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Sam Charo


Petna Ndaliko’s Cine Activism

Petna Ndaliko Katandolo is an artist, filmmaker and founder of the Yolé! Africa Cultural Center in Goma. He runs Alkebu Productions, and the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival which he has hosted annually at Yolé! Africa since October 2005.

He’s a multitalented artist and internationally acclaimed filmmaker whose cinematic style combines rhythm, image, colour, and social critique with innovation to challenge traditional narrative structures. His films skirt the boundary of fiction and actuality and provoke reflection on post-colonial African realities.

Since 1996, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been embroiled in violence that has killed as many as six million people. The conflict has been the world’s bloodiest since World War II. The first and second Congo Wars involved multiple foreign armies and investors from Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Libya, and Sudan, among others, and has been so devastating that it is sometimes called the ‘African World War.’ Women have been raped and children maimed due to political and tribal upheavals that have purged the country.

Yet even in these challenges artists such as Ndaliko find their own voice in capturing these events.

“I think there’s more to film than telling stories,” he says. “Africa is rich with traditional lore and wisdom but the colonists demanded we cave in to their Western ideology, which they deemed superior, and most Africans grew up with this notion, which is totally distorted. That is why in my films, Africaness – if I can use that word – is important to me.”

With works of art such as Jazz Mama, Ndaliko vents his creative preoccupations through tales of Congolese women who have suffered rape and damnation during war.

The 30-minute doc aimed to raise awareness around gender based violence in Congo without portraying the female characters simply as victims. It’s a shot that denotes the agility and the compulsive métier of feminine survival vis-à-vis a violent environment.

“It is possible to use art as a means to an end. Jazz Mama was meant to pass a message about the strength of Congolese women and not their victimisation; this was the critical value of the piece for its audience.”

Born and raised in Goma, North Kivu province, Ndaliko graduated in stage direction from the Experimental, Cultural and Ecological Workshop in Tchimba. He remembers seeing victims of Rwandan genocide trickling through his hometown as they fled war, his mother offering food, clothing and accommodation to the devastated men, women and children.

It is this image that stuck in his mind for years, prompting his first play, Victims of War.

“I was sick,” he laments. “I wanted an outlet that could creatively document with sheer clarity that image of war and torture that the Rwandan Genocide brought with it.”

War broke out in his country in 1996, and he began his activism which eventually led to expulsion from his home country in 1997; he went to Uganda. And in the year 2000 he founded Yole! Africa with the help of Dutch anthropologist Ellen Lammers.

Yole! Africa is a creative platform aimed at giving youth the tools to imagine and create works of art and unhinge them from the trauma of war.

Ndaliko says. “Now we have trained thousands of children in film, music and photography through Yole! Africa and we hope to do more and instill the importance of activism through creativity and art.”

He also helped set the first international film festival in DR Congo; The Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF) which is organised by Yole! Africa and Alkebu Film Productions.

SKIFF is a ten-day festival that includes film screenings followed by community discussions, a series of workshops including video production and editing, music video creation, audio recording, music composition and performance, poetry and storytelling, hip hop and contemporary dance, as well as hosting live concerts and a dance competition. Each year the events and activities of SKIFF are oriented around a specific theme that is relevant to current events in the region.

He’s perhaps best known for Mabele Na Biso (Our Land), an unlikely true account done in three acts. The story captures Congo’s autonomy, community innovation, and its evident success. Narrated by women, men, and youth, it uses their realities to define the place they come from and the daily routine of life as it unfolds.

“We wanted to use Congolese who tell about their daily realities with the use of local and global technologies in solving their problem,” Ndaliko quips. “These characters were critical to address their challenges and our main objective was to document these factors and show the audience that people still believe in themselves and can offer homegrown solutions to their problems without the need of looking to the West.”

But why cine activism?

“Because it matters. We have an obligation as artists to impact the society with our creativity and it behooves us to reflect its challenges, needs, progresses and successes without fear or prejudice but with pride and appreciation of who we are as Africans.”

