Kenyan film Bangarang nominated for Atlanta Film Festival awards 2023

Bangarang is inspired by true events that led to the death of Baby Pendo in 2017.

Whenever the name of baby Samantha Pendo is mentioned, soothing memories of the little angel fill the hearts of many Kenyans.

The six-month-old infant was beaten to death by anti-riot police who raided her parents' home in Nyalenda Estate, Kisumu, to flush out protesters during the 2017 post-election violence.

To this day, Baby Pendo remains, strangely, the face of police brutality in Kenya.

But six years after her death, a film inspired by the events that led to her death continues to win accolades from Africa and beyond.

The film, called Bangarang and dedicated to baby Pendo, has been nominated for more than 40 awards, the latest being the Atlanta Film Festival, which takes place in Atlanta, USA, between 21 September and 8 October.

When the idea of writing the film came to him after the brutal death of Baby Pendo, Robin Odongo was a little scared because of the sensitivity of the issue at the time. It was a subject that most people did not want to talk about.

In an interview with the Nation, Odongo admitted that he is still surprised by the overwhelming response the film has received since its official premiere in 2021.

"Being nominated for the Atlanta Film Festival awards is one of my biggest achievements, I pray that we win and bring the award home," said Mr Odongo.

The film is already available on international platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, VIU, a South African platform, and My Africa Movies, a Kenyan platform that can be accessed globally.

Locally, the film has been shown on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), Mnet movies Africa and a number of local television stations.

The self-taught scriptwriter reveals that even baby Pendo's parents have been touched by the film and are happy that their little angel's story has been told to the world.

"I wrote four films before Bangarang, but they didn't do so well. This is the first time I have won awards outside Kenya," he says.

Odongo says the idea of making a film about the aftermath of elections came to him after he lost three close friends during the 2007 PEV.

Later in 2013, Odongo was again caught up in the violence in Kisumu, suffering a serious injury to his right hand after being hit by a speeding car in the chaos.

Four years later, while working as a junior staff member at the Aga Khan Hospital, Kisumu Ondogo came across a baby fighting for its life in the hospital's intensive care unit.

The following night, when he reported for his night shift, he stopped by the ICU, but the bed was empty - six-month-old baby Pendo had died.

"She was a beautiful baby and did not deserve to die, I realised that a lot of things happened amidst the chaos but never made it to the mainstream media, the best way I could address this as a filmmaker was to make a film inspired by the young girl's story," said Mr Odongo.

It took the hospitality management graduate six months to write the script and another three years to shoot it due to financial constraints.

For a 30-day shoot in Kisumu County, the filmmaker needed Sh12 million, while he was earning a monthly salary of Sh15,000.

In 2020, Mr Odongo successfully applied for a grant from the Kenya Film Commission (KFC) under the first cycle of its Film Empowerment Programme and was shortlisted for funding.

Out of 72 applicants, the KFC awarded a total of Sh25 million to 12 filmmakers for the development of their concepts and production.

Mr Odongo and his crew decided to work with a budget of Sh4 million. He had to adjust the shooting days to 14.

The one-hour, twenty-eight-minute film, titled Bangarang, a Jamaican slang term for chaos or lack of peace, was inspired by several incidents during the 2007, 2013 and 2017 general elections.

To keep within budget, Odongo says they had to shoot some of the scenes four times a day, which left the cast exhausted.

"Another challenge was the fear of how the project would be received because of its sensitivity. When we were going through the script, some of the team members felt that I was taking a huge risk that would land me in hot water with the government," he says.But he was not prepared to give up, the story had to be told and the message had to reach the audience, especially before the 2022 elections.

Luckily, the Kisumu County government came to his rescue, allowing him to film free of charge in some designated areas.

In the film, Otile, a poor boda boda rider, is unemployed 10 years after graduating with a second class honours degree in automotive engineering.

When election violence erupts after Kenya's disputed presidential election, Otile leads other rioters into the streets of Kisumu. It is an opportunity for him to vent his anger at the government's poor leadership, which he blames for his unemployment.

On the fateful day, while fleeing from the anti-riot police, he finds himself in Dan's house. The police track him down and beat everyone in the house, including Dan's six-month-old child, Baby Joy.

Otile flees into exile, fearing that the police will falsely implicate him in Baby Joy's death.

Mr Odongo explains that the cast were excited to take part in the filming.

"All the cast members were either directly or indirectly affected by the chaos," he says.

He recounts how one of the actors had experienced violence in Mathare, Nairobi and Kondele, Kisumu in 2007 and 2013.

Even before the film's official premiere in 2021, it had already garnered a lot of attention with several film festival selections and nominations.

The film has won a number of awards including Best African Feature Film in Durban, South Africa and Best East African Film in Uganda. In Kenya, the film won several awards including best film on human rights education at the Lake International Pan-African Film Festival (LIPAFF), best director and feature film at the Coat Film Festival and best feature film at the Swahili Festival, among others.

"Last month, I was in Russia where Bangarang was selected along with two other African films for a possible African-Russian film collaboration," he says.

Mr Odongo, who hails from Bondo in Siaya County, says he has also been approached by a number of filmmakers for possible collaboration.

He started acting in stage plays in 2005. He had also enrolled for YouTube courses and attended film workshops. Odongo would also write scripts from time to time and share them with friends to get their feedback.

th each script he wrote, he got better and better.

However, he regrets that the film has not yet fully achieved its goal of raising awareness against PEV.

"It didn't reach all the target audience. My target audience was the youth, politicians, Mama mboga and people from the informal settlements who are often affected by the chaos," he notes.

This, he says, is due to the poor cinema culture in the country.

"There are people I would have liked to see the film for free, but this was not possible due to financial constraints," he said.