Interviewers: Stefanie Habben and Anna Lafrentz
Who are you and what is your profession?
My name is Sarika Lakhani and I am one of the producers at One Fine Day Films. One Fine Day Films is a Berlin-based production company and a workshop initiative: Every year, we organize a two weeks workshop for filmmakers from all over the African continent in seven different disciplines. For directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, producers, production designers, sound designers, and editors. In every class, we have approximately five to twelve participants. From those, we choose the people with whom we make a feature film a couple of months later. So I produce workshops and I produce films. I work together with my German producers, our partner Deutsche Welle Akademie and our local partners from Ginger Ink. That is who I am, professionally.
When did you have the first contact to film?
When I was a child, I spent a lot of my days in front of the TV. I was really lucky, because my parents were occupied with my other siblings, they were just happy if one did not say anything. Whether the weather was good or bad, I was always in front of the television watching movies. I guess this is why I started in film.
Why did you choose to become a producer and not a film maker?
For me, that is the same. A good producer has a feeling for film and knows what is good for a film, or what is not good for a film. And very often, it is necessary to know what a film is not, in order to know what a film needs. You equally have a feeling for the film, like the director, scriptwriter, production designer, or the cinema photographer need to have. We need emotional correspondents, a connection. And we have a different job with that.
Did you have a special moment where you decided to become a producer?
Special moments are little bit like an onion, when you try “Ok, this is not it, and this is not it...”, and there is just one moment where you realize “Oh, this is what I have should done!”. When I was like eleven or twelve, I wanted to become an actress, then I wanted to become a director, and after that I wanted to become a producer. You just do and you find out “That is nice, but I think the other job is more interesting”. Just by reality and working I found out. That is what I loved most, what chose me most.
What is your working live like here in Nairobi as a producer?
Someone asked me 3 years ago, how working in Kenya changed my perspective on my job. And ever since, I am trying to find a really smart answer and I still do not know. Because this is what I do, this is what I know. I make movies here in East Africa with people from all over the continent. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do that, because it is a very rewarding and grateful job. It is very motivating, often very hard, but on the other hand, it is also a very special occupation. And I know, not many people have the joy of experiencing that in their life. For me, after five years now, it is my life.
Could you give the readers an idea about the film business in East Africa?
I just had another meeting and I spoke also to a German lady about the Kenyan film industry. I am an outsider enough not to be a member of the Kenyan film industry, really, but my perception from the outside is that we, especially as Germans, like to catch and to put in a catalogue; we like to find a name and a number for everything. We would like to have something like the Kenyan film industry, and as much as we do, it does not exist. There is no homogeneous group of people. There are a lot of people expressing what they feel, what drives them, and they have similar problems and sometimes hitting similar hurdles. But different people do different things. Hawa works more internationally orientated, coming from a creative perspective of arts. There are other filmmakers who have a more commercial approach, who work for television, who never want to travel to festivals because it is not interesting for them. There are also different aspects of the industry: making commercials, TV-shows and series - and there is independent cinema and independent cinema has documentary and feature films. What do we want to include, when we speak about the Kenyan film industry, and what do we want to exclude? It is really hard to say that. The Kenyans have not even defined what a Kenyan film is.
Are you influenced by the city of Nairobi?
My story is a little bit different. I do not live in Nairobi, I spend six month of the year in Nairobi. We commute actually between Europe and Kenya. Being in Nairobi is like being in Berlin: I go to a coffee place or to a supermarket; we drive around town and bump into people. I go to a party, or I have lunch meetings or dinners like I have in Berlin too. I am living in between too much in order to be able to reflect from the outside what that is, to analyse it. So the answer is ‘Yes’.
Yesterday, something strange happened to me. I saw the Nairobi cinema at the CBD, and we walked in, and there was a church, there was no cinema. Where are the cinemas in Nairobi, and where are the people who go to the cinema?
That is an interesting question. Two years ago, during the workshops here, we actually counted how many cinema screens there are here in Kenya. There is no real comprehensive guide book of how many films get theatrical distribution. 'Soul Boy' is the first film we produced, the second one was 'Nairobi Half Life', and 'Nairobi Half Life' was something we did not anticipate, it was a blockbuster. We never knew that this could actually happen, and we were all completely astonished what it made happen. We produced 'Something Necessary', which is an art-house film, and again, we were completely astonished, what it could not make happen.
