2011 Zanzibar International Film Festival’s top winner was The Rugged Priest. The film received the Golden Dhow and won the Verona Award, the prize the African Film Festival of Verona awards at the Zanzibar’s event. It also won in eight categories of the Kalasha awards. The film premiered in Europe during the African Film Festival of Verona, last November. Southworld met the film Director.
“I am Bob Nyanja, and I am a film director. I live in Nairobi, where I have been working as a director for the last 12 years. I came to Verona with the film The Rugged priest, which was released earlier in 2011. The film is about a former American marine who became a Catholic priest. He lives in Africa for a long time, about 25 years. Suddenly he sees things that he does not like: people who are kicked out of their land, where they lived a lifetime, houses torched, women raped. He is not happy and realizes these people have been attacked by their neighbours. The reason behind the attacks is the incitement by politicians who want to get rid of those who came from other ethnic background; people who came in peace, bought the land and lived there for many generations. Politicians claim that these people must be sent away, what they really want is to retain power and influence in their constituency. The priest then starts telling politicians that they are wrong, but also tries to make people elsewhere aware of the situation. The politician gets angry and takes vengeance against this priest. This is the story.
Why did you shoot this film?
I wanted to tell a story. In Africa films still have a role for education. But they are also a form of entertainment. I wanted to give a chance to the public to see a story that is true and speak of heroism. This is a story about one such hero who lived amongst the Kenyans, but has never been really appreciated and recognized. This is why I worked for this film.
What difficulties did you find?
The first challenge, like for every other independent producer, was to find the money to do the film. So raising the finance has been a really challenge. I begged, borrowed, stole (he laughs) to make sure we did the film. The second challenge was that we had a big dream for this film, but we were not able to do all we had in mind. We had to cut corners and trim the story for the amount of money we had: a big challenge especially for me as writer and director of the film.
How did politicians react?
They did not try to stop me, also because I made sure that the full picture was not known in advance. When we released the film they were unhappy. This story is inspired by real life events. I should have said that earlier. Some of the characters copycat real life people. This is true also for the main politician featured in the film. These are people whose friends are still in power, or they are still in power themselves, in senior places of government. Of course, they were not happy we exposed them, what they did was to claim that this film is embarrassing Kenya, that we should not wash our dirt in public. But after a while, when the word got out to journalists, they stopped because they realized that pushing the issue was only making it more complicated.
How did people received the movie?
The people were happy and there was a lot of excitement in Nairobi and the other places where we showed the film. Many said it was about time such film was done, for it was reminding Kenyans of the crimes and murders, that have happened over the years and have never being resolved. So people were happy that someone was bold enough to tell the story.
Did you interview many people to prepare this movie?
We did a lot of research. Interviewed people who knew the characters of the story. Most of the material came from documents we found.