Traveling Cinema and My Passion For Film – Cosmas Bii

Cosmas Bii isn’t your average filmmaker. Driven by a desire to empower his community and preserve its narratives, Bii uses film as a powerful tool for social commentary and cultural expression. This interview delves into his creative journey, exploring his motivations, artistic vision, and unwavering commitment to nurturing the next generation of storytellers.

Where does your passion for film originate? What keeps you going with teaching and producing films?

Cosmas Bii
Cosmas Bii

“My passion in filmmaking comes from the fact that I consider myself a storyteller. Film has become my medium of expressing these stories. Our societies are becoming more visual than oral or textual (Written text), hence film is a way of reaching members of our communities even in the future. Just like land, films appreciate in value over time. I therefore look at my work as investments which will be more valuable with time. These investments are not only for me but for the communities that I make these films in.

I started making films as a way of helping my students have a practical feel on film production since the institution I teach in doesn’t have equipment and practical programmes to address such gaps. Away from my passion of storytelling, I look at production of films in relation to my teaching as supplementing and enriching my teaching career. I teach what I do hence makes the teaching enjoyable for me. The students  can see the passion and therefore it becomes easy to pass this passion to the learners. I also involve my students in my projects. Learning therefore becomes collaborative, some sort of partnership between myself and students I involve in my projects.”

Teaching or doing films, where does your passion lie in the near future and why?

“My passion is moving towards producing films that involve more communities the films are produced within. Even though people watch a lot of visual media, from foreign films, football to social media content; the number of people who watch local films is still negligible.”

“My belief presently is that films produced by the community will be consumed by that community no matter the level of saturation by foreign content and short social media content.”

What impact will the rise of artificial intelligence have on the overall landscape of filmmaking?

“AI presently is an assistive technology. It makes processes of filmmaking easier and efficient. It can’t however replace human creativity. Since its evolution is still controlled by humans, its deployment in the industry will still be regulated by humans. Foreign industries such as Hollywood have formulaic ways of storytelling. AI easily integrates into their way of storytelling and filmmaking. Our region doesn’t have enough content in online systems to enable effective use of AI in storytelling. The mantra Garbage in Garbage Out still applies. However this will change over time. Am therefore excited but at the same time cautious about this technology in terms of its possibilities. Interesting that humans have a way of advancing while at the same time appreciating past practices. See for example how traditional foods and cultural practices are becoming more valuable in our societies. AI could follow this same trend.”

Very few lecturers continue to engage and do projects jointly with their students after they graduate. Why do you do this?

Eldoret Film Festival travelling cinema screening at Lokna Village, West Pokot County on 22nd November, 2023
Eldoret Film Festival travelling cinema screening at Lokna Village, West Pokot County on 22nd November, 2023

“The fact that I work collaboratively with my students makes them co-creators of my work. We also develop long term partnerships as a result. Add the fact that I am still an active practitioner makes my input in their future projects valuable. It’s also interesting to see how the students themselves have helped me build my name in the industry from the works we collaborate in. I try as much as possible not to see students as just learners but also fellow creators in the field of filmmaking. I also get satisfaction from seeing my former students succeed outside there.”

How many films have you produced, Which ones have won awards, which ones have been most impactful and why?

  1. Consultant Producer & Director: Dare Devil. Brian Kiprop Production. 2023.
  2. Script Writer, Producer, Director and Editor: Maat Ne Lole. Independent Production. 2023.

Selected Content Reel County Film Festival 2023

  •       Special Mention SWIFF Festival USA 2023
  •       Nominee LIFT OFF Network, 2023.
  1. Script Writer & Producer: Lame. Eldoret Film Festival Production. 2020
  2. Script Writer & Producer: Nurse Short Film. 2020
  3. Writer, Producer & Director: Ngebe Gaa. 20 Minutes Short film. 2019
  4. Script Writer, Producer & Director: Kites. 17 Minutes Short Film. 2018
  5. Writer, Producer & Director: The First Date. 30 Minutes Short Film. 2018 Winner Best Student Film: Udada International Women’s Film Festival

Best Lead Actor: Udada International Women’s Film Festival

Nomination: Best Student Film Kalasha International Film Festivals 2018

Nomination: Best Lead Actress Kalasha International Film Festivals 2018

Nomination: Best Short Film, 5thUdada International Women’s Film Festival

Nomination: Best Actress, 5thUdada International Women’s Film Festival

  1. Writer, Producer & Director: The Morning After. 23 Minutes Short Film. 2018

Nomination: Best Lead Actor, Kalasha International Film Festival, 2018.

  1. Script Writer & Producer: Naked Eyes. 1:30 Minutes Feature Film. 2017
  2. Script Writer & Producer: MCA Bonoko. 55 Minutes Feature Film. 2017.
  3. Producer: Detox. 30 Minutes Short Film. 2016. Moi University Production

Winner: Kalasha International Awards Students’ Category, 2017.

