Ep.59 Behind The Scenes | Victor Gatonye

A small-scale 'Hollywood' in Nairobi


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Victor Gatonye [EP.59]

[00:00:00] Victor Gatonye: We did the most scary place, in Nairobi. Literally we had like an ambulance on standby because of all the effects. We didn't know you're supposed to warn people. But that, that was like the exciting entrance into theater that I got.

[00:00:15] [Afrika Design Ident]: Afrika Design Ident]

[00:00:18] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I'm really looking forward to getting to know you as well. It's a real privilege to have you.

[00:00:23] I'm very happy as well to be recording from the Mara here. So really quiet and peaceful and beautiful. So so just before we started recording I asked you what we want to talk about, and I actually, it kind of really aligns with some of the stuff I had written down as well. The, the main thing that I've seen coming out of your work is really that it can cover tough subjects, right?

[00:00:47] And, I just really wanted to know what drives your storytelling as a director, as a maker of these pieces. Is there a particular reason that you've chosen to cover some of these topics?

[00:01:00] Victor Gatonye: I think throughout the experience of starting to do drama work in the country, which it goes back to 1980s around when I was born. That's when TV drama became very strong in this country with a film called Darubini. And we all grew up reading about it and idolizing about it. And Darubini was about the Kenyan, the Kenyan in the 80s, who's starting a business, a restaurant.

[00:01:26] And they have a family and they've moved into the new town and the challenges of men in the new town. And it was beautifully done. Until today, it's very famous. And while some of the actors have left us... I've been blessed to work with most of them at a very tender age. So that really inspired me when I got into the world of TV drama coming from a theater actor from high school.

[00:01:51] I was a theater actor in high school. And when I came to Nairobi that's the first thing I will set foot on and I was really good on stage because high school stage performance in this country is beautiful around the entire country. So I was almost ready for the game by the time I got in and having this love and background of watching a lot of TV content, mostly in our national broadcaster, KBC, and having parents who were really would watch as a family.

[00:02:21] I grew up in a time where parents, you'd sit with your parents, watch and discuss what you are watching, and my parents would ask you for your opinion. That was quite rare then. So I always count that as a blessing.

[00:02:33] So this having to grow up watching shows like Family Affairs was a very big hit show in the 90s. So whenever I touch drama work, family comes first. I always check for the family component. What are we doing for the family component in this particular work? Be it a military show, be it a health show, be it an agriculture show.

[00:02:55] And that's how I begin to give my work character because I want all my work to have a character that when you watch it and you meet me, you start drawing lines and you say, oh, oh, okay, now I, oh, I see, I see. I saw that in your work. And that for me is very important when. I keep working on this niche or this character building in my work.

[00:03:17] So yes, I am guided in that family. The second thing is integration, which really flows off my name and my understanding of my culture. I'll get back to that. But is the world where we are is we just have to integrate. If you want to rip off something nice. With the time we're left with. It's not a time for differences.

[00:03:36] And if you look at successful people, successful economies, successful companies, the first thing they dealt with was difference. So I want my work also to encompass that. So, coming into the end of 90s, there was a movement of fear of tribes in the country because we had tribal clashes, politics affects tribes in the country, but we are beautiful.

[00:03:59] We've got 43 tribes or tongues and almost going up to 72 sub languages. It's beautiful. And when I do my work, I am not scared to say this person is from this group. I don't create illusion or names. I don't advise to create illusion or names so that a product or a TV series can be safe. No, no.

[00:04:22] People must come from somewhere. I come from somewhere. I have my vices. I have my virtues. I have my beliefs. The things I make, the things I break. I hope that the ones I make will pay for the ones I break and that's life. That's what brings integration. When you've got no fear of who you are, you accept yourself wholesomely.

[00:04:41] So I would say that's like a sum up of Victor Gatonye and what happens on screen.

[00:04:47] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): So take me back to those conversations with your parents then. What conversation stands out to you from all of those ones you had? What piece of media was it that you recall having a conversation with your parents about and then reflecting and really impacting you?

