Nairobi Half Life, which was released in 2012, has become the biggest theatrical success for a local film, garnering both commercial and critical acclaim. The film, produced by One Fine Day Films and Ginger Ink and distributed globally by Rushlake Media, celebrated its tenth anniversary this past weekend in Nairobi, with cast and crew in attendance. The film was also released on Netflix on Friday, October 21, and is now available to the streaming service’s 223 million members in 190 countries.
The film, directed by David “Tosh” Gitonga, was well received both in Kenya and internationally when it was released. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film after seeing it at the 2012 AFI Fest: “This dynamic crime drama comes across as fundamentally honest and vividly realistic.”
The film was the first Kenyan blockbuster, with over 20,000 admissions in national theaters and a cinema run of 25 weeks, and was funded by the Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung, Film und Medien Stiftung NRW, ARRI Film&TV, the Goethe-Institut Nairobi, and in collaboration with Deutsche Welle Akademie.
The film went on to win 22 awards and screen at 72 festivals worldwide, including the AFI Film Festival in Durban, the Kalasha Film Festival, the IFF Rotterdam, the Busan International Film Festival, the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, and the Zurich Film Festival.
The film was chosen as Kenya’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, marking the country’s first submission in this category. In 2013, the film was shown in 46 theaters across the United States, an unprecedented feat for a Kenyan film.
The film’s success can be attributed to the story’s emotional universal themes, a well-nuanced script, and powerful acting performances from actors such as breakout star Joseph Wairimu, who won The Best Actor award for his portrayal of Mwas at the 33rd Annual Durban International Film Festival.
Even ten years later, Nairobi Half Life remains the gold standard for success in the East African film industry. In a timely coincidence, the film will soon be available on Netflix worldwide, alongside titles from the Ginger Ink and One Fine Day Films slates, distributed by Rushlake Media, Supa Modo, and, soon, Lusala and Something Necessary.