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    Soul Boy by Hawa Essuman

    By Tanja Meding | February 12, 2011

    Last autumn’s Hamptons International Film Festival presented the US premiere of Ghanian-Kenyan first-time filmmaker Hawa Essuman’s Soul Boy which has been travelling the international festival circuit since the beginning of 2010. In fact, it turns out that the story behind the making of this film is just as interesting as the movie itself.  In 2008, teacher and producer Marie Steinmann together with German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (see the reviews of his latest film Three in KINO 98 respectively 99) decided to start One Fine Day Films, a new production company with the aim of supporting new African cinema. The concept is to offer film production workshops to interested and emerging filmmakers in Kenya, teach them the fundamentals of filmmaking, pair them with film professionals, and then go out into the field to shoot a low-budget movie.

    Together with the British NGO Anno’s Africa and the Kenyan production company Ginger Ink, Steinmann and Tykwer started the first film production workshop in October 2008 and, with a screenplay by Kenyan author and editor Billy Kahora, the team then went off to produce the feature film Soul Boy. Financial backing was provided by a number of European film funds and corporate sponsors such as ARRI Film & TV Services.

    Directed by Ghanian-Kenyan female first time filmmaker Hawa Essuman, with some supervision by Tykwer, Soul Boy is the story of  Abila (Samson Odhiambo) and his friend Shiku (Leila Dayan Opollo) and their quest to save Abila’s father’s soul. After gambling his soul away, Abila’s father needs all the help he can get. So, Abila and Shiku set off to solve a number of riddles to bring Abila’s father back to life. Soul Boy is a fast moving, mysterious journey through Kibera, the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Featuring a cast of talented young amateur actors from Kibera and Nairobi and geared towards a younger audience, the film is beautifully shot and clocking in at 60 minutes tells its story most economically.

    The production celebrated its world premiere at the 2010 Gothenburg Film Festival, was then awarded the Dioraphte Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, and screened in the Generation Kplus section at the 2010 Berlinale. Cinepool are handling international sales and the film was released in German cinemas in December 2010. In addition, the film won three Kalasha, Kenya’s Film and Television Awards for Best Short Film, Best Script and Best Leading Actor. The immense success of Soul Boy – and the joy everyone involved got out of working collaboratively — made everyone want to continue the project.

    At last year’s Berlinale Tykwer announced that One Day Films, Ginger Ink and Deutsche Welle Akademie had joined forces to launch the FilmAfrica! initiative which has received € 1m in support from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) over the next two years and additional backing from the Goethe Institut in Nairobi. The Filmstiftung NRW also awarded € 100,000 towards the production costs of the next film.

    This past autumn, Steinmann, Tykwer and team were back in Kenya organizing workshops with emerging filmmakers and producing their second feature with the working title of Nairobi Half Life. Watch out for it at a film festival near you!

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