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Why Westgate movie will be shot in South Africa

The verdict is out; Kenya is winning the war against malaria but losing the battle in making the country an attractive filming location. The country has lost two movies to South Africa.

Africa, a movie based on the life of Richard Leakey, starring Brad Pitt and produced and directed by his wife Angelina Jolie, is to be shot in South Africa, despite assurances by Culture and Sports CS Hassan Wario that it will be done in Kenya.

And now, a movie on the Westgate siege starring Oscar award-winning actress Hilary Swank is the next to take the route down south.


Richard Harding, producer of The First Grader, the widely acclaimed movie based on Kimani Maruge, says while he is optimistic that the war on malaria can be won, he regrets that Kenya is not exploiting its competitive location to make films.

“A Westgate movie is to be shot in South Africa in the next few months. Isn’t it sad?” he asked.

The movie is about the Westgate siege in 2013 that lasted four days, culminating in the deaths of dozens. Swank played a boxer in Million Dollar Baby alongside Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.

“Kenya is a beautiful country with a lovely pool of talent. Unfortunately, it is the only country without incentives or rebates to attract filmmakers. That is why many movies about Kenya are made in South Africa,” said Harding.

“The government is lenient with licences but the incentives are not there. For example, for $10 million spent making a movie, the South African Government gives back $2 million.”

Besides the Kenyan Government, the producer says there is little interest in developing the industry.


“When we made First Grader, we lost money. We didn’t get all the cash we needed to make the film because we chose to shoot in Kenya. I spoke to many millionaires in the country asking them to invest in the movie and they said ‘No’. Most said they’d rather invest in other things like real estate,” he said.

To get the movie made, he and his crew went through many problems.

“I was paid nothing. Very few people will be willing to make that kind of sacrifice. It is important that adjustments be made to attract filmmakers,” he added.

Besides the government offering tax incentives and rebates, he proposes that Kenyans borrow a leaf from their South African counterparts and put money into their films.


“I feel there is a lack of understanding. If you invest in the stock market and real estate, then movies is just something else. The good thing with films is that they put a light on something and makes your country shine,” he said.

Last year was the worst, as no major production took place in Kenya despite the efforts of a high-powered delegation to Hollywood, USA.

This is tragic because Kenya had a thriving film industry long before many African countries and was a destination of choice, boasting blockbusters such as Out Of Africa and The Constant Gardener.