The Kenya International Sports Film Festival (KISFF) – the first and only sports film festival in Africa – has claimed a top spot at the global front of film festivals in just five quick years of its existence.
Inaugurated in 2018, the annual festival which is this year in its sixth edition, started as a concept born from the filming of a Kenyan sports documentary The Karims – A Sporting Dynasty at various film festivals. The dream of the festival was thus conceptualised after Aasif Karim saw the opportunity at film festivals in Asia and Europe.
The Kenya International Sports Film Festival was founded by the former chair of Kenya International Cricket, and tennis player Aasif Karim and a team of core organisers among them Florence Nduta, Chris Kamau, John Muli, Moses Akhodia and Rachael Wainaina.
The first edition of the festival was held from Thursday 22 November to Sunday 25 November, 2018 at the Louis Leakey Auditorium, National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. A total of 1323 films from all over the world were submitted.
In all editions, all the submitted films are professionally judged by carefully selected independent judges who have a combined wealth of experience in the local and global film industry. The judges make their decisions according to various specifically assigned categories, and the finalists are awarded prizes. KISFF as well hosts leading Kenyan sports personalities of international stature as well as film professionals and enthusiasts to panel discussions, lectures and interviews on carefully selected topics in the sports field.
The festival was officially opened by Chief Administrative Secretary at the Ministry of sports Hassan Noor Hassan. The red-carpet awards gala was held at the Aspire Centre. The panel discussions tackled a wide range of topics; from doping and drug use in sports to a professional sports person’s life and life after sports.
KISFF brand ambassadors for the first two years were athletics legends Rose Tata-Muya and Douglas Wakiihuri. Upon the successful close of the first edition, the chair, Aasif Karim, realised the enthusiasm with which the festival was received and thereby, made the decision to make the festival an annual event. Emerging from the inaugural edition with a wealth of experience, the second edition held in 2019 was much better organised. This time, the event was held at the Signature Auditorium located in Westlands in Nairobi. The second edition saw the organisers partner with, among others, government agencies Kenya Film Commission and Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) with the then KFCB Chief Executive Officer Dr Ezekiel Mutua officiating the opening ceremony as the KFC Chief Executive Officer Timothy Owase graced the closing ceremony.
The festival, like in the first edition had exciting panel topics that were discussed by panels of experts among them the topic of Football and Cricket in Kenya and the return of the Safari Rally to Kenya as well as Sports Arbitration.
In the second edition in 2019, the festival was held at the Signature Auditorium. The team, having gone through teething problems in the first edition was now ready to offer to the world a world class festival. Meticulously planned, the team hosted Kenya’s great sportsmen and women and had incisive discussions during the panel sessions with the Football and Cricket in Kenya panels setting the internet ablaze with interaction.
The guest of honour at the 2019 event was the Cabinet secretary, Ministry of ICT Hon Joe Mucheru who was represented at the closing ceremony by the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Film Classification Board Dr Ezekiel Mutua and the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Film Commission Timothy Owase.
At the close of the four-day program, the KISFF chair broke the news that in yet another milestone achievement, KISFF had entered a memorandum of understanding with the global Federation Internationale Cinema Television Sportifs (FICTS) the ISFAF – International Sportfilm Festival Association in a partnership that will see FICTS assist, guide and support KISFF in all its activities to ensure further growth in Africa.
KISFF was selected for admission into FICTS in November 2019 after successfully hosting its second edition following the inaugural KISFF event in 2018. KISFF and FICTS both have similar vision and goals in promoting sports film and related areas and have agreed to work together to promote these.
In the two-year MOU with FICTS, a global organisation whose objectives are mainly to promote sports films and which is recognised by International Olympic Committee, KISFF, organized by the Safinaz Foundation in Kenya as the only sports film festival in Africa, will benefit from the professional guidance of FICTS in ensuring international standards in technical aspects and organization of the annual festival.
FICTS promotes the social and cultural meaning of the Olympic and Paralympic Games blending sport with culture as well as the ethical, cultural and artistic function of the Sports Movement through Television, Cinema and New Media in order to create a better knowledge of the sports world and of its moral values.
