‘Nairobi Half Life’ director hails Ugawood

POLLY KAMUKAMA

He has only worked here for a short while but it seems Kenyan filmmaker David Tosh Gitonga already knows a thing or two about Ugandan cinema.

The multi-award winning director behind the acclaimed film Nairobi Half Life has told of how talented and passionate Ugandan actors and filmmakers are.

David Tosh Gitonga says he is impressed by the talent and passion of Ugandan actors.

David Tosh Gitonga says he is impressed by the talent and passion of Ugandan actors.

Gitonga is currently directing Beneath the Lies, the much-anticipated Ugandan TV series set to premieres on Urban TV this December.

And it seems the experience of working with a star-studded cast, on one of the most talked about upcoming local TV shows, has left the 32-year-old Kenyan in awe of our very own burgeoning industry.

“We Kenyans might be more experienced in film but Ugandans are certainly more passionate,” Gitonga told us in an exclusive interview last week.

A scene from 'Nairobi Half Life', a internationally acclaimed film by David Tosh Gitonga.

A scene from ‘Nairobi Half Life’, a internationally acclaimed film by David Tosh Gitonga.

He described his experience working in Uganda for the first time as ‘great’, and said the series’ cast is giving him 150% of their dedication and talent.

Yet the Marketing graduate, who started out as a runner on big Hollywood film sets back in Kenya, was timid when he first got the call to helm the upcoming soapie that casts top Ugandan actors, artistes and socialites.

“I was working with a lot of celebrities that I thought it would be a problem, but they have turned out to be fantastic and eager to do well. Some of them have never acted before but so far so good,” Gitonga said.

Part of the female cast for 'Beneath the Lies', a much anticipated Ugandan TV series directed by Gitonga.

Part of the female cast for ‘Beneath the Lies’, a much anticipated Ugandan TV series directed by Gitonga.

But he was even more surprised that the series’ producers, Cedric Babu and Nana Kagga, whom he had never met before, were interested in his services.

The duo, producing the show under their respective companies, Kinetic Management and Savannah Moon Production, had been introduced to Gitonga by Gaetano Kagwa, a celebrated Ugandan media personality and actor.

Kagwa had previously experienced Gitonga’s directing wizardry while they both worked on the hit M-Net series, Changes, back in 2011 as actor and director, respectively.

Gitonga with Polly Kamukama at last year's International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in Netherlands.

Gitonga with Polly Kamukama at last year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in Netherlands.

Now, Gitonga says he is amazed at the amount of work Kagwa and the rest of the team is putting into Lies, a drama series he describes simply as ‘intriguing’.

Kagwa, a Big Brother Africa I finalist, is joined by a string of other celebrities to complete the predominantly novice cast of the 12-season show.

The other actors include: Cedric Babu, Patrick Idring, Flavia Tumusiime, Susan Nava, Natasha Sinayobye, Daniel Omara, Hellen Lukoma, Rabadaba and Diana ‘Deedan’ Muyira among others.

'Beneath the Lies' casts a mixture of professional Ugandan actors, celebrities and socialites.

‘Beneath the Lies’ casts a mixture of professional Ugandan actors, celebrities and socialites.

Nana Kagga, a Ugandan actress and filmmaker who has registered some success in Hollywood, wrote the series whose riveting narrative apparently involves love, blackmail, crime and sex.

Gitonga however describes the drama as a true African story that combines different cultures while showcasing the evils we face every day.

“This is local TV like never before. There is no doubt it’s going to be a game changer in East Africa,” asserted the Kenyan whom many African cinema watchers today rank among the finest on the continent.

Gitonga has had his life and career turned around following the global success of 'Nairobi Half Life'.

Gitonga has had his life and career turned around following the global success of ‘Nairobi Half Life’.

And you can trust Gitonga to know a thing or two about game-changing having himself got his life and career turned around following the meteoric success of Nairobi Half Life.

The film, Kenya’s first ever submission into the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language category, debuted in July 2012 and has since gone on to garner international acclaim for its realistic portrayal of Nairobi’s hustle and notorious criminal underworld.

It tells the uplifting story of a young aspiring actor trying to make it big against all odds in the crime-infested city.

When I first met Gitonga at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR) in Netherlands in January last year, Half Life had just failed to make into the final five-film nomination list for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Oscar.

He told me that he was unfazed by the Oscars snub, and that he was instead more pleased with the fact that his film had put African cinema on the world map.

And last week, he told of how the film, his last known project before Beneath the Lies, has given him a new life both as a filmmaker and as a man.

“I don’t have to show my CV to anyone now because they already believe in what I can do,” he boasted with a smile before quickly reaffirming the fact that the film has inspired many young African filmmakers.

Gitonga at work on the set of 'Beneath the Lies'.

Gitonga at work on the set of ‘Beneath the Lies’.

But the talented soft-spoken Kenyan also admits Half Life’s massive international success set the bar too high for himself- which is why he’s taking his time to release another film.

He however says he is working on a couple of TV shows and films back in Kenya, and that he has so far completed three episodes of Lies.

He says international co-productions and cross-border collaborations is the way to go for East African filmmakers since it comes with a wider market base and audience.

And we can only hope that Beneath the Lies, a collaborative effort itself, cashes in on that trend.

kamukamapolly@gmail.com

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