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10 unmissable films shot in Kenya

True or fantasy stories set in 'our' Africa

04-01-2021 di redazione

Not many, but not a few, films of any substance have been made in Kenya with the idea of telling the story of this country, its places, its people or at least stories that actually happened here. They range from the adventures of big game hunting and the Mau Mau war to re-enactments of famous autobiographies and more or less fictionalised news stories. We have collected what we at consider to be the most significant feature films, as well as those that have been awarded by critics and/or the public. We have deliberately omitted those that have simply used Kenya as a set, without mentioning it but representing it as a generic and ideal Africa for their screenplay. Enjoy reading and, in case you haven't seen some of them yet, have a good future viewing!


Actually this film is only set in Kenya and based on a true story, because at the last moment the production, for various reasons, decided to move to South Africa. The film is the reconstruction of a real event, the presence of two hungry lions during the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo river in 1894 in Kenya, according to the story of the British Colonel J.H. Patterson (played by Val Kilmer). According to Patterson's novel and the film, 130 Indian and African workers were mauled in a few months by the two huge specimens. The official story reports half that number. Behind the action and suspense of the film lies the eternal struggle of man against nature. In spite of two Oscar nominations and Michael Douglas' performance as hunter Remington, Ghost in the Darkness is not a completely successful work, but it is still worth seeing because it tells a true story, indeed one of the most famous stories of colonial Kenya. In fact, after scouting and writing the screenplay based on Kenyan locations, the film was shot in South Africa due to too high taxes imposed by Kenya. This included transporting Maasai extras.


My Africa is not only the most famous and celebrated film shot in Kenya, but also the highest-grossing film at the box office (more than $240 million) and the one that has won the most awards (11 Oscar nominations, 7 of which were sublimated into statuettes, including Best Director, Best Director to Sidney Pollack and Best Screenplay).
My Africa (original title "Out of Africa"), based on the novel of the same name by Karen Blixen, tells the story of Nairobi and the Rift Valley in the early 20th century, against the backdrop of the almost impossible love affair between the Danish writer and the adventurer Denys Finch-Hutton.
A Hollywood blockbuster produced without skimping on anything, from the spectacular cinematography of the landscapes to John Barry's unforgettable soundtrack, it is the film that most exalts the concept of "African sickness". It was filmed in the town of Karen, right near Blixen's real home, in the hills of Ngong and other surroundings of the capital.


Based on the fictional novel by the British spy-story writer John Le Carré, "The Constant Gardener" is a beautiful cross-section of Kenya's new colonialism, that of multinationals and certain solidarity. Director Fernando Meirelles, in recounting a British diplomat's search for the truth about the murder of his wife, a journalist and political activist, depicts the majesty of a country that has always witnessed the wrongdoings of others and the beauty of danger and impotence. The shots in Loyangalani, in Turkana, are beautiful, while those in the Kibera slum in Nairobi are vivid and dramatic.
The film features Ralph Fiennes' performance, which is not always up to scratch, but above all that of the charming and very talented Rachel Weisz, which won her an Oscar as best supporting actress. The film also won the Golden Globe and had two other Oscar nominations.



Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier, two of the most important actors of the post-war period, star in this 1957 film based on the novel of the same name by Robert C. Ruark, which tells the story of the beginning of the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya. Shot by the great director and screenwriter Peter Brooks, between Nairobi and Nanyuki, the film produced by Metro Goldwin Mayer tells the story of the friendship between a boy, son of white settlers, played by Hudson, and his childhood friend and playmate Kimani, for whom Sidney Poitier also had to deal with the racism of certain British circles in Nairobi during filming.
In the feature film, for the first time in the history of cinema, Kikuyu traditions in the villages on the slopes of Mount Kenya are also filmed live. For this reason, too, Something of Value is a film worth seeing.


The American film based on the autobiography of the Venetian conservationist Kuki Gallman, which has more or less the same title ("I dreamed of Africa") for those who have read the book, faithfully retraces the stages of the woman's troubled life. The producers, by entrusting a director like the Englishman Hugh Hudson ("Greystoke, the legend of Tarzan") aimed to repeat the success of "My Africa", but the story, although true, is less epic and Kim Basinger is no Meryl Streep. All in all, impossible comparisons aside, it's a film worth seeing, especially since there is no shortage of magical scenes in the Laikipia plateau where Nature takes centre stage. Gallman's love for Africa and her battles to protect it (as we will see in the continuation of her existence) are a good reason to learn about her story through the big screen.


