Robbie Odongo was working the night shift at his Aga Khan hospital Kisumu work station when he was confronted with the sight of a baby connected to tubes in the ICU.
It was at the height of the post-election violence in August 2017, and the baby fighting for her life was Samantha Pendo, a six-month old victim of the poll chaos in Kisumu County.
When Odongo – then one of the support staff – reported back to work the next day, he was met with an empty bed.
“The baby was dead. That image lives with me to date,” he tells the Nation.
A multi-award-winning scriptwriter, the father of two, who then worked as a janitor, harnessed his emotions and got down to writing.
Bangarang – Jamaican slang for chaos – is the name of the film written and directed by Odongo and inspired by true events that preceded Baby Pendo’s death, depicting the culture of post-election violence in Kenya.
A February 2019 ruling delivered by Magistrate Beryl Omollo at the end of an inquest into the death of Baby Pendo had implicated senior police chiefs on duty during the 2017 post-election chaos and recommended murder charges after the inquest fingered them for culpability and asked that they be prosecuted.
The ruling read in part: “On August 11, 2017, a beautiful flower was plucked from the security of her home and forcibly nipped in the bud by one of the truncheon-wielding police officers who had besieged her parents’ modest accommodation in an area on Kilo Junction of Kisumu’s Nyalenda low-income settlement.”
The officers are yet to be charged.
Apart from the victims of police brutality across Nyanza, whose lives changed because of police brutality meted out on them during past elections, there are thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) who are yet to recover and be resettled.
Human rights violations
Baby Pendo’s parents have struggled to come to terms with her death, four years down the line.
The 88-minute-long movie exclusively shot in Kisumu depicts how the society overlooks deep human rights violations for political gain.
It bagged the Best Film on Human Rights Education at the Lake International Pan-African Film Festival (LIPAFF).
There had been a problem though, as Odongo embarked on production. The film enthusiast, who through his company, Leqwood Production, had previously produced four movies — all, nearly on a zero-shilling budget.
He wondered how he would bring his latest story to life; it was to cost a staggering Sh12 million.
“I painfully shelved the idea, and the script continued gathering dust for close to three years until the Kenya Film Commission (KFC), through its first cycle of Film Empowerment Programme, shortlisted our application for funding,” recounts Odongo.
In the movie, Otile, a poor boda boda rider is jobless 10 years after graduating with a second-class honors degree in automotive engineering.
When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections, Otile leads other rioters to the streets of Kisumu. It is an opportunity for him to vent his anger towards the government’s bad leadership, which he holds responsible for his joblessness.
On one fateful day as he runs for his dear life from the anti-riot police, he finds himself inside Dan’s house. The police trace him and beat up everyone in the house, including Dan’s six months old child, Baby Joy.
Otile runs into exile for fear of being falsely implicated by the police in Baby Joy’s death.
Out of 72 applicants, KFC awarded 12 filmmakers a total of Sh25 million for development of their concepts and production.
“We were lucky to receive Sh4 million for production and had to rework our budget to fit into the money at hand, given there were no other sources of funds,” says Odongo.
Through the help of the Kisumu County Government, Odongo and his production team managed to save on costs that included cast and crew logistics such as transportation, meals and location.
“In some scenes, we had to lock down a street for several hours, given the cost in upwards of Sh100,000 an hour, the county government came to our rescue to realise this dream,” he says.
Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o even made a cameo appearance in the film.
“My mantra of producing local stories in local languages with local (sic) cast and crew’ proved useful as I worked with a team that was understanding,” he says.
The script was deliberately done in Swahili, except for a few scenes where the cast lines were in English.
David ‘Dawe’ Weda, 30, who played the role of Otile narrates how he did not have to struggle to fit in as he experienced the emotions and the violence first hand.
“I live in Kondele, the epicenter of the riotous actions during chaos in Kisumu, therefore fitting into the role was not far-fetched for me,” says Weda.
Weda, a nurse, has been nominated as most promising young actor at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, Nigeria.
Odongo is also a victim of election violence. In 2013, when violence erupted, a commuter bus ran over a motorbike he had boarded, which saw him hospitalized for six months.
“The madness that characterises Kenyans every election cycle, where they stop reasoning and retreat to tribal and party cocoons should come to a stop,” he says.
The movie couldn’t have come at a better time, with campaigns for the next August 2022 General Election picking up tempo.
Odongo’s wish is that his movie, which appeals for cohesion, be showcased across the country to appeal to the emotions of Kenyans so that they do not ever resort to violence again.
Even before its official premier, Bangarang has attracted attention, earning several selections to film festivals and nominations.
They include nominations in various categories at the Rustenburg Film Festival 2021 (South Africa), Africa Movies Academy Awards 2021 (Nigeria), Lake International Pan-African Film Festival (LIPAFF) and the Kalasha International Film and TV Awards 2021.
Other accolades include Best Director Indigenous Film – ZAFAA Global Award 2021 (London) and official selection into the African International Film Festival (Nigeria), African Film for Impact Festival (Nigeria) and Ecrans Noirs Festival (Cameroon).
The premier for the movie, produced by a 178 cast and crew over nine months, first scheduled for April 2020, was postponed due the coronavirus pandemic.
The movie will now premier on December 11 at Kisumu’s Anga Cinema and in Nairobi on December 12 at Anga Diamond, Parklands. This will be preceded by an invite-only pre-screening for cast, crew and sponsors early next month.
Other movies produced by Leqwood Production and done in the local Luo dialect are, Dhing go Jawa Jawa (2014), Seredo (2017), its sequel Seredo 2 in 2018 and Ja Narobi (2019).
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