She is part of the young crop of film directors taking the Kenyan film industry by storm. She has directed and produced short films, music videos and plays both in America and Kenya. Meet Jinna Mutune, the brains behind the new Leo film, writes SHIRLEY GENGA
Pulse: Tell us about your background?
Jinna: I am the last born in a family of five; one boy and four girls. I grew up in Eastlands’ Kimathi Estate, Nairobi, and attended Kimathi Estate Primary School and Our Lady of Mercy, South B for High School.
P: When did you know that you wanted to make films?
J: At age 16, I was directing theatrical plays in church and school.
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P: You also dabbled in music...
J: Between the ages of 12 and 19, I was in a church band called Asante. We got to minister and tour many parts of the country.
P: After high school, where did you go?
J: I first went to Daystar in 2000. I did my degree in Film at South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA) in Cape Town.
P: Is that how you got to direct a film in South Africa?
J: I learnt a lot about film while I was in South Africa. I directed a short film, It’s a Nerds World, with the Arts, Film and Drama Association in Cape.
P: When did you come back to Kenya?
J: I returned in 2004 and did my internship at Kwani? There, I got my first job as a director. I directed and produced a video called Mashairi celebrating liberal writers in Kenya who fought for democracy through conscious writing.
J: Mashairi did very well and was nominated in the A play list of MTV Base and MTV. Thereafter, I directed Eastlands Gold. The Docu-drama was later nominated in various film festivals and screened at the Real life Film Festival and Clermont Festival. Afterwards, I worked as a co-producer in the independent film class work with Katrin Ender productions from Germany.
P: You then decided to move to America. Why?
J: I wanted to learn about Hollywood movie making and so I moved to Boston with my brother in 2006. I went there with no plan, really, just a dream. While there, I picked up some classes and in my free time, I would direct plays for the Kenyan community living in Boston.
P: What happened next?
J: I then moved to Houston later that year and did a course in Film Studies from the Houston Community College in Texas, USA and completed in 2007. In 2008, I moved to California for three months.
P: When did you write Leo?
J: In 2008. I then took the script to various studios in Dallas and California but no one seemed interested. They didn’t get the vision.
P: What vision was this?
J: I wanted to tell a different story about Africa, a positive story. Film is very powerful. I want to use film to tell positive and inspiring stories about Kenya.
P: The rejection did not deter you?
J: It only made me work harder. It taught me to be more innovative and in 2009, I got my first Kenyan investor.
P: When did you return to Kenya?
J: I came back home in 2010, on fire. While working on logistics for the film, I met the film’s financier Donald Githae. He also became my executive producer.
P: Chris Kirubi also financed you?
J: Apart from Bernard Wambugo from the USA, I got two more investors; Chris Kirubi and Gulian Kyula, who bought into my dream.
P: How did you get the Spiderman films guy who also worked with you?
J: In 2010, I found out from a friend that film director Abe Martinez, one of the directors of photography for the Spiderman films franchise was coming to Kenya. I sent him a message online and later the film script. After reading the script, he agreed to work with us.
P: Jeff Koinange plays the villain in your film...
J: Originally we had hoped to get John Sibi Okumu, but that did not work out. We were looking for someone with an authoritative godfather-like voice and presence, and Jeff came to mind. He liked the script and the rest is history.
P: How much did it cost to make your film?
J: I will not say (smiles).
P: Give us a little hint...
J: The amount we spent on Leo is close to what it cost to make a low budget film in Hollywood.
P: What next after Leo?
J: I will definitely be making more Kenyan films and sharing them not only with Kenyans, but the international community.