‘KISFF will work to promote and support FICTS in all areas as required. FICTS and KISSF can mutually use the logos and related areas to promote each other mutually and KISFF will ensure availability of the necessary platform during its festival to promote FICTS and IOC objectives,’ reads the MOU in part. The agreement was signed between the President of FICTS Prof. Franco B Ascani and KISFF chair former Kenya international sportsman Aasif Karim. The arrangement contemplated shall in all respects be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Italy where FICTS is headquartered.
In its third year, the world was faced with an unprecedented global Covid-19 pandemic. Organisers mulled with the idea of postponing the event, just like many other events were either cancelled or postponed all over the world. However, a bold step was taken, in consultation with a team of digital experts and KISFF decided to run a virtual festival.
The 2020 virtual edition went live online from 29 October to 1 November, 2020. The virtual festival was streamed on facebook, You Tube and the online conferencing tool Floor.bz with facebook going live on the entire duration of the festival. The team at the iGabantu Studios together with the KISFF staff led by its chair and director Aasif Karim, worked round the clock to ensure a world class festival which attracted a submission count of 1,328 entries from around the world. At the virtual festival, only a lean team of experts and studio guests were on location with the festival managing to have an audience of 25,000 people online.
With the memorandum of understanding between KISFF and FICTS, the 2020 edition of the Kenya International Sports Film Festival was held three weeks earlier to be in line with the FICTS calendar which features 22 countries around the world. Uganda is the only other African country in the calendar.
The fourth edition of the Festival was held from 28-31 October 2021. Organizers of the festival, the Safinaz Foundation now having emerged from the past three editions with a wealth of experience and global recognition hosted the event at the Foundation’s headquarters, Aristocrats House Lavington Nairobi. Former Kenya Rugby Sevens’ team captain Humprey Khayange and legendary marathoner Tegla Loroupe were the brand ambassadors.
The 2021 edition was officially opened by the Assistant Minister/Chief Administrative Secretary for the Ministry of ICT, Maureen Mbaka. This festival went a notch higher with the production and transmission now being professionally done by a joint team from the Kenyan Government’s department of Film Services and the Kenya Film School offering the students a valuable learning opportunity hands on. The online reach as well increased by leaps and bounds moving from the 20,000 viewers in 2020 to 139,000 viewers in 2021.
And then the ice breaker came in the KISFF 2022, fifth edition of the festival. The 2022 edition was held in a hybrid format following the government’s lifting of Covid-19 containment measures which had initially restricted personal interactions. The festival was again held at Aristocrats where the proceedings were streamed live to an audience of over 350,000 viewers globally and in person guests at the cinema hall set up at the venue. In the 2022 edition, Radio personality Carol Radull was the brand Ambassador and coming up for the 2023 edition, Africa’s fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala has been appointed the new brand Ambassador.
During the six years of its existence, KISFF has had a professional team of judges every year with the jury being divided into three tiers. Njoki Muhoho was the inaugural head juror before Francesca Ashiruka took over. Next came in John Sibi-Okumu who then passed on the baton to Martin Munyua. This year, Florence Nduta has been appointed the head Juror.
KISFF came about following the successful two decades of consistently publishing Sports Monthly Magazine, which is Kenya’s only sports magazine that is at the forefront of documenting sports in Kenya. KISFF has continued being part of Federation Internationale Cinema Television Sportifs (FICTS) ‘World FICTS Challenge’ International Circuit Festivals which is part of the ISFAF – International Sportfilm Festival Association, an organisation that works to promote and develop initiatives aimed at improving the artistic quality and communicative effectiveness of international sports film festivals through mutual collaboration.
In recognition of the fast growth that KISFF has recorded, FICTS accorded Aasif Karim entry pass to all FICTS festivals in 2021 across the world; this after the KISFF chair had his documentary film, The Karims – A Sporting Dynasty win an HONORARY MENTION Award at the FICTS Grand Finale in Milan, Italy.