SOAS University of London

Centre for Creative Industries, Media and Screen Studies

Hustling in Nairobi: Analysing Kenya’s Female Filmmakers

Speaker: Robin Steedman

The Kenyan film industry is the only film industry in Africa where the most critically acclaimed directors are women, yet almost no research exists on these highly unusual women or their films. These filmmakers work in a precarious environment lacking government funding, support from major broadcasters, and even recognition within Kenya that filmmaking is a “real job.” In response, Nairobi’s women filmmakers have learned to ‘hustle,’ for, in the words of noted filmmaker Judy Kibinge, “If you are getting your money from many sources that are not predictable then you're hustling” (personal interview).

In this presentation I will examine the specific conditions of Kenya’s transnational female filmmakers and explain what ‘hustling’ means in this case. Contextualizing their work amongst international festivals and funds is essential in understanding how their films get made as these filmmakers have won acclaim and financing from major international film festivals in Amsterdam (IDFA), Rotterdam (IFFR), and Copenhagen (CPH:DOX) for example, and screened their films globally. Yet, so far there has been no research on how the space where they are based and dominantly work – Nairobi – has impacted their filmmaking. In this presentation I intend to bridge this gap and explain how the interplay between the local (Nairobi as a film city) and the global (transnational film production culture) works to explain the emergence of something as exceptional as an African film industry dominated by women.