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The return of open air cinema shows

Open air movies, the ones we used to call ‘walk ins’ or, even toto kaa chini (sit down, child) are back with a bang. Except that they are more grown up, posher and more intellectual.

Tired of Hollywood blockbusters? Looking for something to stimulate your mind? As part of their programme, Docubox — the first East African Documentary Film Fund supported by the Ford Foundation — has begun holding a monthly documentary screening event called Starry Nights.

Since the beginning of the year, they have screened The Fade by Andy Mundy-Castle, Devil’s Lair by Riaan Hendricks and Park Avenue by Alex Gibney.

Docubox’s screen is set up on Shalom House grounds, off Ngong Road. The idea behind the screening is to promote a documentary film viewing culture by growing a  community in Nairobi and its surroundings.

Q and A

Starry Nights takes place every last Friday of the month — in the open — with charcoal jikos providing warmth. The audience is also treated to popcorn, bitings and wine, as the award-winning documentaries are screened.

“It has not been difficult to start the programme as we have had the privilege of getting free screening rights for most of the documentaries we have aired. We have attracted a sizeable crowd and we continue to receive valuable feedback. It has become easy to organise the screening as months go by,” said Peter Mudamba Mudamba, the Docubox project director.

Since one of the objectives is to grow a documentary film community, the audience talks with the directors or producers of some of these films through Skype for question and answer sessions.

This added experience of sharing sessions with the audience should be one any documentary film maker or lover should look forward to. They get to know what the viewers truly think of the films. This month, Esther Hertog —the director of Soldier On The Roof  — is expected to have a Q&A session with the audience.

“The feedback has been very positive and most people feel sad when not reached with information about subsequent screenings. In fact, there is now talk of formation of a documentary film network and we believe the screening is an integral part of this idea,” said Mr Mudamba.

Docubox chooses films that are creative, caused a buzz or won awards at international documentary film festivals.

The aim this year is to keep the audience abreast of world trends and standards. Docubox also aims at working towards creating world-standard local documentaries.

Critical mass

The director believes screening these documentaries will open the audience to stories that are new and fresh while at the same time making Kenyan filmmakers appreciate and learn from winners. This makes them prepare adequately to get on the world stage of documentary film making.

With this in mind, Docubox has not screened Kenyan documentaries as yet because it has not yet found enough material that meets the set criteria.

“There is need to grow a creative documentary critical mass in this region, which is hungry for homegrown stories. The creation and production of our stories — made and told by our people — is in progress and doing well with the support of Ford Foundation through Docubox,” said Mr Mudamba.

The biggest challenge is getting partners who can see the need to support and finance the continuous screening of the documentaries.

“We just need a partner to take on and support these exciting projects so that by the time our own products are ready, there is a critical mass ready for them.