Written by By Tyler Jolly
Kenyan actor Kamworor was aiming for role that could raise his profile when he approached Denmark-based Nicholas Hennig about starring in the star-studded sports drama set in Nairobi.
“This is a sports drama: we’ve got Kapiri Mposhi (Nairobi) vs. Somebody (a fictional London-based sports magazine).” Kamworor told CNN, arguing the film has the potential to change people’s perceptions of Africa.
Zambian-born Kamworor began his acting career in Denmark, appearing in “Dream Boy” and “Carlito’s Way” as well as 2007’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” He later moved to Nairobi and made a name for himself in African drama (and over 20 action films — for Kamworor that was a sign that he’d found his calling).
High profile was his aspiration when he met Hennig in a hotel bar, but the talented Danes wanted a local. Kamworor stood out, having shone in Nairobi as the cruel Peter, who bites, smashes and destroys the characters he meets. This time he’s a powerful bodyguard for a British businessman who becomes involved in a scandal about Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
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The third lead role goes to South African actor and producer Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, best known for his acclaimed performance in the acclaimed South African TV series “Nigerian Prince,” alongside Dennis Haysbert. In “Mayor of Kingstown,” Qubeka takes over the role originally intended for Kamworor, and the two men look to be having a great time together. Qubeka appears to have taken on a light-hearted approach to playing the role, extolling Kamworor’s virtues and driving up the Northern Kenyan film’s popularity.
But “Mayor of Kingstown” lacks the light-heartedness of “Nigerian Prince.”
The film’s casting may also have hindered it from evoking any fun or glory — Qubeka plays Barry, a professional boxer from a former British colony. It is his character that the directors hope “Mayor of Kingstown” can become the first African film to be shown as a Hollywood blockbuster. But the set of many Dream Team films usually looks more like an All Star All Stars match than a sporting event. And the trainer who includes Qubeka, Fasa Kaindi, is unsurprisingly an in-demand African in Nairobi who has supplied the Irish-Belgian director with an eclectic range of characters. In the midst of a busy season for production, it’s easy to forget how little time they have to act.
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In a baseball sporting drama that could, however, be a Hollywood blockbuster, Kenyan director Hans Matheson may well have stumbled into a Goldfinch. Set in the Miami of the 1960s, when American Second World War veterans start to support the burgeoning baseball movement in the United States, “The Goldfinch” was recently won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes by Belgian writer-director Alex Garland. “The Goldfinch” paints a vivid picture of the protagonist’s thrilling final weeks before his death. Ironically it is the soccer that steals the show.
Hennig and Matheson, however, have ruled out putting a team together to make their team like fantasy football for Kenyan football. “Our movie is very honest,” said Hennig. “The private fighter and his … family drama is about a lot of things you see, hear or read, but not in a sensational manner. But it will make you laugh, cry, and leave you depressed. And I am not a Hollywood kind of director — if I need a happy ending for a film I will go find a new protagonist.”