By Sam  Charo

Merhawi Meles: On Films about Love

For the past eight years, Eritrea has been ranked last in Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The country has been a dictatorship since 1993 after battling for independence from Ethiopia, a war that took 30 years and saw hundreds of thousands of people dead. The tension between the two Horn of Africa states still remains high. In the tiny one-party state, press freedom is a luxury and to date there are at least fifteen journalists who are serving jail terms while others are held incommunicado.

The country has also imposed a mandatory national military service to be completed by all Eritreans between the ages of 18 and 40, which has caused many to flee the country in search of greener pastures. Some people, however, like filmmaker Merhawi Meles, have chosen to stay and create stories that boldly tell about life in the capital city, Asmara.

Meles explores themes like love, betrayal, intimacy and romance. A director and actor, his movies have a sizeable following among the Habesha community, both in Asmara and the diaspora.

“Film is a passion that I have always had,” Meles says. “We are natural born story tellers and it takes the eye of a director to fulfill that story.”

But what is a great Eritrean story?

“We have gone through a lot as Eritreans,” Meles remarks. “Most of us have people living abroad, families we can’t access, siblings who died and our lives have been programmed with loss, so to me a great story is the one that does not deny but confronts these tragedies without prejudice and for me love is greater than hate, peace is better than war and that is why my stories, however basic, are fueled by human relationships.”

Shot in intimate close-ups in suburban cafés and empty Asmara streets, his films are constructed with a French New Wave sensibility that draws the viewer deeply into the characters’ worlds. His YouTube film Abzeyelenalu, is a work true to his style; Meles’s lens is a reflective tool that colours his vision with beauty and a sense of the sanctity of his country and culture.

The film is a story about a young man who is head over heels in love with a woman, but rumours have hindered his chances and he has to scheme ways of convincing her of his love.

“I like the fact this film has over 200 000 views from all over the world. I am not concerned with who watches it, but the fact that it’s different people from different parts of the world.” Why is that important? “It means everyone is interested in stories from different places and that means we are connected as story tellers and love as a theme goes beyond borders.”

At 26, Meles has shot music videos, documentaries and dozens of films that have made him a force to be reckoned with in his home country. He’s recognised as an avid filmmaker who bravely explores human emotions.

“He does not fear to tell love stories,” Eritrean TV producer, Yonas Solomon says. “We tend to get shy when it comes to relationships, but he goes beyond that and defines how we live in our bedroom, that’s why his films are loved here.”

In a bid to connect with the diaspora, his films are uploaded on a YouTube channel named Love You Erena –LYE, a one of a kind Eritrean online TV whose motto is, ‘Bringing to you Eritrean Documentary, Movies, Comedy, Music Video, Entertainment in High Definition.’

The platform is based in Frankfurt, Germany with coordinating offices in US and Asmara.

How about films about freedom of expression and democracy?

“After consideration and much thought,” Meles says, “we opted to stick with these themes for now, not out of fear but wisdom, to ensure we can survive and practice our art. I want to do as many films as I can that will maximise my creativity as much as it can regardless of any constraints, so that when the time comes for me to do other non love related stories, I won’t have to look back and wish I had done this or that while I had the opportunity.”

A passionate auteur, Meles was trained at the Eritrean Institute of Technology, graduating with a diploma in film production in 2011. It was after the graduation that he travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and bought his camera gear and went back to Asmara where he began doing films with his friends as crew.

“It was fun I remember, when I started,” he says. “We started as three and now people contact me from all over the world wanting to be a part of my crew and cast.”

For now, Eritreans’ homegrown interest in film will be measured by their undying passion to support their own, even in challenging times where art freedom is restricted and creativity is censored.

Meles concludes: “A time will come for us to do create other types of films but before that, we will keep doing what we are doing: bringing love stories to the people of Eritrea and the world, hoping to change the mindset of those critics who think this country’s art is dead’.

Making a difference through storytelling

“When I started off I wanted to be as unique and myself and authentic as I could,” says Malawian filmmaker Shemu Joyah. “So I explored stories that relate to Malawian life. I wanted to tell the Malawian story with a Malawian touch, because you only have your own story to tell based on your surroundings.”

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. With a population of more than 17.5 million, the country has had its fare share of challenges: population growth, ever increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption and the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

But despite all these social misfortunes, its people have a positive outlook on things and some transcend the issues to make a difference through storytelling.

