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Nairobi Half Life

We just came back from the movies, which ordinarily wouldn’t be worth writing about, except that the film we saw was so well-made and hit so many of the right notes that not writing about it would be criminal.

Nairobi Half Life pulls no punches as it portrays the seedy underside of the city we’ve called home for the last year and a half. The movie follows the hopes and plights of an “upcountry” youth who comes to Nairobi to pursue a dream and quickly finds himself swallowed up by the crime, corruption, and police abuse that are an everyday fixture in the lives of many Kenyans. It evokes visions of Kids or Cidade de Deus, showing the grim reality of life in Nairobi for those who are not fortunate enough to live on a gated compound. Incidentally, judging by the audience’s reaction to some of the scenes, we think it fair to say that the city depicted in Nairobi Half Life was as foreign to many of the Kenyans in that movie theater as it was for us. It is a city we read about, and frequently discuss, and – in D’s case – write about, but one that fortunately rarely intrudes on our lives (except when we hear of friends or colleagues who have been victims of carjacking). One of our friends said that the film made her uncomfortable – and, in her words, appropriately so – to the point that she could not bear to watch several segments. It is fitting then that the most poignantly delivered line of the movie challenges viewers to make a choice of whether to look or to look away.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this film will grace the movie screens of most of your hometowns. It is not currently playing anywhere in the United States, though if you live in London or in some parts of Germany, you can catch a screening in the next month or so. It will also reportedly be shown in Uganda at the AMAKULA Film Festival in November. Kenya submitted Nairobi Half Life to the Oscars selection committee and we fervently hope that it makes the cut in the Best Foreign-Language Film category. If it does – and it definitely should – it might get some playing time in independent movie theaters or at film festivals, so keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, your best bet of seeing this movie is in Nairobi, so if you live here and haven’t seen it yet, go now – rumor has it that it’ll only be in theaters for a couple more weeks.

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