Lights, camera, empowerment! The untold stories of Kenya’s female film crews

Kenyan women filmmakers.

Photo credit: Photos I Pool

What you need to know:

  • Once dominated by men, the Kenyan film industry is witnessing a rise of talented women asserting their presence behind the camera in various roles like producing, directing, screenwriting, and special effects make-up.
  • While filmmakers in other African nations grapple to find their footing into the film industry, Kenya is among the countries where women have made strides in front of, and behind the camera.
  • They are leading the way and inspiring more women to assert their presence in reshaping narratives within the African film industry.

As the film reaches its climax, the credits cascade upwards, listing all those who participated in its production. While the images of the cast are etched in the memory of viewers and later become household names, the crew behind the camera is hardly remembered.

Behind the most thrilling film you love is a long list of talents behind the camera, ranging from the producer to the driver, scriptwriter, cinematographer, camera operator, researchers, camera assistants, digital imaging technician, camera production assistant, director, production designer, sound engineer, editor, costume designer, makeup and hair stylists, and many more.

Once upon a time, the backstage realm of filmmaking was predominantly a man's world. However, today, the tide is turning as women are boldly asserting their presence and reshaping the narrative behind the camera.

Recent data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reveal that women now constitute 40 per cent of individuals directly employed in the Kenyan film industry.

This sector accounts for 4.5 per cent of the country’s total employed workforce and contributes at least 0.5 per cent to Kenya’s GDP. In 2022, the film industry contributed Sh38 billion to the Exchequer.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), Kenya stands among the top African countries where women have made significant strides in the film industry – both in front of and behind the camera.

Joining Kenya on this list, as highlighted in Unesco’s recent report titled African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth, are Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe.

One notable figure among Kenyan women mentioned in the report is Wanuri Kahiu, an internationally acclaimed Kenyan filmmaker.

Kahiu has contributed to several Hollywood projects, including the Viola Davis-produced TV series Wild Seed for Amazon, Universal’s The Thing about Jellyfish, and Disney’s Once on This Island.

Last year, Kahiu was honoured in India during the 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) for her advocacy against conservative values in Kenya.

However, in Central African countries, women are still grappling to find their footing in the film industry, with current Unesco data indicating that less than 10 per cent have managed to break into this space.

Here are some notable women who are making their mark behind the camera in the film industry:

Victoria Goro, Film producer, Trainer

Victoria currently serves as the Director of the East Africa Academy MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF).

Last March, she was recognised as the most influential personality in women's film during the 5th edition of the Women in Film Awards, which celebrates women across various categories, including directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, editors, sound designers, and other professionals working within different facets of film production.

With over three decades of experience as a seasoned film producer, she brings a wealth of knowledge to the development and implementation of talent-based film training.

Victoria specialises in film curriculum development and is adept at infusing innovation into documentary production by re-purposing and reversioning content to reach broader audiences.

She played a pivotal role in initiating and overseeing the launch of Film Marketing and Dissemination Services within the public sector, demonstrating a solid commitment to continuous improvement.

Throughout her career, she has actively engaged in both classroom and field instruction, providing training in private universities, public diploma colleges, and Kenya's premier film talent training institution, the Kenya Film School.

As a mentor, Victoria adopts a flexible approach, tailoring intervention strategies and activities to support individual students.

She values teamwork and possesses excellent skills in utilising Zenkit Team collaboration software for efficient project management, encompassing project inception, visual scheduling, execution, updating, and team member integration.

Lynn Gitau, Director

Lynn's star shone brightly at the Women in Film Awards when she was recognised as the Best Director in the Student Film category for her recent release, Somewhere in Kole.

The film was produced as part of a collaborative project by teams of MTF students from the class of 2023 during their 12 months of training at the MTF Academy.

With a yearning to create and replicate the quality of Hollywood cinema, Lynn's path led her to pursue a film degree at KCA University, where she is due to graduate this year.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

In 2023, Lynn earned a coveted spot at the MultiChoice Talent Factory, a crucible of creativity and innovation. With boundless enthusiasm and unwavering dedication, Lynn worked on a series of short films, including Bhoke and Neema, each bearing the indelible mark of her creative spirit.

As a driving force behind Somewhere in Kole, Lynn not only contributed her talents as a director, but was also a part of the phenomenal writing team and orchestrated its melodic scores.

She has also received a nomination for the Student Film category in the upcoming Kalasha Awards.

Undeterred by her successes, she continues to push the boundaries of her craft, venturing into new territories and captivating audiences around the globe.

Her latest endeavour, the stirring short film The Decision, shot alongside friends, has garnered international acclaim, earning selection at the esteemed Lift off Global Film Festival in the United Kingdom.

Damaris Irungu Ochieng’, Producer, Screenwriter

Her latest show, Kam U Stay, was recently honoured for emerging as the Best TV Comedy show at the Kalasha International Film and TV Awards.

“It feels surreal. Our show, Kam U Stay, has been on air since January of this year. In less than three months, we've been nominated and have actually won an award.

"We've been working so hard, and we are excited. Kam U Stay offers unique content – we have pushed the boundaries, and we were allowed to do so," an excited Damaris told the Nation.Africa.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

She is an International Emmy Award-winning writer (2012). Her expertise as a content developer, screenwriter, and script editor includes steering 71 TV movies of various genres for MNET’s Africa Magic Original Films project.

Her films that have stood out include Kiberan Shakespeare, Sopi, Run Honeymooners, and Die Husband Die, available on Showmax. She's also contributed to Nigerian market films like Matchmaker and Tough Ladies.

Since 2007, Damaris has been involved in hit TV shows like Pepeta, Mali, Crime & Justice, Kina, and award-winning shows like Makutano Junction and Jastorina.

