Friday, June 14, 2024

Video-Kenyan film producer wins historic Emmy

It was a long two-hour wait. The minutes moved so slowly that the expectant audience was too tense to enjoy New York’s cool and bright evening. The hall was packed with hundreds of people from across the world.

Among those eagerly waiting for the announcement of winners was a Kenyan from Usenge, Siaya County.


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Generally a reserved man, Bernard Ohanga, sprung to his feet and danced when the master of ceremonies announced that a documentary he took part in had emerged winner in one of the categories. It had beaten three other nominees, selected from several entries.


"I was so excited that for a while I thought it was a big joke," says Ohanga, who was the field producer of the documentary, Good Fortune.

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The two-hour film was feted as the best in the Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting category at the 32nd Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards, held in September, in New York, US.

The Emmy features arts and sciences of television, and is one of the most prestigious awards globally. Ohanga was the only African feted at the ceremony, which recognised, among others, TV guru Larry King with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Good Fortune highlights failure of international aid to alleviate poverty in poor countries.

"We shot it at Dominion Farms in Yala and in Kibera, Nairobi, where we got the views of the beneficiaries of the slum upgrading project," says the 37-year-old father of three, who is head of Planning at Bondo University College.



The Domino Farm run by a private investor has been in constant confrontation with locals while in Kibera, a multi-million slum upgrading project is facing a number of challenges.

Good Fortune shows that the two projects have not changed the livelihoods of the locals.

For example, the Kibera beneficiaries say they got the new houses but they went back to their old shanties opting to rent the permanent houses.

Ohanga argues that some of the donor projects have little impact on the target populations.

The film was shot for three years, from early 2007 at the two location. The staff of five moved between the two shooting locations.

Ohangla got to be the field producer of the film, which has been described as ‘sure bet’, by The Washington Post, by coincidence, he says.

"In 2007, an American student, Landon Van Soest, won a Fulbright scholarship to study in an African institution and chose Maseno University. He wanted to know areas and issues he can focus on to create a documentary and I guided him," he explains.

He adds: "I came up with a number of suggestions, including the sugar and fish sub-sectors, but we settled on the Kibera slums and Yala Swamp."

Ohanga, who was by then a staff member and a Masters student at the university, joined Soest, who became director/producer of the documentary. Later, Soest invited a fellow American student, Jeremy Levine, to join the team also as a producer.

Although he did not have prior experience on production, Ohanga learned on the job, adding that since Soest was researching on development issues in third world countries, they easily formed a working relationship.



The American students sought funding from a number of individuals and organisations from the US to support the documentation.

Ohanga reveals that the same team is shooting another documentary about the failure of socio-economic interventions along Lake Victoria, by a number of organisations, which will be completed next year.

But the process of documentation of Good Fortune was involving and faced challenges.

"We would shoot in Yala for a month and then the following month move to Nairobi. We trailed the individuals we interviewed over time," he explains, adding that sometimes he personally had to work at night and weekends – editing and translating. His wife, Lillian, an employee of Maseno University, assisted him in the work.

Most interviewees either spoke in vernacular or Kiswahili.Some were suspicious of the intention of the documentations, in both locations, and demanded handouts. And in Kibera, the crew faced insecurity, he says.

Interestingly, although the poverty and development issues in the film are about Kenyans and Africa in general, Good Fortune is being screened by an American TV station POV.

Ohanga says POV is the only one with rights and any other station interested has to buy from it.

He says Kenyans are yet to develop an interest in documentaries, though they are very informative.

Source- film producer wins historic Emmy


Trailed interviewees


Unchanged lives


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