From a Whisper (2008, Wanuri Kahiu)

Just a couple weeks after we heard about a Kenyan sci-fi short making the festival rounds, there’s a free screening of the same director’s first feature here at the Carter Center. What luck! We didn’t quite get the full experience because the video subtitles were turned off, so we missed the Arabic conversations between lead security guy Abu (Ken Ambani) and his suicide-bomber Somali friend Fareed (Abubakar Mwenda). But they looked thoughtful and intense.

It’s a high-quality picture, with good camerawork, editing, lighting, etc., and good storytelling, jumping back and forth in time without calling attention to itself. Better than most of the Atlanta Film Festival flicks I’ve seen – surprising for such an under-the-radar debut African feature, but I guess it won two major awards at the Pan-African Film Festival just last month and swept the African Academy Awards (I didn’t know there was such a thing). Good soundtrack by Eric Wainaina, a huge music star in Kenya.

The mother of young Tamani (Corrine Onyango) dies in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, but her important businessman father never tells Tamani, just says mom is missing. So when T. is older and back in town (she keeps getting sent to the States for something or other) she renews the search for her mom, eventually meeting Abu (whose wife is a fan of T.’s red-heart-adorned artwork), who finds out that her mom died in the blast. Tamani is understandably mad at her father for lying, but they work things out.

More interesting than the business between Tamani and her father (especially since the father, presumably played by Godfrey Odhiambo since that’s the only other name listed on IMDB, is the only not-so-good actor of the group) is between her and Abu (in the present) and Abu and Fareed (in flashback). Abu doesn’t display your stereotypical tortured guilt/anger, but talks calmly about missing his friend and trying to forgive him – a tough thing to say to a survivor of the bombing. Abu makes a good point that if he can forgive Fareed then surely Tamani can forgive her dad for never coming clean. Maybe dad made a foolish move, but he was just trying to be protective. Katy liked it, too.