From a Whisper Review

18 Sep

You people of Nairobi are a rather peculiar bunch. I’m not talking about your calling habits or how you lose your minds when it starts raining, that’s old hat.

You flood bars on weekends to watch The Barclays Premiership soccer matches, ignoring live Kenya Premier League action in various stadia; idolize politicians in conversation instead of honoring your real heroes such as your sportsmen; and jam movie theaters to see films that have absolutely nothing to do with you such as WANTED, sidestepping films about you and your history, such as Wanuri Kahiu’s From a Whisper, currently showing at the 20th Century.

I’ve seen it thrice in the past week. At all the screenings there was an average 10 people out of a possible 500. Of these, several were crew members. You’d think that the good people of Nairobi would want to spare time to watch Kenya’s first serious attempt at a historical drama made by a UCLA graduate. I found myself thinking that perhaps if I wish to make a historical film and make money I should be more bold and call it MOI: THE MOVIE or RAILA: THE REBEL YEARS. At this rate I don’t think Kenyans would care to see a film about Janet Jepkosgei, Peter Dawo or Wangila Napunyi. Even a Wangari Maathai project would risk colossal failure.

Or maybe we have this perception that paying money to watch a local film is an act of charity. Imagine a mainstream movie about 9/11 that only 200 people in the states showed up for. That is essentially what is happening right now, while all the time the film industry is lying in its deathbed.

Several audience members I spoke to blamed poor marketing for the dismal showing. I tend to agree somewhat. They had a really good trailer but a poorly designed and unconvincing poster. Still, I find myself thinking that word of mouth alone and the media coverage that it has received so far should have resulted in better returns.

From a Whisper is a partly fictional account-told in past and present-based on several characters whose lives were affected by the blast. TAMANI (CORYNNE ONYANGO) is an angry teenager back in Kenya having spent the years following the bomb blast in the states. She believes her mother went missing in the confusion that followed the attack on the US embassy and is still alive. Her loss drives her to paint pictures and inscribe them with the initials J.K for Joyce Keziah-her mother’s name perhaps in the hopes that someone will find her. Occasionally she also finds time to deface the walls of the memorial park with heart symbols, an action that doesn’t endear her to most of the security detail at the park.

Enter ABU (KEN AMBANI) who is presently the security manager. His subordinates wish he would have TAMANI arrested, but he is more fascinated with what drives this young girl to paint these images. Plus his wife is a big fan of the paintings. It’s not just fascination that draws him to Tamani. He understands her point of view, having lost his close brother FAREED (ABUBAKAR MWENDA) in the attack. She becomes something of a pet project for him.

The story shuttles back and forth between a bright and colorful past and a gloomy dark present. The genius is in how everything seems to unravel and yet come together simultaneously while all the time we bear witness to Fazul Abdallah Mohamed and company planning the terrorist attack all the time.

From a Whisper features some of the best on screen performances I’ve seen in any Kenyan production so far. Ambani and Abubakar are exceptional as two brothers following different paths in life. Their body language in every scene they share is sincere and heartfelt. You do feel an invisible kinship between them and this makes their characters emotionally accessible. These could be people you know or have come across, friends or neighbors perhaps.

Corynne is probably a good actress, but this was the wrong film for her. I was thrown off by her accent and soap opera theatrics. She has one scene in the film that is supposed to be dead serious but comes off as laughable. The film fails in this regard because you’re supposed to be feeling sympathetic to her and what she is going through but you cant simply because she comes across as a wealthy spoiled brat who hangs out in a run down building (forsaking the luxury of her wealthy father’s house), but has the resources to dress up in trendy clothes and maintain perfectly styled hair.

Is it a great film? Not in my opinion. It has several gaping holes in its plot, some bloated and silly scenes. But it has great moments-enough great moments to make it worth seeing. It also features great music by Eric Wainaina, Maia and Lavosti. The visuals are beautifully rendered by the cinematography of Marius Van Graan. On the whole it’s well worth a trip to 20th Century where it’s being screened up until the end of September-if you care that is.


Posted by on September 18, 2008 in Rants and Raves


6 responses to “From a Whisper Review

  1. Pink Star

    September 18, 2008 at 11:50 am

    there there alf. time darlin time is not on my side. i just cant seem to find any or make any. i ll get it on dvd.

    no one i know, besides you, has heard of it. i have asked several movie goers and no one’s heard of it. If they want 500 seats, they better pump up their marketing/advertising and create hype and excitement on it. they are NOT doing it right. callin us ‘you people’ and ‘peculiar’ aint gonna do it.

  2. betty

    September 18, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    perhaps if the producers of this film actually paid the cast and crew, the film could actually be marketed. instead they have had to literally sneak it into the cinema behind the backs of all who worked on this film. how much more can these people insult the people who broke their backs to make this film happen. karma is like the swish of a horses tail….

  3. Alfred M

    September 19, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    My approach in writing this post was to jolt whoever sees this blog (or the e-mail I sent) into either seeing it or getting people to see it. I have heard from various people about the payment issue, and I think it’s shameful considering the nature of the subject matter of the film and considering that this is a young film maker (so much for our hopes for generational change bringing about change in the way we do business in this country).

    Still, I think (or hope) that if they can make some money off ticketing and DVD sales, then the crew can finally get the remunaration that they deserve. Assuming, that is, that Dada Productions wants to pay their crew.

  4. azthedance

    September 22, 2008 at 9:38 am

    great review.i’ve seen the movie twice already,and i actually think it’s a pretty good movie (corrine onyango’s performance aside…you’re right in saying that she probably is a good actress, but was SO wrong for this movie)…the performances by ambani and mwenda brought me back and will continue to do’s a crying shame that such a brilliant effort is dogged by such controversy to the point where people are actively boycotting the movie and encouraging others to do so.this shouldn’t be the state of the kenyan film industry.someone needs to get their act in check.

  5. Dougei

    April 24, 2009 at 3:24 am

    Seriously speaking no marketing no selling, as harsh as that, if no one knows about it, if they did not budget for that in the beginning, did not pay their people, they might as well forget about returns.
    Kenyan producers have this habit that they expect consumers/viewers will watch them do their thing just for charity, and that is what you are also suggesting in your blog, however in the real sense, no Kenyan I know of is proud to support their own out of sympathy, Kenyans have some sort of ego that marketers would rather live with or die so to speak.
    Tahidi as an example is one production that is losing revenue big time by not availing their product in other forms, now this Whispers is losing its revenue by not marketing to even the local people. Now they have a feather to their cap now that they have those awards they’d rather brag and take advantage for now.

    • Alfred M

      May 6, 2009 at 5:01 pm

      I wrote this review last year when the movie came out last year. The marketing strategy for the film may not have been effective but it was marketed. They advertised the trailer at Nakumatt POS terminals. That, plus there was some buzz in the press. I agree that the producers should have capitalized on the awards and done a re-release and probably sold some DVDs while it was still fresh on Kenyans’ minds. I don’t believe in what I call ‘guilt selling’ either (buy this and support a village, or buy to support kenyan), I just wanted Kenyans to take interest in a film that derives directly form our recent history and allows us to reflect back on what happened.


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