Another true story, or rather, a still unresolved crime story in colonial Kenya.
The setting is that of the aristocratic lobby called 'Happy Valley', in which the scions of good families, children of diplomats, artists, adventurers and women of many vices and just as many virtues converge.
The murder of a young man who had spent the night with the wife of the noble Lord Erroll, a prominent British expat in Nairobi, inevitably falls on the eccentric man, played by Charles Dance, gives the cue to the talented director Michael Radford (who, among others, in his career, directed Massimo Troisi in "Il Postino") to paint a picture of the lasciviousness and decadence of the British bourgeoisie in Kenya among dance parties, good salons and hunting safaris, in which the figure of Diana Broughton (the algid Greta Scacchi) stands out. In the background, Nairobi is very well re-set, perhaps even too well. The end is well known, to those who know a bit of Kenyan history or have read James Fox's book "White Mischief": Lord Erroll, acquitted of murder charges, will be found to have committed suicide a few months later, in what is considered another mystery on which light has never been completely shed.


With the exception of other Italian films in which Kenya was merely a pretext for depicting a generic Africa or those in which it acts as a backdrop without a story to represent it, Marco Risi's film starring Diego Abatantuono is undoubtedly the most important Italian film shot in Kenya. By telling the story of a fictitious Italian, Fulvio Colombo, whose portrait recalls that of some of his fellow countrymen living in Malindi at the time, Risi offers a glimpse of the Italian colony on the shores of the Indian Ocean when extradition was not yet in place, amidst corrupt police, intrigue and people who, despite the wonder of Africa, ended up reintroducing, in a virgin and distant land, a system for which our country and our fellow countrymen are often criticised. In the part of the naive son of a missing Italian who will open the skeletons of the tricolour wardrobe in Kenya, the actor and director Corso Salani and in the role of the girlfriend a young and provocative Anna Falchi.

               8. WHITE MASAI

This film is also based on a true story and has inaugurated a certain sentimental literature based on relationships (often unsuccessful, always tormented in any case) between Western and Kenyan partners. In this case the beautiful and talented German actress Nina Hoss plays the part of the author, the Swiss Corinne Hoffman (in the film she is called Carola) who, after a holiday with her boyfriend, falls in love with the Masai and decides to stay in Kenya.
The plunge into a completely different society, into traditions that the girl enthusiastically espouses, right up to her marriage. The classic African dream of love in an ethnic sauce, but it doesn't end well, because the social and cultural differences will eventually come out and condition the future. The birth of a little girl will be the classic straw that breaks the African camel's back. The "White Maasai" will return to Switzerland with her daughter and the Maasai will remain in his homeland, portrayed in this film shot in a somewhat televised manner but with evocative settings in the Mara.


Certainly the most important German film partly shot in Kenya. It is no coincidence that the film (original title Nirgendwo in Africa) based on the novel of the same name, won the 2003 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the story of a Jewish family that, at the beginning of racial segregation in Germany in 1937, moves to Kenya. The film tells a human story in which Africa brings out contradictions and states of mind made even more inescapable by the outbreak of the Second World War. The head of the family, the Jewish lawyer Walter Redlich, is an idealist and sees the Kenyans as a persecuted people like his own, while his wife reveals a veiled racism. The new life in the Rift Valley, bucolic but hopeless, is intertwined with the history of the British taking over the non-allied Europeans and making them prisoners. This is not the case for the Jews, who are considered victims of the Germans. The story is very well filmed and narrated, and the performance of actress Julian Kohler stands out. An unknown cinematic gem of which the dubbed version in Italian is not easy to find.

          10. SAFARI

This 1956 film is one of the first dramas to tell the story of colonial Africa rebelling. It was directed by Terence Young, who would later become famous as the director of the first James Bonds. The beginning of the Mau Mau revolt is the backdrop to a story that intertwines the thirst for revenge of an American hunter whose son is killed during a raid while he is out on a trip.
The search for the murderer, a former employee of the hunter's, leads the man to Nairobi and alcoholism, but in the meantime his work must continue, taking a group of rich Englishmen, including the seductive Linda (played by Janet Leigh), on a hunting safari.
The interweaving of the brutality of the hunt, the Mau Mau uprising and the relationships between mzungu in Kenya is the basis of this film. Years after it was made, Leigh recounted that the film set had actually been attacked by the Mau Mau.


TAGS: film kenyacinema kenya10 kenya

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