Born to Zimbabwean parents in 1959, Charles Shemu Joyah is one of those creative voices that Malawi is proud to have produced. The award-winning filmmaker wears African prints on set and works with casts of ordinary people. He roots his scripts in things that affect his everyday life; themes like poverty and injustice are a recurring theme in his stories.

To him realism is critical.

“They have to be authentic, not fake,” Joyah says. “If you have a normal set, with normal characters as cast, you tend to get magic in your film and that is what I like about my films: the authenticity that brings the Malawian story to life.”

Joyah began making films in 2006. He saved and bought his camera and three years later he went out to release the film Seasons of Life. The story is about a young girl who gets impregnated by her employer and is forced to stay silent because he pays her school fees. The film won two awards at the Zanzibar Film Festival in 2009.

Joyah says: “That was really encouraging to see how creativity is appreciated by fellow Africans.”

The self taught filmmaker is a B.Sc. holder in mathematics and physics from the university of Malawi, Chancellor College, with an additional honours degree in surveying and mapping from East London University.

“Most people won’t believe it but I currently work as a land scientist in Malawi and provide consultancy services in land and real estate to finance my creative passion.”

Among the world’s least-developed countries, Malawi’s economy relies heavily on agriculture because it has a large rural population. For years the country has depended on external aid to meet its development needs.

“If you were to look at the challenges that we face as a country you won’t be able to look at the bright side of things because, every report is depressing: no jobs, no money, and no proper infrastructure to run things,” Joyah says. “But all in all art and creativity has its share of importance in our development goals.”

In 2013, Joyah released his second film –The Last Fishing Boat, a powerful narrative about the life of a fisherman whose source of revenue is transformed by the tourism industry. The story depicts how the fisherman copes with the massive changes to his traditional way of life.

The film went on to win numerous awards around the world including, Best Narrative at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival in California,  and an award for Best Soundtrack at the Africa Movie Academy Awards.

The entire film was shot in his house and his wife was by his side all the time, preparing meals for the crew.

Joyah adds: “It was a great experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life.”

Now confident and a household name in his own right, Joyah believes the things that will make Malawian film great are embedded in the challenges that he faces.

“I look at these shortcomings in film as a proponent to creating great stories that will be made known to the rest of Africa and the world.” He continues: “Most people associate poverty, lack, scourge with a dark theme, but we can lighten things up by capturing these subjects through a brighter perspective.”

With poor distribution avenues and piracy, the filmmaker thinks, it’s a lack of skills that is a major problem.

“As a filmmaker, I will understand if my film is out there without my permission because we live in the age of internet of things but more so, the greatest problem we face in Malawi right now is having unskilled filmmakers and creatives. That poses a greater tragedy for African creativity.”

He thinks this is one of the reasons why Malawian films are ignored on the international festival circuit. “The art of filmmaking is storytelling. It reaches deep into our souls. Filmmaking brings to life something that was just words on the page. It is only fair if films are done professionally to be appreciated by the rest of the world.”

Seko Shamte – redefining Tanzanian

34-year-old Dar es Salaam-based filmmaker Seko Shamte is no stranger to creating visual works of art. From a young age, she admired journalists and filmmakers, and even in that formative phase, she knew what she wanted to be one thing – an artist.

“I always loved film, especially classic cinema, and really found my footing when I took an introductive module in the history of film in college,” Shamte recalls. “I had always loved music, I was the chairperson of the music club in middle school, I played multiple instruments as a kid. I also always loved writing, so the visual medium became a challenge and later on a passion and an obsession.”

Growing up in an academic environment, Shamte learned a lot from her engineer father and education specialist mother. She travelled with them extensively to different parts of the world including Asia and the U.S. where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BSc in Finance and a minor in Media studies from Marymount Manhattan College in New York, in 2005.

“I have just always been internally motivated,” she illumines. “I grew up watching my parents who have always had a serious work ethic and, either genetically or from emulation, I naturally work hard.”

That hard work saw her spending all her summers working at radio and television stations in the US during college and later in 2005, when she moved back to Dar es Salaam, she became the Head of Programming at East Africa TV for four years, a role that to this day allowed her to nurture her creativity and put her on the pedestal of shaping the future of Tanzanian mainstream media.

