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About: CINEMA-KENYA: Local Movie Wows Thousands Of Viewers - Saikati II

Tue, 19 Jan 1999 12:39:08 -0500

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    CINEMA-KENYA: Local Movie Wows Thousands Of Viewers, By Philip Ngunjiri

    NAIROBI, Jan. 2 (IPS) - A stunning new Kenyan film, featuring a defiant
    Masaai girl, has been attracting tens of thousandsn of viewers since it
    opened in Nairobi two weeks ago.

    The movie, 'Saikati the Enkabaani', directed by Ann Mungai, features
    23-year-old Esther Muthee in the starring role. She defies her Masaai
    culture and becomes a flying nurse rebutting the attempts of her paternal
    uncle to marry her off.

    Muthee is a 3rd year University of Nairobi economics student and part-time
    model. She plays the role of 'Saikati" - a student nurse for the Africa
    Medical Research Foundation (Amref) - who, after completing her university
    degree course, disappoints her uncle who wants to give her away in an
    arranged Masaai

    With support from her mother, Saikati runs back to Nairobi to live with her
    cousin as she pursues a flying nursing course, a decision she had made after
    she watched her father die of a curable disease.

    ''I had to skip five weeks of lectures at the beginning of 1998 in order to
    make the film,'' says Muthee. She says her life has changed since producer
    Lenny Juma
    called her up in September to participate in the movie. ''I had met Lenny a
    few months earlier at a modelling agency office (in Nairobi) where he had
    come looking for models to cast in a beer commercial,'' she says. Muthee
    confesses she was touched after reading Saikati's role. ''She is very much
    like me,'' she says. Viewers, too, are delighted. ''I wanted to watch (local
    star) Tony Njuguna my dream man do what he does best. And I must admit it is
    the best Kenyan movie I
    have seen.'', says Irene Mbogoh, a saleswoman at a Nairobi computer firm.
    Her only disappointment was that the movie was soft on romance. ''Kissing
    and fondling by characters in the movie didn't look real,'' she says, adding
    that ''true lovers don't kiss on the cheek.''

    Peter Ursher of Luton, Britain, also showered accolades on the movie. ''I
    simply wanted to watch a movie and Enkabaani was the best option for us,''
    says Ursher who is visiting with his fiancee. ''The movie provided us with
    the marvelous chance
    to learn about the many facets of Kenyan life.'' According to Ursher, the
    movie has the potential to attract more tourists to Kenya. ''The panoramic
    view of the Great
    Rift Valley seen from Saikati's rural home is something to behold,'' Ursher
    says, adding that ''it will attract more tourists.''

    Most local movie critics say the movie could have scooped awards had it been
    entered in the 'M-Net All Africa Awards' competition. ''I think 'Saikati the
    Enkabaani' is the best feature film ever made in Kenya,'' says Margaretta wa
    Gacheru, a theatre critic with the 'Daily Nation', Kenya's leading
    independent newspaper.

    Saikati the Enkabaani (Masaai word for Saikati the Doctor) is the sequel of
    the first movie -- Saikati -- also directed by Mungai in which the original
    actress 'Saikati' rebelled against the rigid Masaai culture. ''During the
    shooting of Saikati, we had a meagre budget and could not afford to do half
    as many slick cinematographic
    tricks as does in Enkabaani,'' says Mungai. This include aerial filming from
    single-engine 'Sesna' aircraft that was provided by Amref's Flying Doctors
    role in the film was crucial to the success of its making. Mungai also
    attributes the success of her movie to Ettie Feldman, a South African
    cinematographer who edited the movie. Feldman was also an M-Net All Africa
    Awards judge.

    Muthee, who had never acted before a camera before this film,admits ''the
    crew gave me a lot of support.'' But she says the Kenya movie industry ''has
    yet to treat its stars and celebrities as their counterparts in the West or
    Hollywood.'' She also accuses the directors and producers of paying them
    little wages - she says she is yet to be paid for the role she played in
    December's shooting. Muthee, who began acting in the theatre and singing on
    the Church choir at the age of three, says her family is supportive of her
    new role in the movie. The film also has a host of
    local casts including Njuguna, Francis Imbuga, Wambui Murima, David Mulwa,
    Jacob Otieno and Jimmy Gathu. Also in the cast is 81-year-old Dr Ann Spoerry
    who plays a pivotal role in the film as a flying instructor. Speorry as the
    first Kenyan woman to fly an aeroplane.

    The climax of the movie, in fact, is when Saikati is forced to take charge
    of the cockpit of an Amref aircraft, after the pilot who took her to the
    remote parts of Kenya becomes ill.


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