Its official, “The Letter”, has been selected as the official Kenyan submission to the Academy Awards Best International Feature Film category. The Letter is the first documentary to be chosen for the awards consideration from the country.
The documentary which was made by the husband and wife team Maia Lekow & Christopher King has been showing locally for a few weeks after doing a great run on the international festival circuit.
The film is about a 94-year-old Grandmother called Margaret with a fearless spirit. She must overcome dangerous accusations of witchcraft coming from within her own family. Her grandson Karisa travels home from the city to investigate, and it gradually emerges who sent the threatening letter and why.
The Letter had its premiere at the prestigious International Documentary Festival Amsterdam – IDFA in November 2019. Unfortunately, it’s physical run was disrupted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but it has managed to do digital premieres at other festivals.
Director Maia Lekow, also a prominent Kenyan musician provided the score for the film. She also collaborated with Emmy-winning, Toronto- based composer Ken Myhr to create an intensely emotional sonic-landscape for the movie.
The Letter took over six years of filming whilst Maia Lekow worked tirelessly on music embodying grandmother’s resilient spirit. All of the 11 tracks present in the movie are available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Bandcamp, and Itunes.
Initially, Maia Lekow & Christopher King had plans to make a different film inspired by stories of the legendary Mekatili, a rebellious priestess from Mombasa who fought against the British in 1913. They traveled to the coast to learn more about her but instead, stumbled across elderly people forcibly evicted from their land under the guise of witchcraft accusations.
Understanding that film can generate powerful conversations, the team decided to write, direct, and produce this intimate documentary that focused on the grandmother. This documentary looks at witchcraft, a taboo topic in Kenya, plus, the country’s complicated history with her colonisers displayed in the violence meted on elders caught in the crossfire of family land disputes. A character-led, feature documentary seemed to the best way to create awareness about this social issue and foster peace within the community
With a Special Jury Mention from Docs Barcelona in the Panorama Competition in May 2020. The Letter has positioned itself as a must-watch African documentary as it chases the Oscars.
An International Feature Film is defined as a feature-length (over 40min) motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track. Animated and Documentary Feature Films are also accepted. Only one film per country can qualify and a country needs not to submit a film every year. If successful at the Academy stage, the film is then considered as NOMINATED and once a film is nominated, it is then eligible to compete for The Oscars. It’s important to note that a submission from Kenya is not equal to a nomination.
This year The OSCARS Selection Committee Kenya received only two entries; One Documentary Film & One Feature film, namely “The Letter” and “Uradi”.
The submission of “The Letter” is only the first step in a series of stages that the movie has to undergo before being nominated. The nominees for the 93rd Oscars Academy Awards will be announced by the Academy on 9th February 2021 ahead of the Oscars Academy Awards ceremony scheduled for 25th April 2021.