‘In EA TV, I was in charge of coming up with all the creative content, the shows, the programming, I am grateful to have initiated and introduced Ze comedy-the highest rated television show in the history of Tanzania during my tenure.”

Shamte founded Alkemist Media in 2008, after quitting her job in EA TV. The company produced content for CNN’s Inside Africa and later she produced Mkwawa, a feature documentary on Chief Mkwawa of Uhehe in 2011. The film tells the story of Chief Mkwawa, who hailed from central Tanzania. He’s regarded as one of the most brilliant military strategist in Tanzania’s history and one of the most successful chiefs of the pre-colonial time, who resisted the German colonialists.

Mkwawa was my dream project, I always wanted to do it and am glad and proud I did’.

Later in 2014, she produced and directed The Team, a series that ran for a year, and a Swahili-language cooking show for DStv’s channel 160 titled Jikoni Na Marion, translated in English as ‘In the Kitchen with Marion’.

Now she has completed her first feature film, Homecoming, a film she wrote, directed and produced. The picture is a coming-of-age story about Abel, a man in his late 20s, who returns home from studying in America and ends up working in a bank. While there, he unearths a conspiracy that puts his life in jeopardy and tests his ethical fibre.

“I wanted to take a snapshot of what Dar es Salaam life was like and also to explore how a person becomes corrupt,” Shamte says.

The film was shot with a RED Epic Dragon in 6k by Dylan Verrechia, an N.Y. based cinematographer. It is to be released later this year.

The question of morality is central in the film, Seko adds – in particular the idea of moral mutability, the question of how exactly one is able to sacrifice one’s moral standards. ‘Where is this turning point in our life stories? Does it happen so gradually that we hardly realise what or who we have become?’ Homecoming premiered in 2015 and Shamte is still seeking a distribution deal for the feature.

To Shamte, telling the African story to the world by Africans themselves is critical. ‘It is very important to me that we Africans tell our own stories from our own perspective and utilising our voice, we need to document them to save ourselves from internalising self-hatred and idolisation of foreigners’.

With a passion for the creative arts, Shamte works in other media apart from film.

“I love film so much that I don’t really think about an alternate life,” she says. “But if I had to, then I’d either work in music, be a writer or design furniture.” She still is able to pursue these avenues as a hobby.

Shamte, who regards legendary filmmakers Ousmane Sembene and Abderrahame Sissako as her role models, is focused on redefining Tanzanian film, which has been overshadowed by Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

‘I want to keep putting out interesting films and content on the Tanzanian experience to the rest of the world and Africa, and be the first Tanzanian woman to win an Oscar for best international film’. She also wants to give back. ‘I want to mentor young up-and-coming filmmakers in Tanzania’.

The filmmaker is married to Amour Shamte, a former telecommunication executive. ‘I always say that my husband is my biggest fan and inspiration, but there are also my parents and all the young Africans making their mark in the world.”

She believes every African has a chance to become anything they want to be. ‘No dream is ever too big. The only thing that can stop you, is you.”

Is KFCB an impediment to creativity in Kenya?

While the Kenya Film and Classification Board is mandated to regulate film content in Kenya, there have been a few issues that have surfaced in the recent past that haven’t augured well for media firms and content producers.

The regulatory board is charged with ensuring Kenyan filmmakers and content providers are able to feed from their creative resource. It has insisted on 40/60 viewership across the national media platform, where 60 per cent of the content that’s viewed on television is local and 40 per cent is foreign.

But even so, many creatives across the board feel like KFCB still runs on outdated practices that stifle production and creativity.

“They are not open minded; they run on this religious, moralistic view, which to me impedes the ability for creatives to go the whole nine yards,” says filmmaker James Ogola. ‘If I have a story that I want to tell and the story is based on these two gay people who in this day and age are living in Kenya, the KFCB will not allow that to run, simply because it involves gay characters.”

KFCB has in the recent past banned adverts during watershed period, a Coca-Cola ad was forced to be cut due to a kissing scene. It is such unrealistic approaches to creativity that make many view the board as a medium for muzzling creative freedom.

