Mombasa eyes film festivals to boost tourism, promote local talent

Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir

Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir speaks at Treasury Square in Mombasa on August 12 during celebrations to mark International Youth Day 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The Mombasa County government is banking on international film festivals to nurture local talent in the arts and boost the tourism industry.

After staging a successful event in January, the devolved unit has now set its sights on marketing the tourism hub as a film destination. Youth and Sports Executive Kenneth Ambani, who is also a veteran actor, told the Nation the inaugural film festival had fulfilled its purpose.

“The overarching goal was to provide musicians, traditional dancers, thespians, poets, playwrights, and makeup artists with a platform to showcase their abilities,” said Mr Ambani.

Governor Abdulswamad Nassir’s administration had partnered with, among other organisations, Swahili Pot, Alliance Francaise, and the Kenya Film Commission to stage the event.

Mr Ambani said the experience has provided Mombasa County an opportunity to showcase itself as a film destination. He added that, as part of efforts t attract investors, the county will forgo permit charges.

“We are already witnessing positive outcomes. Producers are visiting the city for scouting purposes and our aim is to provide young men and women with first-hand mentorship opportunities. Additionally, we have plans to secure equipment that artists can borrow, alongside opening recording studios. I can assure you that the next MIFF [Mombasa International Film Festival] will be bigger and better,” Mr Ambani told Nation.

Sustainable idea

Swahili Pot’s Head of Creative and Arts Hellen Mwanzia, who was the project lead for the inaugural MIFF, said the event had provided organisers with an opportunity to prove that the festival was a sustainable idea.

“When we began, there were numerous doubts about our ability to deliver, especially considering that many filmmakers from the coast had attempted to organise festivals in the past, only to see them fail after just a couple of editions,” she told the Nation.

“However, our judges, led by filmmaker and Kenyatta University lecturer Suki Wanza, did an outstanding job. By the time we reached the nomination night, we had received a total of 58 films,” Ms Mwanzia added. The project that cost over Sh3.5 million to execute had them burning the midnight oil to ensure that it became a success, she revealed.

The Sinema Mtaani screenings, which took place in Bangladesh, Swahili Pot, and the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park, were well received by the audiences.

South African best international short film awardee Xolisa Mpafa of the “Malaika” fame applauded the MIFF, saying, it had provided him with a platform to showcase his films.

“I'm delighted to have won. However, I would have appreciated it if they could have provided us with a live link to follow the ongoing events at the winners gala. Nevertheless, I'm pleased because now I have the opportunity to visit Mombasa in the future to attend such a gala,” said Mr Mpafa. Best feature film winner Omar Hamza also hailed the festival, saying, it was well organised and would give birth to more artists.

Other winners

His award-winning film, “Rishai”, tells the story of a gangster who spends a night with a suicidal woman, attempting to convince her not to take her life.

Other winners were Eastzuu for best coastal film, "Act of Love" for best short film, "Heroes of Africa" from Ghana for best international feature film, "Where the River Divides" from Kenya for best editing, "Mzuka" for best sound design, Kabuye Cloe for best child performer, Grace Ngeracu for best actress for her role in "Eastzuu," Keith Chuaga for best actor in "Visasi," and Shelly Gitonga for best scriptwriter in "Act of Love."

The coveted best cinematographer award was presented to Andrew Bradford for the film "Where the River Divides," while Omar Hamza took home the title of best director for "Rishai."

In the student category, "Kwani si Kesho?" from Kenya emerged victorious, while "Earth's Children" from Kenya secured the best animation award.

Speaking after winning the award for best documentary for his work "Kiswahili Kitukuzwe," coast-based filmmaker Omar Kibulanga said the recognition was just the beginning and a promising sign that the festival has the potential to expand even further.

A member of the panel of judges, Mr Sele Mzamil, said they were inundated with submissions and had only had three weeks to review 222 films.

The veteran filmmaker noted that they received films from as far as Cameroon, Uganda, Tunisia, Algeria, and South Africa, indicating the widespread awareness about the festival.

“To ensure sustainability, MIFF needs to start planning much earlier for the next festival. Many setbacks stemmed from the limited time available for planning and execution,”he said.

“Our goal isn't to simply host a festival; we aim to nurture talent and establish a reputable event. However, we faced challenges with inexperienced organisers who may have lacked sufficient guidance and support,” he said.