From a Whisper Review

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


Got a New Green-Screen!

It’s been slow news for the past two month, but all that is changing.

I had ordered a green screen from and it arrived earlier this week. It’s a massive 10 by 12 feet (compared to the other screen I had that was 8 by 8 feet) and cost 20 dollars. Add thirty dollars for shipping and ten dollars for customs clearance and the total cost ended up coming to just over sixty dollars. I don’t feel like that’s too much money to spend. It was important for me to have the correct green to key out.

So it came as a surprise to me when, upon unwrapping the packaging, I found out that the green screen was significantly darker than the last one I had used. I’m not complaining. I have to test it out first. I was just taken aback. Maybe because after shooting two scenes and having some difficulties getting a solid key on some shots I’m realizing I may have been using the wrong green.

According to, to obtain a perfect key you need to light the green screen evenly and have a screen that’s as close to pure green as possible. Sounds fairly simple but I think in practice there are other factors to take into consideration such as the how the color of the lights you are using to light the screen may modify the color of the screen itself.

Without getting into specifics, if you are using a DV camera connected to a computer you should be able to use software to check whether your green screen will key out using a chroma vectoroscope. I don’t have either so I guess the only way for me to find out will be to test it out. Before that I need to have the screen ironed to remove folds and I also need to install a rod to support the screen in place.

Before I resume shooting (or testing for that matter), I need to buy lights. I found two types of red-reads in town. One type is Chinese and the other is German. Both use the same bulbs which are available in plenty, but the Chinese lights have a lifespan of a few years while the German red-heads apparently last forever. I’m not picky, so I might get the Chinese lights (unless anyone raises any objection between now and next Saturday).



The Damage Report 4

…lack of damage last month. Not to worry there will be more news soon.

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Posted by on September 4, 2008 in Principal Photography


The Damage Report 3

…minimal damage this past month. I just can’t do without professional lights and the green screen, so i have to re-organize the production. I plan to buy lights in the coming week and figure a way to green / white screen my characters without having to spend hundreds of dollars making a screen. I have been doing tests in blender and they are phenomenal so far. I have also been spending time cleaning up some of the shots and doing basic composites, so it hasn’t been a total loss.

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Posted by on August 4, 2008 in Uncategorized


This just in…

…and now we have some  complications.

  1. 1. After shooting the drumming scenes Maena (bless him) needed his lights and green screen back so I have to find some way to substitute these. Fortunately I am starting a new scene, so I’m not too worried about switching lights as opposed to doing the same in the middle of a scene. The drumming scenes were fundamental to the whole film and having the Lowel lights and the screen made shooting it a lot more painless. The new green screen consists 2 pieces of joined cloth with a huge seam in between. It suck, but will have to do for now.
  2. Olokut just broke his shoulder, and the Omulosi puppet lost some fingers after the drumming sequences. I need to ensure that both puppets are structurally sound before shooting.
  3. I begin production on an animated series in September so this gives me five weeks left to shoot. No pressure.


The drumming scenes are looking great!

I am now gearing up for the first (sequential) scenes in the film right now. I want to start shooting on monday. I found out that Olokut’s shoulder was broken yesterday and this made me strip down both arms for re-building. I will also make an extra set of hands just in case they need replacement during shooting.

I am also designing a chicken for use in the first scenes. I had to build two actually, one for close-ups and one that Olokut will carry and throw on his bicycle.

The bicycle is a very important part of the story. I got it from a wire-maker in Kisumu who specialises in making them. Initially I hadn’t planned to have it in the film, but I looked at the storyboard and felt that having it in would be potentially interesting for the film. Then I looked at the bicycle and saw that it fit Olokut perfectly. I made slight modifications so that It could be animated, but that little bicycle model was a godsend.


The Damage Report 2

So far I am in the region of three and a half minutes out of 12. I’m still closing in on finishing three scenes, but that’s because the I’m still animating the drumming sequence. I was going to cut it short to move on to other scenes; In fact, the footage I have now is just enough to tell the story; but after reviewing the assembly Thursday, I really felt that it needed to be the original length so that the audience could enjoy the performance. It felt like it needed that extra bit so that it becomes a truly complete scene. I also took the time to repeat one shot that I felt was really important to the whole story, but wasn’t animated to my satisfaction. I feel really happy with the scene now and that’s a good thing considering that it is one of the biggest scenes in the film and one of the most technically challenging. Having said that I’m out of patience and short of time so I want to wrap up the additional shots and start work on the other scenes.

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Posted by on July 5, 2008 in Principal Photography