Film review: A Guide to Dining out in Nairobi, screening at #DIFF2021

A Guide To Eating Out In Nairobi (2020)

Director: Hugh Mitton Duration: 11 minutes Platform: Durban International Film Festival -July 22 to August 1, 2021 Booking link:  Tickets: No charge –free Access: Geo-blocked to South Africa    

Hugh Mitton’s 11 minute fiction film, A Guide To Eating Out In Nairobi, is quirky and cleverly crafted – a story about a security guard in Kenya.  He receives a $10 USD tip from his wealthy boss. The question provided in the film synopsis: “How far can he make it go?” I smiled when I watched. I enjoyed the film immensely. It is a smart film, seamlessly edited and conjures up a terrific sense of place in Nairobi – blending multiple vistas in the city into a short film which is narratively strong, with vivid characters. However, people have pointed out to me that the film may be morally problematic.  Read on and consider what follows. To write about the film, I have to plot spoil. If you don’t want to know what happens, watch first and then come back and finishing reading.

So, what’s the problem with A Guide To Eating Out In Nairobi? In a discussion with others, it came out that they are concerned that corruption is extolled and celebrated in the film. We see the security guard who is poor. His boss is rich. After pocketing his tip- more than he usually receives – he goes out for a night on the town. He gets suited up, buys a cover for his mobile phone and ends up dining out in a swanky restaurant. He cannot pay the bill with his ten dollars. It is not enough. He knows that it is not enough.  He is arrested and in the course of the evening, he offers his ten dollars as a bribe to a cop. He is set free. He smiles at the camera – jubilant. He has scored. It is a story of aspiration. It is a fantasy story. That was my take but then it was posed to me that this is film is glorifying a cult of dishonesty on the African continent- where things have fallen apart; where the gulf between the rich and poor is huge. There is no way out; okay so take the gap and take what you want. Dine at a restaurant, knowing that you cannot pay. No worries. You can bribe your way out of the predicament. There are no consequences as our man with ten US Dollars has the night of his life. No one gets hurt? Actually, the waiter may have to pay for the bill or may lose his job.

What do you think? Is it okay in art to conjure up a fun story without a moment of reflection? I thoroughly enjoyed this film which is like a good short story – a fully formed narrative – pared down and well executed. The morality is another story. On the other hand, we see Hollywood thrillers, franchise like the Oceans films with Brad Pitt; dripping with violence and blood and we do not balk at that, because we know we are watching a movie. It is not meant to be ‘real’. Does the same not apply for a short film, which is structured as lark; a piece of fun; a night out on the town?

A Guide To Eating Out In Nairobi, is screening online at Durban International Festival (DIFF) which started on July 22 and runs until Sunday -August 1, 2021. It is being hosted by The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA), with around 140 feature films, documentaries and short films and an industry programme: isiPhethu. There has been no charge to watch films at DIFF 2021. There has been a positive uptake from viewers. Ismail Mahomed, Director of the Centre for Creative Arts, says: “In the past year and a half, we had to pivot quickly and redefine our relationship with our audiences and the filmmakers. We are so excited to have maintained the support of film lovers, and we expect to have over 10,000 users registered on our website by the end of the festival.”