Analysis of Narrative Form in Three Kenyan Fiction Video Films
Maina, William Mureithi
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Research has identified poor quality and unprofessionalism as factors that limit the appeal of Kenyan video films (Kenya Film Commission, Audience Consumer Trends Survey, 2010). This study investigates the problems that Kenyan films face in trying to “break down the wall preventing Kenyan films from being shown and celebrated beyond Kenyan borders” (Justine Edwards, 2008, p. 2). It does this through an analysis of three video fiction films by three local filmmakers: Wandahuhu‟s ‘Njohera’ („Forgive Me‟), Simon Nduti‟s ‘Kikulacho’ („What Bites You‟) and Simiyu Barasa‟s ‘Toto Millionaire,‟all which have been made under the banner of a Kenyan film industry that is informally known as Riverwood. The objectives of the study is to examine the narrative character or these homegrown video films by analyzing them against the classical film form conventions as a benchmark so as to determine how the Kenyan filmmakers‟ narrative choices affect communication of meaning. The study is basically guided by the constructivist theory of film criticism which is founded on the tenet that it is the reader (viewer) of the film text that constructs the story and meanings in the story using the clues that the filmmaker puts before him on the screen. Given the broadness of field that is the Kenyan video film practice, and that not much is known concerning its fiction film‟s narrative form, this study opts for explanatory case study as its research design. This design lends itself conveniently to the study‟s chosen methodology of detailed interpretive textual and contextual analysis of the said films and their relationships. Although this limits (without eliminating) the study‟s capacity to generalize its findings, the least that can be hoped for from these few examples of fiction film videos selected is a light, however bright, shone at the anarchic world that is the Kenyan – and by extension African – video film industry. The filmmakers and the specific works that form this research‟s case studies have been selected using expert and purposive sampling, respectively, to arrive at a sample that the researcher considers as representative of the typical Riverwood feature film, made by Kenyans and expressing a Kenyan consciousness. What stands out in the findings of this research is the illustrational character and functionality of the Kenyan video film, which cuts across the narrative and its constitutive elements. This is to say that as opposed to the classical film model that forms this study‟s benchmark, the Kenyan video film does not consider a freely-unfolding story as the core unifying factor in filmic story-telling. What matters is what point the narrative makes, whether at isolated points of its narration, or with specific narrative elements it uses, or with its overall message. These findings, the researcher hopes, will prove useful in the development of theory and practice of Kenyan film as it aspires to contribute its unique voice to the global cinema, and appeal to an audience whose filmic sensibilities have largely been shaped by previous exposure to the classical mode of filmic storytelling.