“You cannot play regulator and muse on the same vein,” Steve Njuguna quips. “We have come a long way, look at us and compare this country to the rest of Africa, we have to work with a body that is cut out to play its mandate of regulating what’s not needed and not inducing to creative people what is supposed to be created.”

“Look at what happened to Netflix,” Agnes Pendo, a Mombasa-based filmmaker laments. “They came to Kenya, then KFCB said they are supposed to do 60 per cent of local content, how’s that going to work? I think some things have to be thought through first, like they could allow Netflix to work with local producers to create films that are quality but local, but dismissing them discourages investors from this country and scares off other interested parties.”

The most affected people are gay filmmakers who are not allowed to show their ‘inappropriate’ content to the public. Rapper Noti Flow and her bisexual lover, Soila Cole did a video which has been flagged on YouTube for being against Kenyan moral standards.

“We are happy that the music video has been pulled down following a request we made to Google. This is part of making sure that content is healthy for all,” Ezekiel Mutua, the KFCB CEO later said at the World Press Freedom Day at the Intercontinental hotel in Nairobi.

“What is considered immoral?” Janet Waweru, a 30-year-old scriptwriter asks. “We have different definitions of immoral. I might be gay for instance; that’s not immoral to me. A lawyer who fights for abortion – should he be banned for fighting for these rights? So where do you draw the line between creative morality and social morality because one thing might be creatively necessary for a story while it might be considered morally offensive to the Kenyan market, but where do you draw that line?”

With the rise of internet and digital media access, most Kenyans believe there’s a necessity for a regulatory body but it has to live up to its mandate and keep up with the times.

“KFCB is run by a bunch of aged guys, a bishop and a collective of hallelujah guys, so their view on things is through the lens of sin and demons,” Njuguna adds. “If this goes on it will surely affect the creativity of filmmakers because we will be doing Christian films all the while and I don’t think that is what creativity is all about.”

“I think we should have independent creatives who understand film art,” Pendo concludes. “KFCB should look at film as it is, and not turn its regulatory mandate into an impediment of creativity because that will be dangerous for us as filmmakers and also for people who are interested in investing in media in Kenya in the long run.”

Salim Amin: telling untold stories

This is what the son remembers of his father: seeing him waking up early in the morning, working at his enormous office in Lavington, Nairobi whistling allegro con fuoco as he goes, and staying in there until late at night. He remembers sitting in a boardroom with Camerapix employees and being treated like one himself.

The son remembers missing his father when he was out of the country for days on end, documenting stories from war-torn Somalia, the harsh plateau of Korem in Ethiopia or the green jungles of Congo. The son remembers visiting Buckingham Palace and bowing his head in a show of respect to her majesty, he remembers posing for photos with some of the most powerful people in the world, of seeing the face of his father in hundreds of newspapers from different news firms.

The son counts himself as fortunate to call Mohamed (Mo) Amin, his father. Mo Amin was the most iconic African photojournalist of the 20th century, a man who captured some of the world’s most powerful images.

Salim Amin, 46, the only child of Mohamed Amin, is a big man, standing an impressive six feet and change, but his imposing appearance is offset with a ready smile and amiable nature. He is the chairman of A24 Media, a media outfit that has more than two dozen employees with a chain of stringers operating across the rest of the continent and other parts of the world. Like his father, he has a heart for telling positive African stories to the rest of the world, avoiding the stereotypical negative narrative from Western media outlets that has been blitzing the world.

“I realised a long time ago that most people are never satisfied with what they have done and always wish they could do more; I am no different. I will always feel that I should and could do more but I also have put some perspective on things that I can control,” Amin enthuses. “I have realised that there are only so many hours in a day and so many days in a year and you have to do whatever you can to make the most of these … and be satisfied that you have tried your best.”

“People often want to talk about Africa and its history as if it died with my dad or years ago,” he says. “The fact is, Africa is always changing and the past hard news has given way to a bright future and my dad’s legacy lives on.”

A24 Media under his leadership is a custodian to more than three million images that have been carefully archived for current and future use. This body of work is a lot of his father’s doing and Salim’s efforts for the past 10 years have been directed towards modernising Mo’s legacy.

