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From ‘tea boy’ to film director

My Man


David GitongaYou insist the interview has to be short. Why, you’ve had all the time to prepare? It is not about me being unprepared. I have to go to Fidel Odinga’s requiem mass at All Saints Cathedral. And I see we are already heading towards that time.

You are going to Fidel’s mass. Are you trying to say that you were close to Fidel Odinga? I’m not trying to say that. It is a fact. We were close. I guess that is what everyone says of him right now but in my case that’s a fact.

Most people know you as Tosh... Is that your real name? Tosh is a name coined from Gitonga, which is my second name. My family used to call me Gitosh when I was young. The name stuck as I grew up. At some point I shortened Gitosh to Tosh.

So tell me more about that... where did you grow up? I was born in Nanyuki, in 1981 September, so that makes me 33 years old right now. I went to Moi Nyeri Complex Primary School and later joined Njiiri High School where I sat my KCSE in 1999. By the way I am a marketer by profession. I graduated from the Kenya Institute of Management with a Diploma in marketing in 2002.

How was your childhood? Normal I think. I loved to watch kungfu movies like most children back then and from class five, I went to a boarding school and this is where I learnt how life works.

And how does life work? You are responsible for yourself; you need to know how to protect yourself, you need to know how to survive.

So who’s a marketer between your mum and dad? None. My father was an engineer working at Laikipia Airbase and occasionally doubling as a fighter pilot. My mother on the other hand worked in the hotel industry.

Most people remember the lessons that they learnt out of college. Not many remember what they learnt in primary school. Are you one of the few who can distil an eight year experience into a few drops of words? Primary school taught me about independence, and always going for what you want. Those are two things that direct the way I live my life and how I approach my work.

So you loved school? Can’t say it was a vacation. Though I can’t also say it sucked. I was one of those children with low attention spans.  I could not make a doctor even if I wanted to. I can’t concentrate on one thing so much as doctors do. It would kill me, no wonder I am in film making.

Talking of film, how did you end up taking this route as your career of choice? When I joined college, I realised the thought of being an 8-5 person was revolting to me. So I looked around for careers that would not put me behind a desk. I settled on marketing because I had this neighbour who was a marketer and I thought he had a challenging but interesting life.

Obviously you are not a marketer today. What changed? By the time I finished, my aunt, Njeri Karago (you must know her) had arrived back in the country from the US where she had been working as a producer for 14 years. She worked in Hollywood by the way. When she came back into the country, she ventured into the film industry. I joined her to work as part of my internship. Her first project was Dangerous Affair, starring Nini Wacera. It was tough work, yet I went to sleep each night looking forward to the next day. That was the time I knew that I was made for film.

So you never thought of yourself as being in the film industry until that time? Not one day. Before this, film was another world for me. I admired those who made films. And to be honest, I never thought I would one day be in the film industry; leave a lone being a recognised director.

So your first experience in film making, how was it? You don’t want to know. I was a personal assistant to the director. Doing things like photocopying scripts for the actors and making tea for the director.

No kidding... where was your ego? I hear directors are the most egoistical people in the film industry. One I never had an ego, and I still don’t. I’m not one of those directors. This is one industry where to live the life, and to understand the work, you have to start from the bottom. You have to earn your stripes.

From PA to director, how many years has it taken you? It took me ten years to rise from PA to first assistant director.

Which are the outstanding films that you have participated in making so far? The First Grader, White Maasai, Africa Mon Amour, Transit and of course the Nairobi Half Life.

Nairobi Half Life has been received so well. What was your experience as a director when making it? I was in charge and it was fun. We had a tight schedule; only 24 days to shoot. That means that we had to shoot at least six pages every day. The experience was enriching. And to cap it all up, I had the chance of working with Tom Tykwer, a renowned German director.

Let’s now talk about your personal life... are you married? My personal life is a no go zone.  


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