The Images of Black Women Film Festival will be approaching us for their fifth year at the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn at the end of March. One of the feature films of this film festival will be the European premier of the film ‘From a Whisper’ by Kenyan director, Wunari Kahiu.Simone Byer talks to her, to find out the reason behind her whispers.
The film From a Whisper is about things that started in secret. Covert missions, family secrets that eventually manifested into death, untruths and hurt. I had to explore my own assumptions about faith, love and forgiveness: After a betrayal, where does forgiveness start and when does it end?Things that started in secret… what is the secret within the film?
After tragedies, we often remember the statistics and not the people. We forget that during the bomb blast, we lost mothers, sisters, fathers, best friends. Relationships changed, roles were redefined. I was inspired to write about the people who have to learn how to trust life again, who live on past their worst nightmares and find ways to mend themselves.
From a Whisper is set in Kenya, being from Mombasa yourself, how important is it for you to get your work shown to audiences in different countries?
It is important that I can make films that are accessible, films that speak of a similar human experience that transcends boundaries and borders. It is important to me to show stories of people that audiences near and far can recognize as their friend, their lover or themselves.
What obstacles were presented to you with when trying to get your work recognised?
I come from a country with a film industry in its infancy. The cost of making the film is marginal compared to the heartbreak of being unable to screen it to the audience it is made for. There is limited support for filmmakers from local or Africa-wide cable stations. Being a first time feature film director, I have come to value and appreciate the role of the media (who were very supportive in Kenya) and the need for a large marketing and publicity budget.
How would you describe the film industry over in West Africa, then?
Kenya is another kettle of fish. The hardest part of filmmaking was standing up for the story before the film was made. The film subject was sensitive and many were afraid to work or even be affiliated with it. They felt the film threatened their faith, their safety or position in society. I refused to change the story to suit the sensitivity of the audience. When the film was finished, it was a struggle to get it seen. I have been fighting for the film to be played on local television stations and local cinemas. Some battles were won, many lost.
So how do you feel about From a Whisper being shown at the Images of Black Women Film Festival, this being the first time it will be shown in Europe?
Being honoured with the invitation to even present my film overwhelms me. In Kenya, I am a hustler. I work to pay rent and make ends meet. I am not a filmmaker; I am a part of an army of ants. To be a part of ‘Images of Black Women Film Festival’ is to be recognized as a global, artistic contributor, as a filmmaker and as the person I aspire to be.
Words by Simone Byer