For a number of years Tom Tykwer’s partner Marie Steinmann has been working in Nairobi’s slums on the arts workshop “Art Education for Children” which has been organised by NGO’s Anno’s Africa. It is from this initiative that the German association One Fine Day was established. “I wanted to take part, but the only thing I know is film,” explains Tykwer laughing. So the idea for a film workshop was developed from which a genuine film experience could at last be established: SOUL BOY.
In the schools and on the streets of Nairobi apprentices for the workshop were recruited, who were then trained in all the creative and organisational disciplines which are part of professional filmmaking. In cooperation with One Fine Day and Anno’s Africa the production was set directly in Kibera and three other slums. Here dozens of children went through the casting process until finally with only a few days to go before the start of production Leila Dayan Opou was discovered in the Mathare slum, who fitted the role of Shiku perfectly. The search for the lead-role Abila ended just one day before shooting began when the casting team, who were also being supported by the local film initiative Hot Sun Foundation, discovered Samson Odhiambo. Overnight the 13 year-old Samson, who had grown up in Kibera, became the star of a feature film. With only one week of genuine pre-production SOUL BOY was shot in the space of 13 days in Kibera. Hawa Essuman the young Ghanian-Kenyan filmmaker took over the directing reigns with Tom Tykwer as mentor at her side. Screenwriter Kahora and Essuman relied on the support of Nairobi’s local production company Ginger Ink for this heart-felt project. “Of course there have been films about Africa, such as The Constant Gardener by Fernando Meirelles,” says producer Ginger Wilson who also played a small acting role in SOUL BOY. “These films are aimed at an international audience. They are stories about white people in Africa, seen from that perspective. Whilst that is all fine and perfectly good cinema, in these films Kenya is used as a backdrop and is seen from an observers point of view. This is not what Kenyan films are interested in communicating; Kenyan stories happen to be from Africa, but not “about Africa” – they are about the realities, relationships and concerns of normal daily life. “There is no shortage of stories,” confirms director Hawa Essuman. “Billy Kahora has written a story which from his point of view represents Kenya and in particular Kibera. And SOUL BOY is definitely a local project. Our crew was made of up of 80 percent local people, and it was filmed in our own language.”
“Our local filmmakers work very hard to be able to make their films,” continues Essuman. “We still need to learn how we can find a larger forum for our films, so that they will also be seen and heard; because that is what we would wish for ourselves.”
SOUL BOY is an important step in the right direction. With their independent production company One Fine Day Films (www.onefinedayfilms.org ) Tom Tykwer, Marie Steinmann and project manager Sarika Lakhani would like to set up more film projects which are about and located in East Africa; working together with ambitious filmmakers from the region to develop projects, while also attracting international support for local productions. “In Kenya there are many talented individuals in all sectors of film production” says Tykwer. “We hope with our support that at least a few of these projects will be realised. At the same time we would like to help develop and build up a network of co-workers for ambitious films from this region.” A good example of the general enthusiasm for this project came about when shot a scene in which a mobile-phone thief flees through the streets of Kibera. “We had organised 20 extras” explains Hawa Essuman, “But then suddenly everyone on the street started to take part – simply
everyone. That would never have worked if the community wasn’t emphatically supporting our project. This support is priceless. “ Production coordinator Caroline Ngesa hopes that SOUL BOY shows, “How cooperative and helpful people are here. Everyone should know that they are welcome to come to Kibera and they shouldn’t expect any difficulties. “