It is grassroots what we do, not only the film making process, also the distribution process, because there is no distribution here. When you are a filmmaker, you have to find your own ways of distribution. I think that is something facing filmmakers all over the world, not only here in Kenya, but here is little understanding of “How do I bring my movie to the local TV-stations, once I have made it?”. The local TV-stations told us “Oh yes, thank you. We will screen your film for free, you do not have to pay”. It is new for everybody; the local TV-Stations also never had a movie like 'Nairobi Half Life' or 'Soul Boy'. The participation of international financing is very little, because simply for the fact that nobody knows what film can do. Nobody acknowledges what the result of film can be on different levels. How valuable it is culturally and commercially. If 'Nairobi Half Life' is the first film which is even considered to be nominated for the Oscar, the appreciation beyond that, the question of what does it mean, what can that do, what kind of outcome does that have, there is almost no thinking like that.
Your three projects 'Soul Boy', 'Nairobi-Half Life', and 'Something Necessary' had a lot of success outside of the African continent. Why is that?
They were not successful, commercially. To sell our movies is very hard. On a festival level, they were very successful. My guess is, they are made in a certain way; the sound is not bad and the picture quality is good. We provide the African filmmakers with a certain level of quality, infrastructure, and we also give them the time to find the story. Hawa and Ng ́ethe were editing the movie for almost a year, and who actually will ever allow you to work for that long on an edit, even in Germany. The kind of liberty we have for the project is unique. We do not have to report to anybody, why we do these kinds of stories. There is a film at the end, but we never get questions before production. I think the outcome speaks for itself.
So that is the special thing about One Fine Day Films?
Yes, it is very special, because we could not work any different. If we had to report to somebody and if we had to wait for somebody to approve the script and so on, we could not work. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but we are going to shoot our next film in November 2014. I have no script, no director, no actors, nothing. If I was in Germany working as a normal producer, I would think of myself that I was completely nuts. But I have done it four times already; the fourth film is currently in postproduction. There is just a very special model of filmmaking, which we come up with, it is very unique.
Where does One Fine Day Films get the money from?
The first film 'Soul Boy' is initially financed by Tom and Marie themselves, the founders of the initiative. We got some postproduction funding by the Goteborg Film festival fund and the Hubert Balls fund. We very quickly said we wanted to do that again, and founded a little company. We are several partners: One Fine Day Films, Ginger Ink., and the Deutsche Welle Akademie. The majority of the money comes from German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, but we also get money from a film fund of the Film- und Medienstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, the Goethe Institute Nairobi, and ARRI Film- & TV Services. We have a budget, which is to a certain extend per film, because we are not only a film production company, we are also a workshop initiative and becoming more and more of a networking company.
Do you personally feel that it is kind of German money in a "third world" country?
Our projects are a little bit different from development aid projects, because we are not an aid project. We are filmmakers, we are not social workers. I studied film, Tom and Marie know film - we are filmmakers. We come together with people from Europe who know about filmmaking. We know almost zero about the dos and don’ts of development aid. We meet here as professional filmmakers, how we come together is our purpose, and we work from there.
I think it is absolutely fantastic that the German government does something like that, they stipulate and exchange. Yes, it is German money in Africa but it is also an exchange: professionals from Germany come here, and we take Kenyans, Egyptians, and Nigerians to Germany and they get to know Germany on a different level and in a different way. It is a very unique way of meeting and our role as a cultural exchanger is becoming a little bit bigger the more often we do it. Almost none of the film makers we worked with have ever been to Europe before and we take them on a tour to Germany through sixteen German cities, where they can present their movies. The German audiences get to know a different Africa, too, which they have not anticipated before. The filmmakers we bring are also experiencing themselves in a new way, because the beauty of travelling to another place is being reflected in a different way and what it does to yourself and your thinking. It is a great experience for both sides. This is wonderful and I would much like to have more of our African filmmakers coming to Germany, I would just love to show them, not because I want to aid or support, but because they have a passion and they want to get to know more, because this is something what interests them.
What is the first step of a film project and in which step do you finish it?
First, we look for a story and for a script-writer. Then, we look for a mentor to team up with the scriptwriter, because our project is a mentoring project. Together with the director and the mentor, we develop the script. We have a preproduction for several weeks where we do all the necessary discussions. We shoot for four weeks, then we have approximately a year of postproduction: First, there is editing, after the picture lock, when the editing process is finished, there is a sound design and a mixing and visual effect have being done, after this, we complete the film.
Do you have some selection criteria for the story or for the crew?
We have some budget limitations, there are certain things we cannot do, for example a purely action driven film, where you have a car crash in every scene. We can not afford to finance that. So budget-wise, we have some limitations, otherwise not really. We get inspired by what we see; it is a little bit like putting puzzles together, and see what could be a good fit.
Because Marie started the initiative One Fine Day here in Kenya, in particular. This is how the story came along, it is a genesis, it is an evolution. By accident, Tom and Marie found somebody who, by accident, has roots here. I think it is a coincidence; it is a historical ladder of coincidence.