Wed, Sep 09, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Kenya vies with South Africa to win back Hollywood to its exotic locations

Reuters, NAIROBI

Zebras tussle in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, on Aug. 9.

Photo: Reuters

When Out of Africa was filmed in Kenya three decades ago, the images of elegant safaris drew tourists in droves, but it has struggled to repeat that kind of success.

Now Kenya wants to put itself back on the filmmakers’ map, competing for business that often ends up in South Africa, by offering tax incentives and touting scenery that ranges from dusty savanna to tropical forest and white sandy beaches.

“We’ve been losing out hugely to South Africa, certainly in terms of feature films, and the main reason has been their tax rebate system,” said Chris Foot, chairman of the Kenya Film Commission, a state corporation.

So Kenya is fighting back. The government has given initial approval for a 30 percent tax rebate on film productions, has agreed to drop duties on film equipment imports and is setting up a liaison office to assist crews through Kenyan bureaucracy. A special visa for film crews is in the works too.

The new incentives will face an early test. The east African nation is competing with South Africa as the location for a film about Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey, which will be directed by Angelina Jolie and could star Brad Pitt.

Foot says drawing in foreign films and encouraging local production could within three years create an industry that employs 250,000 people and account for 2 percent of GDP. Figures now are just a fraction of those.

However, the gains from putting Kenya back on the big screen could be broader for a country whose tourist industry has been battered by a spate of Islamist attacks and an Ebola epidemic in West Africa that led to hotel cancelations, despite the fact that Kenya lies on the other side of the continent.

“The vast majority of people who come to Kenya for a safari come because they first saw it on Out of Africa,” Foot said, referring to the 1985 film based on the life of author Karen Blixen in Kenya in the early 1900s starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

The next major Hollywood production crew did not turn up until The Constant Gardener, a film released in 2005, based on John Le Carre’s novel and starring Ralph Fiennes.

Kenya has continued to struggle, losing out to South Africa as the location for The Journey is the Destination, a film being shot about photographer Dan Eldon, killed aged 22 on a Reuters assignment in Mogadishu. Part of the film’s story is set in Kenya, where Eldon grew up.

“No one loves Kenya more than I do, and it was always the idea to shoot in Kenya,” Kathy Eldon, Dan’s mother, said in a telephone interview from the film set in Johannesburg, but added that Kenya could not compete when the location was chosen.

“Every year we heard there would be tax incentives and every year it never happened,” Kathy Eldon said, adding some Kenyan and Somali actors were flying south to act as extras in the film.

However, Kenya has made some progress. The Netflix drama series Sense8 was partly filmed in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and the city disrupted a major road junction for three days for filming.

As well as drawing in foreign filmmakers, Kenya wants to boost domestic production. One step has been to require Kenyan TV stations, long dominated by Nigerian soaps and Latin American telenovelas, to show at least 40 percent Kenyan content.

Kenya is revamping its annual Kalasha film festival. The gathering next month will now do more to promote local productions.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top