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Sports documentaries celebrate our athletes and document history

by kenya-tribune

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During the global shutdown, millions of people around the world have learnt to make conference calls and become online consumers of content. In the first quarter of the year Netflix, the online film distributor, added 15 million new subscribers.

One of their most compelling shows has been “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their quest to win an NBA title during the 1997 season. Over six million people in the US watched the first episode.  It looks like a joyful celebration of Jordan’s career, but in it are the lessons about overcoming adversity, injuries, difficult teammates, deal-making, and management battles that will be familiar to many sports figures.

The footage of Michael Jordan is unique as it predates the camera phone era. Today, sports stars can’t walk around without people holding up hundreds of phones, taking videos and asking for ‘selfies’. Stars also shoot their own footage, which they post on their social media pages.

Is it possible to have more of these in Kenya? I asked my friend Jackie Lebo whose sports documentary From Gun to Tape is on YouTube. It is about world champions David Rudisha and Edna Kiplagat preparing and training ahead of their participation at the 2012 London Olympics in the men’s 800 meters and the women’s marathon.

She said Kenya had the best boxer at the 1968 Olympics in Phillip Waruinge. He finished with a Bronze Medal for reasons for that had nothing to do with his performance in the ring but was awarded a prize for being the most outstanding boxer at the games.  Other boxers remember him as the greatest Kenyan boxer in another the film The Last Fight that chronicles the struggles of boxers in Kenya.

I recently joined a group on Facebook on Safari Rally fans. This one happens to have many people who participated in the heyday of rallying including drivers, navigators, mechanics and photographers. Every other day, people pull up their old pictures and post them online for the first time. These all spark a lot more discussion and first-hand accounts of what really happened to a car or team at a particular rally. 

But what other stuff is out there? Wouldn’t be nice to have a film about the Gor Mahia team that won the treble of the Kenya Premier League, the Moi Golden Cup and the Mandela Cup all in 1987? Or the Gor team that went unbeaten through the 2014 season?  Others compelling stories could be done on John Ngugi, Patrick Njiru, Peter Dawo, Michael Olunga or Joe Masiga who played competitive rugby and footfall or Henry Rono who recently returned to Kenya after decades in the United States.

The production of such a story would take a lot of cooperation and muscle. The producers would have to get permission from many organisations. The Voice of Kenya and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation may have hours of historical sports, biographical and historical clips, but they may not be the decision-makers as the sports rights often belong to foreign producers, organizations and broadcasters like BBC and Pathe. 

Obtaining historical footage is only one part. Doing research on a subject and writing a script follows. It may also be necessary to interview sportspeople and officials, who are hopefully still alive. Then on to edit, package and distribute it. “The Last Dance” was ready over ten years ago but it was deemed too costly to distribute on the available platforms. Today, its final cost, after being updated with new interviews and clips, is estimated at $20 million (about Sh2 billion). It is beautiful to watch, but out of reach for Kenyan producers.

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