Watu Wote: A proud moment for Kenyans at the Oscars

A 2017 Kenyan film, Watu Wote: All of Us, missed out an award for the Best Live Action Short Film category during the Oscars’ 90th ceremony held on Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Based on a true story of the December 21, 2015 attack on a bus by Al-Shabaab militants, the film tells the story of Jua, a Christian Kenyan woman who boards a bus heading to Mandera, a small town in northeastern Kenya on the border with Somalia to visit a relative.

The bus is stopped by members of the violent terrorist group, Al Shabaab, who demand that the Muslims on board identify the Christian passengers in their midst for execution, where, as Tobias Rosen, the producer, is quoted as saying, “the muslim bus passengers showed that solidarity can prevail,”  referring to the almost decade long terrorist attacks of the Al Shabaab especially within the border region between Kenya and Somalia. 

The 22-minute-long film was directed by then German student, Katja Benrath for graduation of the Hamburg Media School masters class program. It was first recognised at the Students Oscars where it won last year and since then, has won over 35 five film festival awards, including the Gold Student Academy Award, receiving positive reviews with Rotten Tomatoes – one of the biggest review aggregation websites for film and television which gave it a 100 percent rating.

The Kenyan Oscar entry was battling it out with DeKalb Elementary, The Eleven O’Clock and My Nephew Emmett but the award went to The Silent Child, also a nominated short film by Rachel Shento and Chris Overton, set in rural England about the life of a deaf four-year-old girl.

Ultimately a story of solidarity and hope, it is a proud moment despite the fact that they didn’t take home the Oscar. The Academy Award nomination, which is a good enough reason for celebration in Kenya, has given the relatively young film industry a boost on the global stage despite complaints noting prohibitive laws, licensing and taxation required of filmmakers before shooting in Kenya.

One of such occasions involved the television show, The Crown, which premiered on streaming site Netflix about the life and ascent to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II which told the story of then 25-year-old princess and her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, who arrived in Nairobi and embarked on a safari to the town of Nyeri and on to the Aberdare Ranges where they stayed at the Treetops Lodge to watch wild animals. While there, King George V died in his sleep.

The life changing event around which the movie is centered is, perhaps, best explained by Jim Corbertt, the princess’ bodyguard at the time, “as a young girl who climbed into a tree one day a princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.”

The Kenyan scenes in the TV series on Queen Elizabeth II were shot in Cape Town and with it, hundreds of millions of shillings in production revenue going to South Africa which led to a media and public outcry.

With Watu Wote, in addition to the film being shot in Kenya, Mwingi, Magadi and Nairobi to be specific, a good chunk of Kenyans were involved in the pre and post production of the film. Nairobi-based Africa Digital Media Institute also had a number of their Alumnus in various production departments and it is indeed a proud moment for the team of Kenyan actors that made this film come to life.

The crew members of the film “Watu Wote: All of us” the German and Kenyan joint production, react as their film received an Oscar nomination for the best Live Action Short Film category in Nairobi, Kenya. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)