at the epicentre of production and dissemination of traditional art forms in African societies even here in Kenya. Modernisms and adoption of formal education diminished their returns and stature over the decades in the previous century. Multidimensional support should be accorded to their work as they re-assert their creative energies again towards the building of better societies for all and sundry.

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Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University