What happens when a continent is presented on the global stage as a new frontier, and one marred by war, poverty, death and political instability?
What happens when a land full of beauty and culture is tarred with a thick brush by people who don’t know anything about it?
It is precisely this which has driven a 33-year-old Jinna Mutune to use her creative talent to tell a different story about the continent she loves and adores.
‘We have a beautiful Africa with great stories and a history.’
‘I aspire to tell a different story about this continent. I truly believe we have a beautiful Africa with great stories and a history that is rarely captured. If you’re going to tell a story about the continent, show both sides. Let’s see a balanced perspective.’
Growing up in a middle-class family in Nairobi, Jinna’s starved yearnings for story telling were fulfilled when she attended the AFDA, the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance, a film, television and performance school. It knocked her creative ambitions into shape.
‘I needed a film education and I continued researching till I came across AFDA, one of a handful of quality film schools in Africa at the time.’ She says it was a practical education. ‘They required me to research film directing as a career including the prospects for income. They always pulled me back to the practical matters of budgets, plans and goals that would really help me later on.’
With the support of her family and friends, Jinna released her first film Leo in 2013. The film is about a Masai boy who fulfills his childhood fantasy of becoming a hero.
Leo, meaning ‘today’ in Swahili, was a story about ambition, passion and pursuit of dreams told from an African context.
‘When we were shooting Leo years ago, the Kenyan industry was young.’
Abe Martinez a renowned Hollywood director of photography (who shot the film Hitch) was part of the crew. To her it was an important step in ensuring the seriousness of her dream and the quality of the film.
‘When we were shooting Leo years ago, the Kenyan industry was young in the area of cinematography expertise. So we opted to go with a renowned name but we also created a mentor–mentee structure where the more experienced crew could train the less experienced crew.’
The cinema culture in Kenya is slowly taking shape; independent filmmakers can now showcase their talents on different digital platforms. Nonetheless, it has not been an easy feat for indie filmmakers. People still don’t understand the industry and the fact it can make money; film is not regarded as a form of informative entertainment but of leisure and pleasure.
She explains that there is a ‘poor cinema culture, which offers low returns at the box office. As well as this there are other factors: poor policies and structures from the government to support filmmakers on ground.’
Internet penetration is both a blessing and a curse.
Kenyan internet penetration is both a blessing and a curse: most Kenyan youth prefer western films which they can easily access on the internet. The government recently passed a strict regulation for TV stations to offer 60 per cent local content and 40 per cent non-local content to the Kenyan viewers. This measure has greatly improved the need for local content creators such as Jinna.
Jinna is now working on her second film titled Chep about a woman marathoner who fights to become a world title-holder.
‘It’s a compelling drama about a female marathoner who overcomes all odds to become a world-renowned athlete,’ Jinna says. ‘We have already done the first cut of the score with Sauti Sol and have conducted a talent search for the lead and key supporting role’.
The film is to be released later this year.
A mentor and a social changer, Jinna works with a number of local institutions in partnership with Canon to train young men and women in film. She also provides training for interested film enthusiasts from unprivileged background on film and scripting.
‘My focus is on empowering young people in film through workshops that I do in slums like Kibera, Kayole and universities – KEMU & USIU with Canon.’
Funding for film has not been easy.
Although finding funding for film has not been easy, she believes she has the power to pursue her dream regardless of government bureaucracy.
Jinna walks with a lucky cloud hanging on her shoulders; she goes out and pitches to independent investors and luckily they listen to her.
‘I approach local investors who are passionate about rebranding the Kenyan story outside the stereotypical stories of war, poverty and famine’.
‘There’s a huge surge of creatives.’
With Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar still putting Kenya on the global platform, Jinna believes local filmmakers’ motivation has been nudged to higher heights.
‘There’s a huge surge of creatives who are willing to push the boundary to a better atmosphere where it will produce an environment in creative arts which will enable film to earn its respect as a craft.’
For now, Jinna’s dream of becoming an iconic African filmmaker is still a work in progress but she believes the little changes that have taken ground in Kenya and the rest of Africa in film as an art form will be sustainable and commercially successful in the long run.
‘Story telling is an art that just gets better.’
‘One needs to create a balance between creativity and business because both are needed to sustain film art’. She’s optimistic always. ‘Failure is not fatal, one should always try – and never fail to try – because story telling is an art that just gets better as one spends more time on it’.
Find out more on Twitter at @jinnamutune