Sinema Mashinani: Revolutionalising the Kenyan film industry

Joe Mucheru is the brain behind Sinema Mashinani

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Film is one of the most under-exploited economic fields in Kenya, benefitting only a few as compared to advanced economies. Having been in the field for over 20 years, Joseph Mucheru, under his production firm Media Vision, decided to fill in the gap by giving back to the society. This is how the idea of Sinema Mashinani was born.

With a green light and a partnership deal from Dr Ezekiel Mutua’s Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), Mucheru’s firm embarked on a countrywide mission to ensure that the Kenyan story is told in the right way by Kenyans, not by foreigners.

According to KFCB boss, Sinema Mashinani was aimed at celebrating the Kenyan culture and highlighting the authenticity of the culture to the rest of the world. “We want to support films that promote our cultural diversity. We are committed to mainstreaming film and art into the national development narrative,” said Mutua.

His sentiments are echoed by Mr Mucheru who averred: “Kenya is a country full of talent, great stories with a lot of cultural heritage and diversity. Such stories have not been told, and the few, which have been told, have been done by foreigners who greatly misrepresent them.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of untold stories in Kenya. Through the partnership with KFCB, we decided to tell the Kenyan story the Kenyan way through Kenyans.”

The initiative was started with objectives of appreciating the Kenyan culture and its diversity, promoting consumption of local film content, capacity building and re-energising the film industry in Kenya.

Joseph Mucheru
Joseph Mucheru

“Sinema Mashinani is what Nollywood is to Nigeria. We want to build capacity in the grassroots and ensure that our people benefit from the film industry. They should see it as a commercial enterprise instead of the current perspective where people see it as a leisure activity,” he adds.

The programme started with training of willing people in all the 47 counties as well as organising the volunteers into groups that would drive the agenda forward. Apart from that, KFCB promised to establish art centres in all the 47 counties by the time the programme is spread in the whole country.

The art centres will entail a production van with equipment, public screening and training facilities according to Mr Mucheru. This started in Isiolo where more than 500 participants turned up. The trainers had to seek help from Isiolo Boys where they sought accommodation. By the end of the training, the group shot a Borana themed movie, Simale (My Only One), which featured 41 casts who were appearing in front of the camera for the first time.

Simale revolves around the lives of two graduates who have fallen in love, but cultural differences make it difficult for them. Scripted by Mucheru and translated into Borana by Liban Liban (who plays the role of Wario in the movie), Simale aims at promoting cultural tolerance in the community which continues to grapple with problems such as lack of empowerment for the girl child among others.

“In the movie we featured 42 cast. Out of them, only one had appeared before a camera. The others were new, but they performed prodigiously. In fact, one very old illiterate man who is one of the actors, would be read the lines by the co-producer and internalise them before acting,” says Mucheru. “It was a depiction of unutilised talent.”

The initiative would hire homes and other facilities to help shoot the movie. Coincidentally, they hired the home of two of the actors who were sisters sent away from school for fees arrears. Through the payment they got from the initiative and the rental fees paid, the girls were able to go back to school. Mucheru would learn of it after the girls had returned to school, when their mother came to thank him.

After the Borana movie, the initiative is in the final stages of actualising another locally-acted movie that will be cast in Dholuo. The movie, Piny Agounda, will be staged in Kisumu. It loosely translates to ‘what goes around comes around’. The initiative has been able to spread wings to neighbouring Tanzania where they conducted such training in 2017 for local filmmakers. The training lasted for two weeks and before they left Tanzania, they were able to shoot two movies, Laiti and Ndoto Yangu.

Later, the Tanzanian government would send two trainees to Kenya for further training by Media Vision. The initiative, in conjunction with the Tanzanian Film Federation, is jointly producing a film that will feature East African actors. Apart from the local partners, Media Vision is collaborating with Canon Japan to offer capacity building through training of trainers (ToT), technical capacity building in terms of equipment among other aspects.

So far, Media Vision has been able to procure more than 300 licenses from KFCB to make films locally. Among them is David and the Bull, a movie produced locally in Bungoma but later translated into Germany (David Und der Stier).

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A renowned dramatist, he has produced documentaries and infomercials for Kenya Power, Action Aid (County dialogues on KTN), KBC (Marauki & Balamwezi), University of Nairobi and Kenya Forest Research Institute (Sauti ya Misitu). He has also produced a continental documentary for USAID’s programme SUWASA (Portuguese for the Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa) in Bauchi State, Nigeria.

Currently, Media Vision is producing a local wildlife documentary that will be voiced in local dialects. This is after they got a free license from KFCB that would otherwise cost Ksh1 million. As he puts it, Mucheru says that Dr Mutua is trying to sanitise an industry that has not been streamlined for a long time. He says that this is the reason Mutua is facing a lot of backlash from the ‘big boys’ in the industry.

Joseph Mucheru and Dr Ezekiel Mutua during the Devolution Conference in Kakamega
Joseph Mucheru and Dr Ezekiel Mutua during the Devolution Conference in Kakamega

“KFCB is misunderstood. Dr Mutua has the best interest for the industry. He has been able to open new horizons, and this has to ruffle feathers with industry players,” says Mucheru.

The milestones have not been without hurdles. Changing Kenyans’ mindset to embrace and commercialise the film industry is one of the biggest challenges he has faced. Mucheru also says that the country lacks substantial film policy as compared to other sectors of the economy in Kenya, the reason it remains underexploited. Devolution brought in another challenge of double taxation. Even after procuring a license from KFCB, producers still face harassment from county officials who require them to buy county licenses to shoot in the respective counties. He gives an example of Kajiado County where producers are required to pay Ksh 150,000 per day for every production they make.

“There is another challenge with training. Very few institutions offer training on film. This means that producers and actors are not well-equipped to produce quality content,” regrets Mucheru. “We also have a problem with piracy and conning by foreigners. Most content produced in Kenya is not Kenyan. “We were once conned in the movie David and the Bull. We wrote the script, staged the movie and produced but according to the contract we signed we came to realise that we do not own the movie. It is German.”

Mucheru, through Sinema Mashinani and KFCB, hopes to see a revolutionalised film industry in Kenya. “I am optimistic that it will happen. I dream of a situation where local content competes side by side with international content. I want to see Kenyans embrace local content, I want to see Kenyans earn directly from film, I want to see our screens filled with local content,” concludes Mucheru.

Currently, Media Vision is working with Mediamax, Kameme TV, Royal Media Services and Viusasa. They are planning to launch a platform to distribute their content online through their distribution company, Soko TV.