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DAN'S PAPERS, February 22, 2008 Page 25 www.danshamptons.com

Who’s Here

Photo by Lauren Isenberg

By Lauren Isenberg Kenny Mann is a filmmaker, author, journalist and teacher. Born and raised in Kenya and now living in Sag Harbor, she recently presented The Swahili Beat, her latest documentary film, to an eager crowd at the John Jermain Library. Mann spoke about the film in her British accent that she said is “not a proper one,” as it derives from colonial Africa rather than England. “The Swahili Beat is not an indepth study of Swahili history, which is extremely complex, but rather an introduction to a colorful and fast disappearing way of life that has endured for centuries,” she said. “I think people will be amazed to learn of the vital role that the Swahili played in Indian Ocean Trade for centuries, and also the fact that, far from being isolated in an unknown corner of Africa, the Swahili are totally cosmopolitan people, members of the vast world of Islam, multi-lingual merchants with long-reaching family histories in Oman and Persia as well as in East Africa.” Mann decided to make The Swahili Beat while exploring a beach in southern Tanzania, where she had gone to spend time after her mother’s death. “As a child, I went to the coast many many times, as we always spent our school holidays there. But I just took it for granted and was unaware of the huge differences between the people in this part of eastern Africa and the people of the interior,” she said. “It was entirely deserted, I was completely alone, and in the bush I came across African carpenters building a traditional jahazi, the boat that has been used for centuries to conduct trade across the Indian Ocean. It’s very rare to see these boats — most often, the old ones have been turned into bars at the local hotels and resorts. But the builders told me that they make one every year — that’s how long it takes — and that the boat would be used to transport cattle and other livestock up and down the coast and across to Zanzibar. I was fascinated and filmed the scene (which is not in the film) and from that moment, I was hooked.” Mann traveled up and down the coast following her nose, reading, recalling her own knowledge of the history of the area, and discovering the music. This research is the root of the film. “I feel that I now understand part of the history of my own country so much better than before,” she said. Mann created the short documentary for the high school and college fresh-

Kenny Mann Filmmaker/Author man audience, and she was apparently on the mark, as The Swahili Beat has been selected by Documentary Educational Resources to be distributed to high schools and colleges. Mann came to the East End 24 years ago after living in Africa, Germany and the United

the fact that the community is highly politicized,” she said. “I helped to found the East End Women in Black against the war in Iraq, and we found huge support for this. I’ve also been campaigning for Obama and have met so many people from all walks of life through this work.” In addition to her political involvements, Mann is dedicated to supporting the arts in the area. “I’ve initiated some short-term projects that were great fun, like Art ‘Round Town (ART),” she said. “Many years ago my friend, the late Candy Leigh, and I got people to lend us their frontyards for sculpture by various artists that we placed all over Sag Harbor, much to the horror or delight of the community. Sag Harbor artist David Slater made a wonderfully zany sculpture of bits and pieces of found objects that had some African quality, so we placed it in front of my house and l was hugely amused at the comments people made as they walked by.” She added, “I have met the most wonderful people out here. My friends are the most interesting, intellectual people I could possibly hope to meet — artists, filmmakers, writers — many of them Europeans. I have never felt that the quality of my friends is inferior because I don’t live in a large city.” Mann also teaches for Global College, which is now part of Long Island University and based in Brooklyn. “It used to be known as Friends World and was based on the LIU campus at Southampton,” she said. “I’ve been teaching various courses for them for about eight years, including cultural anthropology, creative writing and now the senior thesis seminar.” Mann is currently working on a documentary film that she shot in Senegal about human rights education there. “I’ll be editing that in March and April and hope to have it ready by the summer,” she said. “I’ll be submitting it to film festivals and television.” She is also working on a full-length feature film called Exposed, which is a post 9/11 thriller set in the Hamptons, and trying to raise funds to go into post-production on a film that captures her mother’s life for the past 50 years. Mann’s parents immigrated to Kenya as Jewish refugees during World War II. “My mother was a glamorous, charismatic person and her story as a Jewish refugee from Bucharest who ended up in Kenya with her Polish husband is unique, as very few Jews emigrated to Kenya,” she said. “My parents emphasized the importance of education, travel and participation in community

Mann spoke about the film in her British accent that she said is “not a proper one,” as it derives from colonial Africa rather than England. Kingdom. “I suppose it is home,” she said of the Hamptons, “but at the same time, I feel that Kenya is my home and I am constantly going back and forth.” Mann loves the beaches and tranquility of the East End, as well as pockets of activism. “I love

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Dan;s Papers Feb. 22, 2008  

Dan's Papers, the 51-year-old bible of the Hamptons, is owned by Manhattan Media, a multi-media publishing company based in New York City,...

Dan;s Papers Feb. 22, 2008  

Dan's Papers, the 51-year-old bible of the Hamptons, is owned by Manhattan Media, a multi-media publishing company based in New York City,...

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