Art

Rise of Njoki, the filmmaker

njoki

Njoki Muhoho receives the ‘Most Influential Personality’ award at the Women in Film gala in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY

Njoki Muhoho describes herself as a ‘johnnie come lately’ to the Kenya film industry. Yet that did not stop the judges and all those who voted online for the Women in Film Awards to give her the ‘Most Influential Women Personality’ in the Kenyan film industry last Wednesday at Kenya National Theatre.

Njoki went to film school in 2003 at the New York Film Academy in Hollywood after having had an illustrious career working in management consultancy with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

She was the first African woman to attend the prestigious film school where she rubbed shoulders with everyone from Steven Spielberg and George Clooney to the Vice President of Universal Studios.

Some voters may have associated her with the Kenya Film Commission where she was on the Board for three years. Others might know her more for her being the award-winning executive producer of ‘Mama Duka’ in 2014.

“Mama Duka was screened on both KTN and MNET after I and my company Zebra Productions had been commissioned to produce Kenya’s first high-end drama series called ‘Changes’ for which I wrote three seasons,” says Njoki.

“It was thereafter that I wrote 158 episodes of ‘Mama Duka.’’

Soon after that, she and another award winner (for Best Producer), Appie Matere James, were commissioned again by MNET to produce 75 films in no less than three months.

“We produced four films every week, and if we didn’t have a script available, I being a writer, would create one,” she says.

Njoki has always had a passion for film and storytelling, despite getting her first degree in Business Education from Kenyatta University and her second one, a Master’s in Mass Communication from Leicester University in UK.

In 1996 while still working for PwC she heard about MNET’s ‘New Directions’ in scriptwriting Competition.

“I’d never written a script before, but I decided to try,” she recalls.

Taking herself to MNET’s offices in Nairobi’s Upper Hill, she collected the starters package, took it home and studied the detailed format thoroughly. “I’d decided I had so many stories to tell and I knew I was funny,” she says.

She turned in her script just minutes before the deadline, and six months later, she heard she was shortlisted along with five others from various African countries. Soon after that she was told she had won.

She did not go for filmmaking immediately after that.

“I wanted first to know if my winning was just a fluke or if I really did have talent,” she says.

It took some time for her to find out. (She began to write for local media on careers, leadership and management.)

But eventually, she made it to Hollywood and confirmed that indeed, she had the talent to be a serious filmmaker.

What Njoki is probably best known for today is being the director of the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) Academy for East Africa.

Launched in mid-2018, MTF is part of MultiChoice Africa’s initiative to inspire the region’s fledgling film and TV industry.

Having three creative hubs, Nairobi for East Africa, Lusaka for Southern Africa and Lagos for West Africa, Njoki created the academy’s curriculum which covers 13 African countries.

“I took up the challenge to help start the academy because it’s not the run-of-the-mill film school,” she says. “It’s more like a boot camp where students [20 in each hub] get a hands-on experience. They’re not only attached to ongoing productions [like ‘Selina’ and ‘Coke Studio’]. They also must produce two feature films which are assured of getting aired on MNET channels.”

Meanwhile, Njoki also received still more recognition last Wednesday night when she was appointed ambassador for African Women in Film by the Alliance of Slum Media Organisations, the group that inspired women filmmakers like Dr Susan Gitimu and Dr Zippy Okoth to inaugurate Women in Film Awards (WIFA) in the first place.