Lights Camera Action; Kenya’s tourism hotspots are finding new life on the big screen

 Lights Camera Action; Kenya’s tourism hotspots are finding new life on the big  screen

Shela Village in Lamu Island. Image/courtesy

Tomb Raider is one of the most successful film franchises and follows the character Lara Croft, a young bodacious, blond blue-eyed archaeologist travelling around the world seeking out lost treasures.

Croft, played by the remarkable Angelina Jolie, is running against time and has to make it to the treasure ahead of a shadowy organization on the same quest and will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Released in 2001, the film was a collaborative effort among the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan and while the initial film received harsh reviews, it was nevertheless a commercial success, raking in a cool 32 Billion Shillings at the box office.

The sequel Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life released in 2003 was an improvement to the first and followed Lara Croft on a quest for a glowing orb whose last location is believed to be in Africa.

Unknown to many Kenyans, the film was shot on location in Kenya, which was going through the spectacular 2002 general elections. The picturesque locations of Amboseli and Hells Gate provided the background of rugged wilderness and caves consistent with the film’s theme and gave international audiences a glimpse of Kenya’s breathtaking landscapes.

Tomb Raider is just one of more than a dozen films shot on location in Kenya and that have helped shed the spotlight on the country, famed for having some of the best landscapes on the African continent.

If a recent study by the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO is anything to go by, East Africa leads the continent in the number of television channels and is second in terms of films produced annually, largely attributed to Riverwood, a prolific ecosystem for low-budget productions in Kenya.   

East Africa is also 4th in terms of the number of cinema screens with UNESCO recognizing Kenya and Mauritius for having a strong film infrastructure and prime locations for foreign productions.

“Kenya is one of the rare markets in Africa where the shutdown of the analogue signal met the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) 2015 deadline,” explains UNESCO in its latest report.

“The Kenyan broadcast industry has witnessed significant changes since the digital migration took effect, including an increase in population coverage and in the number of TV channels which reached a whooping 192.”

These numbers are a strong testament that Kenya has come of age to command respect within the very competitive international film production sector.

It is this realization that has prompted industry stakeholders to invest more resources in strengthening the quality of productions made in the country to ensure they are at par with international standards for film production. 

Daudi Anguka is a native of Mombasa and a renowned original films producer whose most accomplished projects include of the television series Pete, a critically acclaimed Swahili soap opera aired on MultiChoice Maisha Magic East for five seasons.

According to Anguka, the experience of producing Pete opened up the coastal region to the opportunities inherent in film tourism and provided members of the local community with an income opportunity which is much more than just 15 seconds of fame.  

Renowned film producer Daudi Anguka at the center of the action – Image/courtesy MCL

“We shot the series Pete in Funzi Island and were working with a crew of up to 70 people at a time and it was one of the biggest productions the small island had ever seen,” he explains.

Anguka is currently producing Sanura, another Swahili soap opera this time set in the idyllic coastal resort town of Lamu.

“Television portrays fictional characters and storylines but producing the work in our local setting also gives us a chance to showcase our culture as well as stimulate conversations about elements of the culture that could be outdated with today’s norms,” he explains.

Sanura follows the story of a young teenager on the casp of woman hood who has to balance between the pressure of realizing her dreams and ambitions and standing up against oppressive cultural norms in her community.

Actors Ivy Wanjiku (Sanura) and Nyota Waziri on the set of Sanura : Image/Courtesy MCL

“Television is very ideal to present the conflict between the anxiety of the older generation that fears losing hold of tradition and the impatience of the younger generation that seeks to break off with oppressive customs,” he says.

The show will be aired on Maisha Magic Plus and MultiChoice has reportedly invested millions of shillings over the next five years for a three-season run.

This is the first production of its magnitude in the coastal region and MultiChoice’s move to commit an investment of this scale will prompt other local and international production crews to follow suit.

It’s also expected to focus the spotlight on Lamu town; as one of the gems in the coastal region that both local and international tourists should have on their bucket lists.

Its rich Swahili architecture, and the strong fragrance of history in every corner of town, coupled up with the picturesque centuries-old Portuguese style fortresses lined up next to thin caramel streets are almost impossible to admire quietly.

What’s even more breath-taking is that the medieval distribution of this magnificent structures produces a maze-like vibe, with each unit so close to the other, meaning that no motor vehicle can penetrate its way into the town square making the island one of Indian Ocean’s best kept secrets.

Lamu Kenya Tourism
A street in Shela Village, Lamu

Sanura is now steeped deep within the elements of Swahili culture including the casts’ attire, cousine, music, rituals and customs that have ensured Lamu maintains the salient features that have been part of its character for the past 700 years.    

According to UNESCO, Kenya’s flourishing film and television industry could also be a source of export earnings as the country exports talent and equipment to neighboring countries.

“In July 2021, Neptune Frost, a Rwanda-set sci-fi film co-directed by Soul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight,” explained UNESCO in its latest report.

“These productions still have to bring in skilled crew and equipment from other countries such as Kenya or South Africa,” explained the report in part.


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