Damaris Irungu was knee-deep in Easter concert preparations at Nairobi Chapel when the idea for A Merry X-Mess came to her. After a hilarious encounter with the choir matron, Irungu had the recipe for her Christmas film: a choir competition, a family, lots of drama and laughter. “I am a fan of films like Almost Christmas,” Irungu says. “What I carried from it is not being afraid to show the crazy side of family. I think it’s cool that people see a little bit of themselves or their crazy relatives on screen.”
A Merry X-Mess premieres on Showmax on Friday, 15 December, following on from Reuben Odanga’s 2022 film A Familiar Christmas, which was Kenya’s first-ever Christmas feature.
We caught up with Irungu, who shared more about the film and what Kenyans can expect from it.
Writing a script can be hectic. What was the biggest challenge during the whole writing process?
One of the challenges during this process was how to distribute screen time and give everyone a chance because I was working with an ensemble cast. But the beauty about writing a family story like the Nyatis’ is that everyone is in everyone’s business so I didn’t have to worry about characters feeling like they were not getting enough time on screen.
How many drafts of A Merry X-Mess did you have to write before you were satisfied with the story?
Three drafts. There wasn’t time for any more. If I had it my way, I’d still be writing the script as this interview goes out. But as a working writer we have to know when to let go. At the third draft, I felt it was good enough to be shared with the rest of the world. Of course, I was only confident because, at the table read with the crew and cast, hearing the words come alive and seeing them crack up at my jokes was just magical. They were my first audience and seeing them resonate with the script and connect with it gave me the assurance it was ready.
Christmas movies often have a particular message to get people in the holiday spirit. What is the central message for A Merry X-Mess, and why is it important to you?
Of course, the importance of family but family doesn’t necessarily mean your biological family but a place where you belong and feel at home with people you can share that with. The theme of rebirth is also close to my heart. I think of Christmas as a time to reset, even if we were on the wrong footing with someone or a family member, at Christmas time we get to forgive and move past the hurts and reset as we get ready to start the new year.
What was the most heartwarming moment on set while filming A Merry X-Mess?
So many! It was truly an amazing set to be on, and the daily Christmas carols as we started the day is one of those memorable moments.
How would you define a Kenyan Christmas?
Mutura and dondero, that means a goat has to go down and we have to eat and make merry. To me, a Kenyan Christmas is a day when friends and family come together, laugh together, eat a lot of food and meat and chapatiand wash it down with a nice drink. It’s a time to give thanks for the year that’s been and the year ahead.
A Merry X-Mess follows Reuben Odanga’s A Familiar Christmas as the second Christmas feature film in Kenya. How does that feel?
It feels surreal. I’ve always wanted to tell a Christmas story that can travel beyond Kenya to the rest of the continent. I am hoping A Merry X-Mess does that, and that people will love our characters so much that they’ll want to spend another Christmas with them.