As this week marks the first anniversary since the worst ever immigrant tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea amid a constant influx of refugees and immigrants into Europe in numbers not witnessed since World War II, it is good to see some Kenyan filmmakers trying to add their voices to the overall narrative. Willie Owusu’s Flight Path is a short film with the immigration theme in mind.
In Flight Path, a chain-smoking Kenyan immigrant (Telly Savalas Otieno) who has just returned from a stint in Italy reminisces on his experiences looking for employment opportunities in Rome and Milan. In between numerous cigarette puffs, he weaves together a hard-to-believe story of his ups and downs full of thrilling encounters with a hooker and her clients, idling with other bewildered immigrants, the joys of meeting a fellow Kenyan, beautiful women, cheap hostels, rides in Porsches, a few brief glamourous days among the rich before a final descent back down to misery.
The story is not exactly the kind of immigrant narrative you would expect. In fact, it sounds almost like a holiday compared to the harrowing experiences of the majority of immigrants currently in the news, but it is compelling enough for the duration of the film. Telly Savalas Otieno has the perfect visual profile for channeling a character who has gone through a lot. He does a good job telling the story in a way subtly suggesting that he is stretching the truth. “You don’t have to believe everything I say. But then again … you can” is the caveat he issues. The quintessentially Kenyan narration is written in Willie Owusu’s signature relaxed but introspective style.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Flight Path takes a decent stab at telling an interesting story with a unique bare-bones, one-man-one-scene visual style. It gives just a pinhole of a view into the hopes and tribulations of thousands of immigrants trying to improve their lives in another country only to find things just as bad as or worse than home.
For a much more realistic, equally cigarette-filled, feature length film on African immigrants’ harrowing experiences in Italy, Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea is probably the best alternative.