Nairobi is in the middle of something big.
As I clambered over the debris on Ngong Road’s construction, and jumped into the elevator filled with glamorous premiere attendees, my heart started to race.
The time had come to receive Mbithi Masya’s feature film debut:
The teasers I’d been savouring since the trailer’s release in September dripped with cinematography that celebrated every pore of Kenyan skin, and the bone dry grass was from my childhood playgrounds, and possible afterlife.
I was so ready.
The audience milled around the foyer, glittery and expectant, exchanging hugs and appraised looks of welcome.
Everyone knew some of everyone, and the buttery concession smell draped itself over the (Rapidly emptying) bar.
Mbithi, who graciously got my partner and I a pass to the screening
was a vision in a purple suit.
He was beaming, open and ready to bring his long awaited piece home.
I grabbed his hand,
“Thank you so much!”
“Don’t thank me till you’ve seen it!”
He grinned in reply.
Scouring the aisles of beautiful and familiar faces, we found a seat
front and centre.
My neck felt a phantom spasm of the craning ahead, but I didn’t care.
We were here.
The pacing’s procession beat slow, and erratic.
Kaleche’s (Played by Nyokabi Gethaiga) wary and tentative eyes opened the film. She considers, gauges, and sets forth to explore this middle place.
The world of Kati Kati is built with familiarly teaked woods, Nairobi blue walls and Quencher orange juice, acacia trees, tall grass, and your grandmother’s dining room furniture.
These people on the screen were us, they spoke like our cousin’s and pastors.
Our concern steadily piqued as the rules of their world proved more unpredictable, and dangerous.
Thoma (Elsaphan Njora)’s enigmatic smile and casual charisma handed us the false sense of security we needed to follow Kaleche on her journey.
His relationships with the guests and himself on screen played out the ever- shifting negotiation between the comforts of masochism, and the terror of forgiveness.
The scope of storytelling tradition Masya draws from forges forth a broad and deep wake in which other Kenyan storytellers can follow.
I smiled to myself as I tried to tease out references,
The pool scene had some graceful nods to Djibril Diop Mambety’s Touki Bouki,
And the story structure brought anime ‘Death Parade’ and ‘Gantz’ to my movie date’s mind.
When it ended, we tumbled out of the screening hall, some of us bleary eyed, others excited and some, a little confused.
The conversations between audiences and film-makers alike buzzed round the room;
“What did you think of the…?”
“Remember the part when he…!”
“But that story of the…”
“Are you coming to the after party?”
The warm current charging the space was a special sensation I hope to experience many times again.
‘Kati Kati’ offers a new imagining for those of us caught in transition.
The sense of mystery, and sparseness of dialogue gave us all generous room to fill in the gaps with projections of our own experiences.
This trust the director has in his audience, is a contract which promises to only elevate Kenyans’ relationship with cinema, countrywide and beyond.
In Nairobi? GO WATCH IT.
Photo Courtesy of NBO Film Festival