On the evening of 8th November 2013, I had the privilege of attending the exclusive screening of the pilot episode of a brand new series called Two Faces Each at the USIU Auditorium, right alongside a sizable and cheery crowd of fellow film/TV enthusiasts (notable guests being the chair of the Media Owners’ Association Kipruto Kittony, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and Jinna Mutune the director of Leo among others).
This series is unique in many ways. It is the effort of the current student members of USIU’s official drama group (Michezo Afrika) led by budding director Keith Oleng. Format-wise, they’ve described Two Faces Each as a “televised play series”. In short, it grabs the best elements and production values of television and fuses them with the flair and less controlled environments of theatre arts resulting in a very interesting mix. If you still can’t picture it, think Dogville.
Even though the screening was marred by a long delay attributed to some technical hitches and sound issues later, this must have been the least of the production team’s troubles thus far. The 55 minute pilot was made on an EXTREMELY minimal budget that could shock the devil’s pants off most leading production houses, which can casually gobble up something in the region of $ 4,000 – $ 6,000 for every episode they make. I’m still curious to know what their cost-cutting strategy was although I suspect it was mainly in keeping a majority of the locations used within the University’s grounds and nearly everyone handling multiple roles between acting, production, score and soundtrack production and even crew duties.
Right from its core, Two Faces Each explores the double sided nature of itself, its story and its characters. It is both a crime story and a love story. Based in the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, it revolves around Miriam (Meisy Bundi), a naïve 18 year old girl who’s looking forward to her first year in University, quite unaware that nearly everyone that surrounds her is leading a dangerous double life. She has a strict pastor of a father (Ian Nyota) who dabbles in crime and spying on his detective wife (Sidi Gunda). His colleagues in this criminal network include Miriam’s own aunt Tabitha (Mariam Zaunga) who secretly runs an escort service and Miriam’s love interest Manjala (Sam Kanja). She also has a run-in with youthful MP Wanjao (Kihoro Gicheru) who oversees the criminal operation on behalf of two powerful sisters (Yvette Shumbusho and Juliana Kabua). Some unfortunate events then go down, including an exposed shipment of drugs, and as a result everyone is placed under serious threat.
It is a bold and ambitious story with comical breaks at appropriate times to help move the plot along – the African sayings inserted within the contexts of certain scenes, the randomly choreographed fight scenes and interrogation scenes gave the audience a proper laugh, for example. Even certain bits of the love triangle between Manjala, Miriam and her friend Natalie (played by Tusker Project Fame 6‘s Susan Nyambura) comes off as pretty hilarious stuff. How bold Michezo Afrika was willing to be is seen in how vividly (as opposed to explicitly) they depict rape and by Keith Oleng emerging from behind the cameras and playing a gay musical performer. This is definitely not the stuff you are used to seeing during local TV prime time.
The biggest challenge the series faces is the very thing that makes it unique – the blend between TV and theatre. Some of the transitions between stage and scene did not possess enough detail or smoothness to show off the unique format of the show. In fact, there should have been more of these transitions as a matter of course. Perhaps the budget and location constraints did not allow. All in all, Keith steers a steady course and manages to direct his way to an acceptable final product. The cinematography is really engaging, fun for the eyes and looks just as good as full-budget ones.Throughout the episode, the soundtrack jumps unpredictably from tense and taut to smooth and relaxed, complete with some interesting violin and saxophone work. Oleng and his production house, AF, have clearly shown that they are on their way to being a force to reckon with soon.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Chair of the Kenya Film Commission Chris Foot, in his message to the group read on his behalf by Hon. Gideon Moi, observed that “a good series is where the creative meets the commercial”. The Two Faces Each pilot has the creative on lock. The logical next step from here is to find a partner who is not only able to see and share in the group’s vision for this series but also with the klout to make that vision a reality. This show deserves to be on television right away.