Nairobi News


Angela Wamai on making ‘Shimoni’ her first film

Shimoni – loosely translated from Swahili as “The Pit” – is a stark but involving drama, shot in ravishing takes and presented with Angela Wamai’s distinct eye for detail and precision.

It tells the story of a man at odds with his environment and at war with his inner demons. After being released from prison, a former schoolteacher, Geoffrey (Justin Mirichii giving a revelatory, intensely layered performance) is sent to the Kenyan village where he was raised. Formerly an English teacher, he is now forced to redirect his life in a community that he left behind, doing manual jobs that are alien to him.

In her debut film, Wamai chose to explore the heavy subject of sexual abuse for her first feature but that hasn’t stopped audiences from engaging with the film’s pressing themes.

She says that she worked on the writing for a long time because she was also trying to fundraise at the same time.

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“It’s been a long journey to this point. It’s also been really difficult, as I am sure you can imagine. Making films in Kenya, and in Africa as a whole, is an extreme sport, and there are many hurdles to jump. But it’s also been very, very fulfilling,” Wamai said.

“The team behind Shimoni made this journey very special. It has been a labour of love for the people involved, and the dedication of the cast and crew to the project has been incredible.”

Justin Mirichii who plays Geoffrey in Angela Wamai’s Shimoni dueing the premiere at Alliance Française. PHOTO COURTESY of WAKITANGA VISUALS

She says that she put a huge responsibility on Mirichii’s shoulders because the role required a lot.

“It required that he change physically. It required a lot of vulnerability. It was also a very physically draining production as we had a long and intense rehearsal period and then a short and intense shoot. Then we still needed him to use his voice during post-production. We asked for a lot, and Mirichii gave 150 per cent each time. He was really a God-sent.”

According to Wamai, they had had close to two months of rehearsal with him, and he had to use his mind and body to go to a difficult place.

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“Seeing him get there made me respect Justin a whole lot more than I did, and mind you, I had a lot of respect for him before. But it wasn’t just about Justin.”

She adds, that the rest of the actors, Muthoni, Psenjen, Vivian, Idris, Gitura, Daniel, and the child actors, also had to give a lot. So really, the film is driven by all the characters embodying their roles in phenomenal ways.

Wamai says that someone very recently told her that most filmmakers have a story they must tell, “and Shimoni is that, for me, it was the story that, no matter what I did refused to leave me. I had to tell it.”

Cast and crew of Shimoni during the premiere at Alliance Française. PHOTO COURTESY of WAKITANGA VISUALS.

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Wamai is very fascinated by secrets and the way secrets consume people and communities.

“I, at the time, was also very interested in the idea of what makes people monsters and in the idea of unmasking the monster,” she said.

All these things led her to this story which has been accused of being quite bleak.

“I also think there’s a little bit of my personality in the storytelling I can be quite melancholic, and even though I do have a great sense of humour, I give in quite easily to melancholia.”

At the end all she wants is for the audience to carry the film home.

Shimoni, which is Wamai’s debut feature, had its Kenyan premiere at Alliance Française on April 24, 2023.