Kenya aims for Hollywood

2006-06-14 19:58
Shaba Game Reserve - Eager to cash in on its stunning wildlife and scenery, Kenya is revamping its maligned film policy and luring filmmakers with incentives in a bid to become the "Hollywood of Africa".

Already a top destination for safari-going tourists, the east African nation is hoping to build on its exotic reputation and the recent success of "The Constant Gardner," much of which was shot here, by attracting new productions.

"Our intention is to make Kenya the filming destination of choice: 'the Hollywood of Africa'," Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe told AFP, touting the mission of the newly created Kenya Film Commission (KFC).

Marketing campaign

The commission starts work in July and will have the full backing of the government in an aggressive marketing campaign to sell Kenya as a movie set and replace a now erratic and ill-functioning bureaucracy, he said.

Since the invention of motion pictures, Kenya has been a favourite for producers of nature films - notably "Born Free" about Elsa the lioness in 1966 - but exploded into Hollywood's commercial consciousness with the 1985 release of "Out of Africa", the Oscar-winning hit based on Danish author Isaak Dinesen's famed memoir.

Yet red tape, corruption and a lack of infrastructure and facilities hampered later efforts to film in Kenya and production slumped dramatically in the 1990s as South Africa emerged as the prime venue for location shooting.

The last five years, however, have seen a resurgence in the industry, with major productions like "Tomb Raider" and "Nowhere In Africa," and "The Constant Gardener" being filmed in Kenya.

Hit top ratings

Kenya even hit top US television ratings with the "Survivor: Africa", the reality show filmed entirely at the Shaba Game Reserve amid its wealth of wildlife, magnificent savanna and spectacular landscapes.

In money terms, this generated some $60m in Kenya between 2001 and 2005, according to offiical figures from the state-run film production department.

Mindful of the stiff competition offered by South Africa and Nigeria, Kenyan officials are determined to see the lucrative movie business, which now directly employs 41 000 people in full- and part-time jobs, grow.

"We are hellbent on removing bottlenecks that interfere with our competition," KFC chief Wachira Waruru told AFP.

Offer incentives

The commission will offer filmmakers tax breaks, streamline legal and bureaucratic processes with national, regional and local governments as well as provide logistical support for movie production companies, he said.

Among the unit's first steps was to reduce the processing time for film license applications from two weeks to 48 hours and to hire experienced guides to serve as location scouts and crews.

"We had problems before with foreign film companies because we weren't keen on offering good liaison services," said Ernest Kerich, a film licensing officer in the information ministry.

"Now we have made sure that we have experienced local agents who know how to handle them," he told AFP.

"These are the people to facilitate location scouting, transport, hotel reservations and things like that."

To get the message out, the KFC will launch a charm offensive on foreign film studios beginning next month, bombarding them with freshly printed glossy brochures detailing the incentives and describing specific locations.

The government has allocated the KFC more than $800 000 for the effort, officials said.

Row between crew and residents

The need for such a campaign became evident earlier this year when a Russian film - "Equator" - being shot at Shaba almost had to stop production after a row broke out between the crew and local residents and reserve officials.

Concerns about environmental damage and the effect of noise pollution from planned explosions on wild animals were at the top of the complaint list, according to Shaba's senior warden, Mohammed Tubi.

"We encourage movie making anywhere in the reserve but there has to be some coordination with the people concerned," he said.

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