Breakfast in Kisumu
Director: Achieng Ajulu-Bushell
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The shot opens with a pitch-black, opaque setting and a cinematic rendering of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry. At first it feels unduly edgy, like the opening of a self-conscious first-time film maker trying to make the audience go “hmmm”.
But it works. From the first quiet minutes of Breakfast in Kisumu, I was desperate to hear speech or see a face, or even a line of text to tell me what to expect.
In this way, (briefly) international swimmer-turned-film maker Achieng Ajulu-Bushell maps her own troubled relationship with her father in the silence, distance and darkness of the film’s first minutes.
Professor Rok Ajulu is not a stranger to African audiences. At one time he was a prominent student activist and later a cherished academic and husband to Lindiwe Sisulu.
But for Ajulu-Bushell, who had breakfast with her father in her Kenyan homeland, her father was much more. As the faceless dialogue unfolds, he emerges as a series of contrasts – firm and affectionate, pensive yet impulsive, loving and remote.
In what is sometimes a bit of a tedious dot-to-dot of Ajulu’s life, his daughter sketches the picture of a complex man, living between his personal life and a sense of duty to others.
Of course this is not a new narrative. Many activists, including former president Nelson Mandela, have often been retroactively described as lacking in their commitment to their family. But amid the conflict and confusion of post-colonial Africa, and the nomadic nature of black thinkers in the 70s and 80s, the film is more sympathetic than anything else.
Whether it depicts driving a taxi in London to make ends meet or being detained by apartheid forces for egging on local resistance groups, Breakfast in Kisumu, while critical, allows Ajulu’s memory a fair amount of dignity and reverence.
Ajulu-Bushell has struggled with many of the same issues. She was in a media storm when she announced that she would swim competitively for Britain, rather than her native Kenya.
But for a girl so detached from her homeland, and with a sense that Britain had raised her (rather than her father), the disengagement is understandable.
After all, Ajulu’s rough encounters with former Kenyan president Daniel Toroitich arap Moi’s regime while at the University of Nairobi strained his relationship with Kenya. In a sense, the film feels as though Ajulu-Bushell wants some advice from a man who knows her situation best.
Breakfast in Kisumu was made before the untimely passing of Ajulu. Full of tenderness and tension, the film is a mirror for anyone whose place in the world is confused, compromised or, like most of us, complicated.
Sat 8 June / 7.30pm
Sat 8 June / 5.30pm + Q&A
Tue 11 June / 8.30pm
Thu 13 June / 6.15pm