Oscar winner shot in Kenya


The Africa scenes of this year’s Oscar and Golden Globe best foreign language film winner, In a Better World, were shot in Kenya. Nairobi based production services company Pontact Productions EPZ Limited was responsible for bringing this Danish production to Kenya.

Directed by Susanne Bier and produced by Zentropa Entertainments, In a Better World traces elements from a refugee camp in Africa to the grey humdrum of everyday life in a Danish provincial town. When schoolboys Christian and Elias are involved in a violent incident, their fathers are initially unable to grasp the full implications of the boys’ actions. Elias’s father, Anton, an idealistic doctor often absent from home while he works in an African refugee camp, tries to communicate his own commitment to non-violence to the boys, but the troubled Christian continues to see Anton’s beliefs as a sign of weakness.

Bier’s script called for a Field Hospital in a huge refugee or IDP camp, remote, harsh and desolate. The recce group was kindly allowed to visit Dadaab Refugee Camp close to the Somali border where they collected valuable reference for the shoot.

The location search took them the length and breadth of Kenya finally deciding upon an existing camp in Kekopey, near Gilgil in the Rift Valley. The residents of this camp had been displaced from their homes in the post-election violence in 2008. Rather than wait for their compensation from Government, they decided to pool their meagre resources and buy the 12 acres of land on which they were situated.

With only a few weeks of intense pre-production, the best of Kenya’s freelance crew were hired and production secured all available rooms in the three tourist lodges in the area. Art department built an impressive field hospital in the centre of the camp and scoured the country buying up old refugee tents to make the camp bigger.

Meanwhile, local casting director, Lenny Juma, worked closely with the Zentropa casting team to fill as many roles as possible with Kenyan actors. When watching the casting material, Bier immediately decided to give actor Evans Muthini one of the leading parts in the Kenyan scenes – although this part was originally intended to be played by an actor from Hollywood.

In addition to 700 local extras hired daily, 60 Nubian extras were brought from Nairobi’s Kibera slum and accommodated in their own tented camp. Furthermore, the former IDP’s were given priority when hiring semi-skilled or unskilled positions.

Besides building a classroom at the local primary school, the production donated the construction materials to the camp residents at the end of the shoot. Apart from salaries for Kenyan crew and cast, 80% of the money was spent in the Gilgil/Kekopey area in a period of two months. This truly demonstrates the value of foreign film productions to Kenya.

Another Pontact film, shot almost entirely in Kenya – Caroline Link’s “Nowhere in Africa” – won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Feature in 2003, raising Pontact’s profile to one of the best production service companies in Africa.


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