"Nairobi Half Life" is a motion picture written and directed by filmmakers from five African countries. Supported by German film director Tom Tykwer and DW Akademie, the film is now also showing in German cinemas.
Directed by novice Kenyan film director Tosh Gitonga, "Nairobi Half Life" tells the story of Mwas, a young man from the Kenyan countryside hungry to make a name for himself in Nairobi as an actor. Production assistance came from Tom Tykwer, best known internationally as the director of "Run Lola Run," and his company One Fine Day Films along with DW Akademie and Kenya-based production company Ginger Ink.
Joseph Wairimu, who plays the main character Mwas, was presented the "Best Actor" award at this year's Durban International Film Festival. The jury praised the way he had embodied young Kenyans' craving for a better life. After premiering at the festival and showing in Kenya, "Nairobi Half Life" is now being screened in several German cities throughout October.
The director said he aims to give viewers insight into the grit, pace and aspirations of Nairobi today. Gitonga shows the Kenyan capital as a tough city to gain a foothold in for the protagonist, and how rampant urban violence puts obstacles in the way of Mwas' dreams.
Discovering a new talent
The film's production started with a two-week workshop for aspiring filmmakers in Kenya, held by Tom Tykwer and his wife, Marie Steinmann, together with DW Akademie. It offered the most talented participants an opportunity to produce their own film. Tosh Gitonga was among the 57 who took part - nobody knew beforehand who would be chosen to direct "Nairobi Half Life."
"The workshop ended on a Friday and I got the call on Sunday from Tom himself," recalled Gitonga. "People in my house thought I was mad because I was so overexcited."
All of the workshop's participants had previous experience in the film industry. Together with the project partners, they have sought to strengthen African filmmaking and help it achieve international breakthroughs.
"On the one hand we want to promote the arts - on the other hand we want to reinforce the entire film business in Africa," commented DW Akademie project manager Michael Tecklenburg.
A resounding success
The film's run in Kenya has been extended several times due to high viewer demand.
"It’s been spread by word of mouth and everybody’s talking about it, and the reception we’re getting is amazing," said Gitonga. "It's so important because it gives us confidence and also acts as a role model to show young filmmakers that the Kenyan film industry has a future."
"A lot of people come to Nairobi trying to make their lives better, and it's difficult," said Gitonga. "I think 'Nairobi Half Life' tells the real Nairobi story."