Winner: Kenya Drama Festivals, University Film Category, 2016.

  1. Producer: Pillars of Terror-35 Minutes Documentary Film. 2015.

2015 Documentary Film on Perceptions of Kenyans on Members of Somali Community

following a spate of terrorist attacks in 2014.

  1. Director: Cycle 28. 1:05 Minutes Feature Film. 2015. Moi University Production

Runners Up: Kenya National Drama Festivals, University Film Category, 2015

  1. Assistant Director: Let’s Play Pretend. 2013. Light Box Africa Production

“Cycle 28 was the first film that showed us that we could do film. It’s therefore important in this sense. The First Date was the first film that was screened at Prestige Cinema Nairobi to a standing ovation. This is the film that proved that we could produce films from our region that can be appreciated in a wider context. Ngebe Gaa is a darling for me because it engages in societal issues in a simple and direct way and in a language that the community appreciates and understands.”

Why have you started producing films in vernacular?

Screening of Maat Ne Lole at Unseen Cinema Nairobi in April 15th 2023.
Screening of Maat Ne Lole at Unseen Cinema Nairobi in April 15th 2023.

“I still hold on to the belief that we are not going anywhere if we just produce films. We should produce films that engage community issues. This is only possible if you can produce films within the community’s terms/culture. Language therefore becomes the major vehicle in doing this. My choice of local language also stems from the desire to have my films accepted within a wider audience. This is also only possible if the community you produce in accepts your work as theirs. My understanding of audiences is borrowed heavily from politics and football. A politician can only be influential if they have support from their base. European Football could only travel outside after they gained mad fandom  from their homeground. I therefore believe that if our communities can accept and celebrate our films, then it will be possible for us to export our work outside our localities.”

“My choice of local language also stems from the desire to have my films accepted within a wider audience. This is also only possible if the community you produce in accepts your work as theirs.”

What informed the decision to screen films in different localities and what impact does it have?

“The desire to gain widespread acceptance and support for film informs our traveling cinema. The need to also use films to engage in social issues and express the need for these issues by the community is also another factor. It is interesting that many people in the rural settings have not gotten a chance to watch films. Traveling cinema bridges this gap. It becomes more impactful when the films they are watching are from their localities, talking about their issues and using their language. What usually results is some sort of magic.”

When and why was the Eldoret Film Festival established?

Eldoret Film Festival travelling cinema screening at Lokna Village, West Pokot County on 22nd November, 2023
Eldoret Film Festival travelling cinema screening at Lokna Village, West Pokot County on 22nd November, 2023

“Eldoret Film Festival started in 2018. My major problem was that we were training filmmakers both in school and outside yet there was no industry locally to offer any form of apprenticeship or work prospects. Most trainees had to go to Nairobi to seek opportunities. I founded Eldoret Film Festival as a way of bridging this gap. It seeks to develop and grow film in the region apart from celebrating commendable filmmakers in the country. So far it has been successful in meeting these objectives. Eldoret is now known in the country as a major filmmaking destination after Nairobi and Mombasa.”

What film projects are you working on and what should your audiences expect?

“Joan Rispa, Moses Mutabaruka and myself are presently working to produce a film Shosho Manyanga that touches on the dilemma of retirement. We have been working on it for the last 3 years. I am also still passionate about getting community fandom for my local language films. I produced a play, Oret, which I was planning to adapt into a film. The fact that it already has a following ensures that by the time it premieres, an audience for it will already be existing. Game On will also be a project that I might use the same strategy of staging it as a play first before adapting it into a movie as a way of creating a market for it beforehand. Am presently researching on it before I embark on its scripting.”

For young and upcoming creatives in the film industry, Bii urges that “consistency is the key to growth in the industry.”

What role does collaboration play in filmmaking?

“Collaboration ought to be about bringing each other’s strengths into a production. It is also significant for growth. However, past and some contemporary collaborations have often left parties with sour tastes. One therefore has to be keen when entering into collaborations and make sure that they sign something that is both beneficial to the project and themselves. We have lots of local productions owned by foreigners. Their local collaborators do not own any share of the productions. It is sad that someone might own the entire rights of your work as a result of collaboration because they had funds to produce your work.”

Bii’s dedication extends beyond filmmaking. By championing local languages and establishing the Eldoret Film Festival, he fosters a thriving film scene within his community. His collaborative spirit and focus on mentorship ensure a legacy that extends far beyond the silver screen. As Bii embarks on new projects, one thing remains certain: his films will continue to spark dialogue, celebrate cultural heritage, and empower aspiring filmmakers for years to come.

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My name is Emmanuel Yegon. Trained Communicator, Passionate storyteller with a bias toward smartphone storytelling. I am the Co-Founder and Communications Director at Mobile Journalism Africa. This platform is dedicated for human interest stories and features. Ask me about #MoJo