“At this point the central focus of all our efforts is to grow and expand A24 Media,” he explains. ‘We are producing some of the best and most unique content in Africa and we are looking at all the different platforms to distribute and hopefully earn a decent revenue. We will continue to produce unique content and work with our historical archives to create new and exciting content.”

Salim also runs his own TV show. “The Scoop is my show and was something my dad could only dream about,” he animatedly adds. “We want to champion all the shows that are no longer themed on wars and corruption but are crafted for the modern African viewer.” In addition to The Scoop in this regard, A24 also produces shows like Upbeat and a CCTV documentary series.

He urges African governments to promote local talent with all the resources they have.

“I think governments have to recognise the importance of content producers in their countries and work with them to be able to tell the real story of this continent,” he says. “We are the best platform for promoting the achievements, successes and beauty of our countries and continent. Governments need to see that and work with us instead of against us. They should put resources into training and nurturing young talent and giving them a creative space to work in.”

While preserving and promoting his father’s legacy, the son also wants to carve out his own.

“I want to be remembered as someone who tried to change the conversation about Africa, who tried to change the perception of the continent, who tried to change the image many people have of Africa. If I manage to help tell some of the great untold stories of this continent, then I feel I will have contributed something worthwhile in shaping Africa’s history and build my own legacy separate to my father’s.”

River Road: the boulevard of affordable Kenyan films


Jonathan Kariuki, 24, an ambitious auteur of average height clutches his Canon 6D, his backpack safely hanging on his shoulders, squints on the viewfinder and screams ‘Action’. The light skinned miniskirted femme rumbles into a Kikuyu rant with her index finger poking on the face of a shabby looking man with a chunk of belly fat that spills out of his trousers and who stands unresponsive and then… the man gives the woman a hard slap, she tumbles on the ground, yowling curses…welcome to River Road, the boulevard of affordable Kenyan films.

Here in this garish frontier, films are produced on affordable gadgets – bought or rented – and repetitive stock characters are played by actors, who, in just a few short years, can claim to have over 300 films in their showreels.

In the 1950s, the ‘who’s who’ in Kenyan politics used to wine and dine in these streets. Well- known politicians and influential business men say that this dusty, urine-reeking strip of bars and restaurants used to be ‘the place to be’ if you wanted to see the best of Nairobi.

That was then, now nothing much has changed in these mean streets, if you visit River Road at night this is what you will see; prostitutes lined up soliciting what are known as ‘shorts’ – quickies. You will see a whole lot of bars full of young men and women nursing beers and chatting with friends, you will see plain clothes cops harassing idle men on these streets and hawkers vending their goods. Then you will hear underground music from clubs lined up on this thoroughfare with the DJ barking in Swahili ‘Kama imekubamba wapi nduru wewe’ – ‘if you’re feeling this, scream out loud…’

When the sun’s yellow sheen gleams the next morning, and its rays beat on vintage walls of these long-established buildings, the noise level doesn’t drop much but now its source and purpose are quite different. From seven o’clock in the morning you will hear screeches of loud music from speakers hanging in open electronic shops and young girls beckoning you to buy a speaker, a microphone, an ‘original phone’ or a guitar. It is no wonder that the creatives of Nairobi come to this bustling and chaotic district for inspiration and an outlet.

Thousands of people flock to this part of Nairobi city to buy film and music DVDs, because here, you will get whatever you want; newly released films and documentaries, all types of music at a very affordable rate. In these streets upcoming filmmakers like Jonathan can spark out an idea, do a casting call, shoot the film and publish it on DVD and voila! There’s a ready market right there.

“I have done a couple of films in my language –Kikuyu,” Jonathan says. “Every time I release a film, I have had it sold out; I first printed 500 DVDs and I would sell all of them.” Jonathan handles his distribution and he has a team of ‘investigators’ who look around for any shops that sell his material unsolicited.

“One has to be creative in all angles,” Jonathan explains. “In this age of digital production, you can maximise on your potential and your creativity and profits by handling everything in one office.”

Since 2006 the Kenya Film Classification Board has championed for a 60/40 viewership package for content distributors and media outlets in the country. This would mean that 60 percent of airtime on Kenyan television channels would be set aside for local content, with the remaining 40 percent open for imported content.

