Today our Man Around Nairobi is Mark Wambui. Mark Wambui has over six years of experience in storytelling as a film director, writer, and cinematographer. He is a Talents Durban alumnus and a Mandela Washington Fellow. Mark was trained as a cinematographer by Sony, in film directing by One Fine Day Films and DW Akademie, in film history at the Columbia Global Center in Nairobi, and in directing for commercials by the Africa Academy of Filmmakers. He also pursued a degree in Broadcast Journalism from the United States International University – Africa. In 2015 he was voted filmmaker of the year by the African Youth Awards. He lectures in Film Directing and Film Appreciation at Africa Digital Media Institute since 2013 and he is currently the founder and current managing director of Re-tuning Cinema in Africa, an organisation that believes storytelling can change the world.
In May 2016, he sold the rights to his Script “Tether” which he co-wrote with Christine Mwai on the lives of Henry Wanyoike and Joseph Kibunja to the producers of the First Grader and Hotel Rwanda. His film September was officially selected for the Zanzibar Film Festival and Burundi International Film Festival in 2015. Deceit a short film that he co-wrote produced and directed was the only film in East Africa to receive an official Selection for the 35th Durban International Film Festival and was nominated for the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards 2014. He has directed several documentaries and commercials for a variety of clients such as the African Union, UN Women, Scania East Africa, Unilever & US Aid.
Did you grow up in Nairobi?
Yes, I grew up in Nairobi, East kwa mabeast (laughs). I was brought up in Eastlands, Umoja II estate. I have fond memories of growing up in Nairobi although I was one of those kids who spent most of his time alone in the house or creating tents from my bed sheets or in a corner of the house pretending I was in a spaceship. But I do have memories of playing with friends, riding my bike, walking to school… but one thing is for sure… the few times I got a chance of travelling past more of the leafy green parts of Nairobi I knew where my heart was and as soon as I could afford it I jumped on the chance.
The few times I was outside playing, my best games were police and robbers, brikicho, bano, shake, kiss, command and promise (although this was more in primary school), and roundas. I really miss those games even as I talk about them… it’s beckoning my childhood self.
What do you love about Nairobi?
What I love about Nairobi… There is so much, especially after you’ve been away from the country for a while. There is nothing as beautiful as walking up to an arrival counter and hearing the words Karibu, then just driving down to the house through the traffic, the noise, the chaos, the warmth and finally the quietness of your home. So at the top of it… it’s the people, the climate and the opportunities to turn your dreams into reality… That’s what I love about my Nairobi.
What I love about Nairobi in terms of my work as a filmmaker and storyteller is that there is so much talent and there are stories to tell or be inspired by. If I wanted to get a film made or an advert shot it would take me a few minutes, a few calls or callouts and I would have amazing, hardworking, committed people to work with and that’s not something to take for granted. Plus there is such a wide range of philosophies that people bring together from their diverse range of personal experiences and you will be inspired, shocked or encouraged.
What would you change about Nairobi?
I love being part of nature, waking up to the sound of birds singing, walking on green grass, seeing the roads clean, well-manicured fences, so my daily silent desire for my Nairobi would be to have it clean at every corner… and have better structure in terms of how we build… sometimes it can be quite chaotic and I think if there was better order, cleaner parks, less rubbish on the streets we would be happier as Nairobians. I would love to see dustbins everywhere I turn and have our people be conscious about their environment by not littering.
I think it would be awesome to have strong guilds for the different skill sets like a Directors guild, a body that helps celebrate the craft, encourages the growth of the craft and puts caps on how low one should be paid… I think this will be a good safety net for the industry because media studies are churning out so many students creating heavy fluctuations in pricing for the different client categories.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
As a storyteller, my work involves working with ambitious creatives such as writers, camera operators, photographers, and editors. Nairobi is a hub of this amazing creative talent. Nairobi and most importantly the clients I work with either have a major office or headquarters within Nairobi… So yes Nairobi is very much open to my profession.
This openness does come with its challenges… remember media, and communication studies are in every college and university in Kenya and this delivers a huge amount of individuals into a small market with most people running to Nairobi for opportunities… I think it’s time that we took advantage of the county set-up and spread these skill sets and opportunities across.
I think there are many opportunities in the storytelling industry. If I am to quote a brilliant filmmaker called Wilfred Kumi, we were having a filmmaker kind of conversation when he highlighted the fact that filmmaking is one profession that has the potential to employ everyone from every field …Be it a scientist, architect, doctor… there is room in the sphere of filmmaking… a world of opportunities are available because content is such a broad canvas that we can all paint on at the same time. Whether it’s making commercials, documentaries, PSA, movies, animation, music videos or just being the best into one of the technical skills such as production design or editing. It’s an open pool, you just need to find your slice.
Looking at the challenges we face is the fact that a big number of storytellers work under a freelance structure, moving from project to project… something that provides the flexibility many people desires but also brings about a deep sense of uncertainty and insecurity especially when the jobs are not coming in… there can be long days in between and for me, I have found that the best way to go through this is saving (long term and short term), invest and manage your cash flow. It will keep you sane even as you reach for more opportunities.
If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
I would say to my tourist friend that Nairobi is a must-visit.
First for the perfect weather all year round.
Secondly, our people love are warm and welcoming plus love having fun
There is so much to see and experience from the wild animals, to the waterfalls, our crazy matatus, the museum, art and the different cultures.
If you would like to interact with Mark you can find him on Instagram.