In 2023, she produced her first feature film for Showmax, A Merry X-mess, which topped the charts. Her current project is producing her first TV series for Maisha Magic titled Kam U Stay.

Grace Murema, Special effects, Make-up artist

She is an award-winning professional special effects and beauty make-up artist specialising in film, television. She holds a diploma in film with a specialisation in make-up from Hydro International College in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Grace's work has been featured in short films, feature films, print publications, and advertisements.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

While her passion lies in special effects and prosthetics, she teaches special effects make-up at institutions such as United States International University-Africa (USIU) and Lintons Academy, in addition to running her own studio where she offers make-up classes.

In 2020, she won the Kalasha Awards for Best Special Effects Make-up and was nominated for the Women in Film Awards 2020.

She reveals that gender stereotypes still exist in film industry particularly in traditionally male-dominated roles like cinematography and grips.

“However, we are seeing positive shifts in the industry with more women taking on various roles, including grips, lighting, directors, producers, writers, editors, cinematographers, and special effects artists. I believe that supporting and promoting women in the film industry, a more inclusive, diverse, and representative industry can be fostered, better reflecting the world we live in,” she tells the Nation.Africa.

Sarah Owendi Ayitso, Film producer

Sarah is an award-winning film and TV producer, and the founder and president of the Association of Female Filmmakers in Kenya. She has left her mark on various Kenyan TV series, documentaries, dramas, and reality shows, showcased on platforms like Showmax and Netflix.

Inspired by Kenya's thriving film industry, Sarah aims to collaborate with filmmakers worldwide, driven by her commitment to advancing the art of storytelling.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

With an impressive portfolio, Sarah has contributed her expertise to captivating shows such as Kina, Real Housewives of Nairobi (Season 1), and Single Kiasi (Season 2) on Showmax, as well as My Horror Love Story Kenya on Maisha Magic East, and Lit 360 on NTV, among others.

“Empowering women in film is not just a cause, but a commitment. As the official of Association of Female Filmmakers in Kenya, I believe in breaking barriers and reshaping narratives. With a love for film as my compass, I am dedicated to championing equal rights for female filmmakers.

"The evolving film industry landscape in Kenya fuels my passion, and I aspire to collaborate with diverse talents worldwide, ensuring that the power of storytelling knows no gender boundaries," she says.

Denise Kibisu-Ngibuini, Producer

Denise, fondly known as Madam Producer, stands as a distinguished figure within Kenya's film industry, boasting an impressive 16 years of experience.

Recognised for her pivotal roles in iconic TV shows like Tahidi High and Groove Theory, Denise seamlessly transitioned into production, spearheading award-winning projects such as Hullabaloo Estate and Sue na Johnny, both aired on DStv.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

Her filmmaking journey reached new heights with her debut feature, A Grand Little Lie, and soared further with Click Click Bang, acclaimed and honoured with multiple awards at AMVCA 9.

Beyond her cinematic pursuits, Denise is a visionary entrepreneur, leading as the CEO of Cogwheel Creations Ltd, an Events Management enterprise.

She is deeply committed to empowering the next generation, serving on the board of Awake Youth Initiative, where she provides mentorship to underprivileged youth.

Her involvement with the Women in Film Awards and the Association of Female Filmmakers Kenya, underscores her dedication to fostering inclusive spaces for women in the industry.

She is currently working on Haki Mwitu, a drama show that airs on Drama shows on Maisha Magic Plus.

Agnes Kola, Assistant director

Agnes is the assistant director at Philit Productions, where she has been instrumental in culture-changing shows such as Hullabaloo Estate on Maisha Magic, among others.

She has also freelanced as a first AD for projects like The Real Housewives of Nairobi, Igiza on Showmax as a second assistant director, and Enough of the Silence with Silver Screen Nigeria.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

She is involved in empowering women in the film industry, serving as a jury member at the Women in Film Awards and contributing to the Association of Female Filmmakers, where she helps implement policies for creating a suitable working environment for female filmmakers.

Agnes encourages women in the film industry to embrace opportunities and challenges in 2024, urging them to pursue their goals despite fear. She believes there are numerous film opportunities available, including calls for grants and scripts, and encourages women to seize them boldly.

Ivy Wangui, Producer and director

Over 10,000 delegates who gathered in Nairobi for the Africa Climate Summit last September, and millions of others who followed it live via various media outlets, got a chance to appreciate Ivy Wangui’s talent and cinematic prowess.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

The graduate in performing arts and psychology from the University of Nairobi and an alumna of MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF), was behind the creation and production of the Public Service announcement on climate action broadcast during the summit.

She is also among the creatives behind two local shows Full Time Husband and Somewhere in Kole set to air on Maisha Magic Plus and Maisha Magic East channels.

With seven years of experience in the Kenyan film industry, Ivy initially embarked on her career as an actress. However, her passion for filmmaking transcended acting alone, propelling her into various roles behind the camera.

In 2019, she began as a camera assistant for the compelling documentary Kenya Business Heroes by Good Karma Fiction. By 2020, she had ascended to the role of first assistant director in the web series Nairobi Hunter.

Alongside directing, producing, and editing several projects such as Life is a Play (2019), Roses (2023), and an upcoming project for Zee World, Ivy’s diverse talents were recognised and celebrated.

Driven by her love for film, Ivy applied for the MTF scholarship upon its announcement, recognising it as a golden chance to gain hands-on experience and enhance her skills.

Since joining the programme, she has not only honed her craft as an actor, but also ventured into producing and screenwriting.

Currently affiliated with Primary Pictures Production Company, Ivy serves as the Assistant to acclaimed director Tosh Gitonga.

She is also part of the recently launched shows Full Time Husband and Somewhere in Kole on Maisha Magic, where her creative contributions continue to captivate audiences.