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Kenyan film captures the bad and beautiful

Gail Choice | 3/9/2011, 5 p.m.

When it comes to sharing ones culture, there is no finer way to do it than through music, art, food and film. And so it was with the Women in Film International Committee's fifth annual Short Series: "Out of Africa: A Night to Celebrate Kenyan Film and Culture."

And celebrate we did, from incredible artwork to delectable Kenyan cuisine.

Hosted by actors Edi Gathegi ("X-men: First Class," "Twilight, The Twilight Saga: New Moon," and Fox's "House") and Ida Onyango ("Days of Our Lives" and "Tears of the Sun") the multifaceted event was nonstop.

Set on a Universal Studio sound stage, the gala event reminded me of how little I truly know about my African brothers and sisters.

The 2010 Literature Nobel Prize nominee: Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California Irvine, gave the audience an idea of what life was like growing up in Kenya.

Considered the cradle of mankind because it has been inhabited by people for as long as human history has existed, Kenya gained independence from the United Kingdom on Dec. 12, 1963.
With all this history, Kenya has some stories to tell, and the independent films featured at the event gave us a brief look at the history and lifestyle of its people.

The 2007 short film, "Subira" by filmmaker Ravneet "Sippy" Chadha, gave us a window into the world of a young girl on the edge of womanhood.

Subira is an 11-year-old Muslim who is expected to follow tradition and wear the veil. But always in trouble, and living life like she wants, Subira was a constant source of pain for her mother.

It was refreshing to see this story, because her lifestyle was so different than ours, and depending on how you view women in the Muslim world, it could appear that her life, unless she accepts her fate, would be restrictive. If so, then how could this free spirit survive? At the end of the movie, you knew Subira will stay Subira. (www.subirathefilm.blogspot.com)

"Picha Mtaani" is a jarring documentary short produced by Christine Kinyanjui and Toni Kamau. This 2010 film tells the story of Kenya's 2007 post-election violence through photographs taken of victims, both adults and children. Aimed to heal the nation, this series of horrific photos demonstrates how unnecessary violence, tribalism and negative politics can cripple a nation and its people. (www.getonscreen.com)

Hip Hop aspirations don't stop with youngsters in America. "Kibera Kid," a 2006 film by Nathan Collett, tells the story of an orphan who is an aspiring rapper caught up in gang violence in Kibera, east Africa's largest slum.

The kid, Otieno, wants out, but how? Forced to commit crimes against his nature, this child is faced with a life of crime or redemption. (www.kiberakid.com)

The 2007 film, "The Knife Grinder's Tale," by R.L. Hooker, and produced by Chiara Paglieri, tells the story of a proud father who seeks to understand why his son was murdered in the slums of Nairobi.

He finds his way there and mourns the death of his son not understanding that in this environment you are either a victim or a survivor. (www.theknifegrinderstale.com)

Other films featured included: "Africa is a Woman's Name," a 2009 documentary by Wanjiru Kinyanjui profiling Kenyan Attorney Njoki Ndungu. She teaches girls personal defense techniques as part of the "Big Sister Programme" against sexual abuse.

"Taharuki," the 2010 film by Ekwa Msangi-Omari, is a fictional story about a man and woman from opposing ethnic tribes who were once lovers, but are now caught up in a deadly war. Tough choices have to be made, and there may be no clear winners. (www.taharukithefilm.com)

"Pumzi," a futuristic film by Wanuri Kahiu, is the story of a young woman living in a sealed city because on the outside all nature is extinct. A curator at a virtual museum, she receives a seed that begins to grow, and she goes to great extremes to make sure the plant lives. The film was made in 2009. (www.pumzithefilm.com)

Gail can be reached at hollywoodbychoice_gail@yahoo.com.