2023 has been yet another cinematic chapter in the Kenyan film industry, one which I can only describe as a captivating reel of artistic triumphs. From the extensive releases of Kenyan-produced films that have gone on to have screenings at various major festivals which make up part of the international film circuit, to having our strongest film yet submitted as a contender for the Best International Feature Film Award category at the Oscars 2024. 

A scene from the Kenyan film Where the River Divides (2023)
A scene from the Kenyan film Where the River Divides (2023) | Image: IMDb

It is only right to celebrate the brilliant output of the Kenyan filmmakers currently at the center of producing films centered around Kenya that delve into the intricacies of the Kenyan experience, happenings, and ways of life. Below I have curated a list of what I consider to be the top five Kenyan films released in 2023, acknowledging the inherent subjectivity that shapes our individual perspectives on cinema. 

1. Mvera

Directed by Daudi Anguka, who is mostly known for his Swahili telenovela Pete that airs on Maisha Magic, Mvera is arguably one of the finest Kenyan films in recent times.

A scene in Mvera, Kenya’s official submission to the 2024 Academy Awards. Mvera appears on WAKILISHA's list of top 5 Kenyan Films released in 2023.
A scene in Mvera, Kenya’s official submission to the 2024 Academy Awards. Mvera appears on WAKILISHA’s list of top 5 Kenyan Films released in 2023. | Image: WAKILISHA

It was recently announced as Kenya’s official submission to the 2024 Academy Awards by the Oscars Selection Committee Kenya (OSCK) to vie for the Best International Feature Film Award. Mvera features a stellar cast of fine actors and actresses such as Hillary Namanje, Kibibi Salim, Patrick Owino, Susan Kadid, Carorita Mutua and Linah Sande in the lead role.

The film is set in the Kenyan coast and follows the lead character, Mvera (Linah Sande), as she tries  to fight the corrupt practices that have plagued her poverty ridden community in a modern day retelling of the Mekatilili Wa Menza story. Mvera was  released on September 9th at Nyali Cinemax in Mombasa.


2. Where The River Divides

Set in the late 70s, Where the River Divides tells the story of Dennis ( portrayed by Gadwill Odhiambo) who must choose between conforming to the orthodox ways of his father’s clan or Christianity which he has come to embrace. The movie was filmed in Migori at the Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Site, and alongside Gadwill features a cast of  Sandra Apondi, U.S based Kenyan actor Benjamin A. Onyango, Caroline Midimo Atieno, Fred Kasuku, Alan Oyugi among others.

A scene from the 2023 Kenyan film ‘Where the River Divides’. In the film the son of a clan leader returns to his village following his baptism, he must choose whether to inherit his father’s legacy, or fulfill his newfound purpose and risk his life. | Image: IMDb

This film is produced by Isaac Masiga for MyMovies.Africa, a film streaming company founded in 2014  whose main purpose is termed to be connecting customers globally with African content of their choice and remunerating the creators of the content. It was initially released on 8th April 2023 in the United States and first made available for world wild streaming  on 15th August 2023 after its Kenyan premier at the Anga Cinema, Diamond Plaza in Nairobi.


3. Prayer For The Departed

Featuring Favour Odhiambo, Raymond Ofula, and Lucarelli Onyango in the lead roles among others, Prayers For The Departed narrates on the true story of a fourteen year old school girl referred to as JMM who is raped, gets pregnant and after initially seeking abortion services from a quackery doctor, is denied necessary healthcare from the government hospitals when it all goes sideways resulting in her death. This emotional film, which is a collaborative production of Safari Media and Xhale Africa, was released on the 25th of March 2023, at The Prestige Cinema in Nairobi, at a grand premier which was attended by an array of politicians, law makers and social justice activists.

Poster for the 2023 Kenyan Film Prayer for the Departed
Prayer For The Departed (2023) is a Kenyan film directed by Dancurf Brown. The film is inspired by a true story, the film explores the journey of a Kenyan girl forced to confront a maze of complex decisions no teenager should ever have to make. | Image: Dancurf Brown

4. Mtaa Yangu

Set in the neighborhood of Mwiki in Nairobi, and featuring a cast comprising of Sasha Orege, Emily Nene, Mavoko Mbatha as the lead and Mary Kinya among others, Mtaa Yangu is a crime thriller directed by Likale Washington Muyonga. It tells the story of a gang leader named Kiprotich  who exploits Mwiki residents. 

With thrilling action and fight sequences to die for, Mtaa Yangu was released on 6th October 2023 at the Anga Cinema, Diamond Plaza and screened also at select venues across Nairobi and beyond.

5. Act Of Love

Directed by the talented Eric Mwangi, produced  by Shirleen Wangari and with an amazing screenplay written by Shelly Gitonga, Act Of Love explores the struggles of motherhood through the story of Juliana ( portrayed by Mwixx Mutinda), who must hold on for the sake of her young child despite how every support system she has comes crumbling down.

Mwikali Mutinda in the Kenyan film Act of Love (2023)
Mwikali Mutinda in the Kenyan film Act of Love (2023) | Image: IMDb

Initially released on  June 7th 2023 in the United States, the film which has made its way through  the international Film circuit  with various screenings in festivals across the globe, had its Kenyan premier on  20th October 2023 at the Anga Cinema Diamond Plaza in Nairobi.