The award-winning Kenyan filmmaker describes herself as an Afrobubblegumist, a believer in “fun, fierce and frivolous African art.” Her 2009 film, From a Whisper, scooped five awards at the 5th Africa Movie Academy Awards. She talks to Nomad about gaining acceptance in her family for what she does, travelling to reaffirm her belief in her work, and encountering bedbugs
What is your experience being a filmmaker in Kenya?
I love working at home. Kenya is my muse, it’s where I get my inspiration and my characters from. The people and places in my films are based on my context and the things that I know. There is a really great collaborative film community within Kenya. I do wish there was more work, because the way that one learns within the film industry is by working on lots of different projects. I also wish there was more involvement with international projects. You have to be aiming to work with the best to become better yourself.
How does your family respond to your chosen career path?
I still feel as though they are trying to figure it out. Any Kenyan parent who has an artist as a child goes through confusion and doubt over their child’s choices in career. I don’t think they have seen enough artists be successful in their lifetime to believe that it is possible. They have seen artists and writers of their generation in Kenya thrown into jail or persecuted for their craft. It is still seen as quite a niche and potentially dangerous field of work. I still feel as though my family wants me to get a ‘regular’ job. However, they have still given me space to figure out my own path and life.
Where does your work take you?
Film makes you travel more than you would imagine. Once a film is released, you get to travel with [it] to different festivals across the globe. It can be challenging to juggle travel with family and other work commitments but I am so fortunate to have an incredible partner to support me. He not only encourages me and pushes me in my work but is also willing to hold the fort with my two kids when I can’t be there. We make our decisions together about my projects and how we will manage our time and schedules during those projects. I also have an incredible support system of friends. I can honestly say that I am only able to do what I do because of the amazing people around me.
What style of travel do you most enjoy?
I have had to travel a lot for work, therefore my travel has largely involved meeting people within the film and creative industry. When I travel, I have been very deliberate about pursuing like-minded people and friendships in different cities. It’s like dating, I ask people out on friend-dates. Also high on my list is to visit every vegetarian and vegan restaurant I can find. I am a vegan and I love vegan food. When I’m travelling for leisure, I am a complete beach-bum. My partner, however, loves to travel to the bush so we divide our family holidays between his preferences and mine. My favourite kind of international travel is definitely pan-African. Everytime I go to a new African country, I swear I learn more about myself.
What have been your favourite holiday destinations?
People just don’t know how many places there are to travel to in Kenya. I’m a serious traveller. I do months of research and have a ‘hit-list’ of lodges in every part of Kenya that I want to go to. Top of my list are places that are environmentallyfriendly, community- friendly and sustainable. My most recent trip with my husband and kids, which I dubbed our ‘family-moon,’ was to Elsa’s Kopje, a beautiful lodge within Meru National Park. It was a fantastic trip for the kids and they got to go on safari. I have to say, though, one of my favourite holidays ever was at Ol Donyo Lodge in Chyulu Hills. It had the most amazing, simple, delicious vegan food and the lodge itself was so beautiful and peaceful.
What has been your worst travel experience?
I was once staying at a place by the coast and it turned out that they had bed bugs. I woke up with a rash and I had no idea where it had come from. I went to the hospital and the doctor was completely unsympathetic. He asked where I was staying and how much I was paying and then simply said, “You sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.”
How has all the travel you’ve done impacted your artistic projects?
I need to travel for so many reasons. Sometimes [those] from outside your cultural context are the only ones who will take your ideas seriously and invest in them. My work is in the niche genre of Afrofuturist / African science fiction, [and] I find having those personal connections helps me remember that my work is not that strange nor that obscure. It also reminds me that it is important, necessary and valid. I don’t get to see that perspective unless I travel. Travel reaffirms the work that I do.
As told to Wanja Wohoro