In addition to the numerous documentaries at this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival (reviewed in an earlier article), I was also interested in the feature film SOUL BOY from Kenya. It turned out that the story behind the making of this film was as interesting as the movie itself.
In 2008, teacher and producer Marie Steinmann, together with German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Heaven, The International, and more), decided to start One Fine Day Films—a new production company with the aim of supporting new African cinema. The concept is to offer film production workshops to interested and emerging filmmakers in Kenya. The project aimed to teach them the fundamentals of filmmaking, pair them with film professionals, and then go out into the field to shoot a low-budget movie.
Together with the British NGO, Anno’s Africa, and the Kenyan production company, Ginger Ink,, Steinmann and Tykwer started the first film production workshop in October 2008. With a screenplay by Kenyan author and editor Billy Kahora, the team then went off to produce the feature film Soul Boy. Financial backing was provided by a number of European film funds and corporate sponsors.
Directed by Ghanian-Kenyan female, first-time filmmaker Hawa Essuman—with some supervision by Tykwer—Soul Boy is the story of Abila (Samson Odhiambo) and his friend Shiku (Leila Dayan Opollo) and their quest to save Abila’s father’s soul. After gambling his soul away, Abila’s father needs all the help he can get. Abila and Shiku set off to solve a number of riddles and overcome obstacles to bring Abila’s father back to life. Soul Boy is a fast paced, mysterious journey through Kibera, the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.
Featuring a cast of talented young amateur actors from Kibera and Nairobi and geared towards a younger audience, the film is beautifully shot. Clocking in at just about 60 minutes, Soul Boy tells its story most economically.
Soul Boy celebrated its world premiere at the 2010 Goethenburg film festival, was awarded the Dioraphte Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, screened at the 2010 Berlinale and has been traveling the world festival circuit since. The U.S. premiere took place earlier this fall at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the German theatrical release is scheduled for December 2nd, 2010.
In addition, the film won three Kalashas (Kenya’s Film and Television Awards) for best short film, best script, and best leading actor.
The immense success of Soul Boy—and the joy everyone involved got out of working collaboratively—made everyone want to continue the project. And so—as this article is being written— Steinmann, Tykwer and the team are back in Kenya working with emerging filmmakers and producing their second feature with the working title Nairobi Half-Life. Watch out for that one coming to a film festival near you….