“I think this is a great initiative,” says Joshua Okoth, a 35-year-old film producer. “We are headed in the right direction and I am happy that our children will watch and local content and apart from that, content creators like me will have a field day because we have a great number of platforms to choose from when we want to distribute our content.”

The rise of digital film production has made it easier and affordable for content creators such as Jonathan, to tell ethnic-based stories that are aimed at a specific viewership.

“River Road enables me to target specific types of viewership,” he explains. “If I want to do a story on gangsters or thieves, I can do it from a specific ethnic group, a point of view that has a ready market, I won’t be fumbling in the dark trying to guess whether the viewers will like my story or not because when I was originally writing the screenplay I had a target viewership in mind.”

What about the quality?

“I try and offer quality, I am a trained filmmaker with a journalistic background; I know a good film, a bad film and a great film. Right now I am doing good films, but I am going to do great films in the future – it’s only a matter of time.”

Recently the River Road Film Festival concluded with dozens of TV actors and actresses recognised for their artistic talents both on television and film.

“It was a great honor to be a part of this,” actor Jacky Wambui beams. “Regardless of how River Road is viewed across the nation, this recognition and award makes me feel like I am doing the right thing and headed along the right path in my career.”

River Road’s path to providing a platform for filmmakers is still a work in progress but weighs heavily on the film culture that is picking up steam in the Kenyan arts.

Jonathan adds: “We are running on over a 60 million dollar turnover base; what makes you think River Road is not a force to be reckoned with?”

Bringing fantasy to life


Mwendwa Mutua is living his fantasy. A graduate of Kenyatta University, where he
studied film and theatre, he made his dreams reality last year when he won an
award at the Kalasha Film and Television Awards in Nairobi, Kenya.

The soft spoken director”s debut feature film, Tamed is themed on the social issues
that plague human existence.

“My film is about family drama; it tackles the daily challenges that most families go
through. The things that we face as people of today, ranging from infidelity in
relationships, financial insecurity and security in the family, and the quest for love
just to mention a few,’ he explains.

Mutua, a curious and adventurous individual, was on a personal quest to fulfill his
dream of making his first movie. He decided to write his own script from scratch,
based on his daily experiences with the people he understands best – his peers.

“I was looking for a story that would cut across the board in the sense that every
person would relate to it: youth, old men and women in relationships, fathers and
mothers who have financial security issues. So Tamed happened to be the perfect
story at that time because it had what I was looking for and was also easy to
execute because it was a story about humanity’s way of life, bombarded with the
challenges and concerns of everyday life, and it was also financially feasible,’ he

Mutua invested his personal savings in the film and also asked personal friend
Eunice Pohlmann to contribute. She gladly accepted and became a co-producer on
the film.

But few other parts of the process would come so easily. Among the challenges he
faced, possibly the biggest was distribution. Kenya’s film industry is marred by
piracy. Artists don’t get paid for their work because intellectual property thieves are
out there ready to feast on the fruits of someone else’s labour. But he managed to
find a team that was able to make things smooth for him.

“I finally have an agent in charge of all my distribution on the networks or on
DVDs,’ he says. “Though I must admit that distribution has been the greatest
challenge that we face in the industry, Mwaniki Mageria from Balozi Production has
done a tremendous job.’
He believes his film being among the winners at the recently concluded Kalasha
Film and Television Awards edges him closer to the global stage, although he knows
this is only a first small step.

“I strongly believe that the buck stops with me. The quality of my work will take me
out there. They say you are as good as your last film so I am working on doing a
better one, which will definitely take us across Africa come next year,’ he enthuses.

The Kenyan government has been on the frontline in promoting local film. Mutua
believes that it should do more by connecting Kenyan filmmakers with established
brands like Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood. He’s part of the group that is
working with Kenya Film Commission (KFC) to set out sound policies on intellectual
property, distribution and film funding.

“I truly believe that the Kenyan Film Commission is trying its best in connecting us
with other established brands that have been in film for many years, and it could be
really great if we had other directors work with us and offer their input in
filmmaking because film is a collaborative process that requires teamwork. The
industry could improve dramatically through working with other non-Kenyan
directors who have years of experience.’

By Sam Charo

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