Kenya is seeking to get back on the big screen and win over Hollywood with more than just its sprawling savanna and exotic wildlife by offering tax incentives. The Kenyan government gave initial approval Tuesday for a 30 percent tax rebate on film productions and agreed to remove import duties on film equipment in the East African country in an effort to entice foreign filmmakers.
"We've been losing out hugely to South Africa, certainly in terms of feature films, and the main reason has been their tax rebate system," Chris Foot, chairman of the Kenya Film Commission, a state corporation, told Reuters.
A special visa for film crews also is in the works and a liaison office will be set up to assist them through Kenyan bureaucracy. The new incentives could give Kenya an edge over South Africa as the two countries compete to be the location for a new movie about Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey, which will be directed by American actress Angelina Jolie and could star her husband, Brad Pitt.
After the film “Out of Africa,” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, hit the big screen in 1985, scores of tourists flocked to Kenya, the movie’s location, for wildlife safaris. But it wasn't until 2005 that another major Hollywood production shot there: “The Constant Gardener,” starring Ralph Fiennes. Kenya lost to South Africa as the filming location for “The Journey Is the Destination,” about 22-year-old photojournalist Dan Eldon, an English-born Kenyan who was killed on a Reuters assignment in Mogadishu, Somalia. South Africa also was one of the locations where singer Taylor Swift reportedly shot a video for her song "Wildest Dreams," which was released last week.
"The vast majority of people who come to Kenya for a safari come because they first saw it on 'Out of Africa,' " Foot told Reuters Tuesday.
Terror attacks have dealt further setbacks to Kenya’s tourism industry, which has cut jobs. Sinking tourism has forced hotels to close and driven the Kenyan shilling to its lowest point against the dollar in more than three years, according to Bloomberg.
Tourist arrivals dropped 25 percent in the first five months of 2015 amid increased attacks from al-Shabab, Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked group, Reuters reported. The Islamist militants raided a Kenyan university in April, killing 147 people.
More recently, al-Shabab has carried out attacks along Kenya’s northern coast before withdrawing to hideouts in Boni Forest, a 100-mile-wide reserve that is also an elephant sanctuary. The Kenyan military plans to launch an offensive against the insurgents, a police official told Reuters Monday.