[00:05:03] Victor Gatonye: The one that most people will remember, the one that's deepest in my heart was a program brought by Fred Obachi Machoka, who's now in Citizen TV. He's a senior at Citizen TV. Then he was a presenter at KBC, and it was a musical show.

[00:05:19] And what he managed to do with the musical show is the entire family would sit there, and we would watch various songs. And when it came to a song that was slightly adult oriented, he would gladly tell you, move aside, go to the kitchen, go to the bedroom. It's time to go to the loo or check your books tomorrow for school. Let daddy and mommy listen to this song. Similar thing he would tell daddy and mommy you better stand aside.

[00:05:44] They're about to dance. They're about to break up into that dance of theirs. Be careful. They don't hit you. And what he did is Fred Obachi managed to make TV family. It was interesting. It was a time where the new things coming into our society, your parents had a chance to ask you either during the show or after the show, and also you could understand your parent with the sort of music they love.

[00:06:08] I remember once dad telling us in his time, the best dance was called the bump. And you literally keep hitting your hips together. And most of us, that's how we ended up being born. And you see, it's a silly story, but it makes you start to appreciate your parents in a human way, and it draws you closer.

[00:06:27] Even till today when I hear Fred or I see him, I always remember him setting a bridge to be able to speak to parents. Of course, this is kind of unique, not everyone went through this. Not everyone got the chance to have very approachable parents. That's a reality because of the socio political and the changes that were happening in Africa in the 80s, they were really fast and they caught up with many parents and either they had to be really harsh and have rules just to survive to keep your family safe. But my dad who was in mechanical engineering and had worked with the biggest corporate then Kenya Railways, had really traveled.

[00:07:08] So he was very open minded. He was a brave man. He married a military girl and my mom also well traveled, well equipped one of the earliest ladies in enforcement as much as it was clerical. There's a big pride in that. So when you have such parents, your worldview is almost accepting.

[00:07:27] You want to look at the world with, let's see what we have here rather than this is not us. And that's sort of foundation that I have in terms of the arts. Also my grandparents, both sides, very similar, quite traveled. I have a family legacy story. She's really beautiful.

[00:07:45] You can find it online. It's called the story of Gatonye wa Munene. Who was Gatonye's child or son, actually last son of Munene, who's thought to be this great person who came to this region. I can't say Kenya then because there wasn't a Kenyan demarcated, but we're speaking of before 1880s and our grandfather Gatonye wa Munene will travel from a place in Muranga called Kagio.

[00:08:12] And he'll come to where I am recording this, which is Kiamba. And he will do one of the first and earliest land purchases. And he'll use cows, goats, sheep to buy over 9, 000 acres. And we have no idea how he got that thinking. It's still very hidden. There are many stories about him. But whenever I look back and I see the story of the person I am named after; one, I have no fear of working anywhere in the world.

[00:08:42] I have no fear of cultural interaction. He had 17 wives, so I'm not fearful of many wives. But you can see the open mindedness of such a person. And he left such a big legacy that, I mean, you still say a name here and everyone just poses like, really? You're one of them? Which is a nice thing.

[00:09:03] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, that really leads into another question we like to ask a lot of the time and considering you know so much of your family story. What's the reason or meaning behind your name?

[00:09:13] Victor Gatonye: I have five names.

[00:09:15] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): hmm.

[00:09:15] Victor Gatonye: Everyone wanted to name me, but the names I use for my career is Victor Gatonye Kuria, and Gatonye is really my name because I'm the second son of a great man called Kuria. And in our culture, if you get a son as a firstborn, you name them after your father, get a daughter, you name them after your mother, and then you start naming them after wife's parents, so I'm the second son.

[00:09:38] So I directly get the name of my mother's father, who is a descendant of Gatonye. And then I am attached by the name Kuria for where I come from and where my sort of spiritual and ancestry line lies. So I am a almost blessed child. We are called Thobas in my culture. We are allowed a lot of leeway because we are a visitor child.

[00:10:00] My name Gatonye, it doesn't have a direct meaning in terms of the Kikuyu naming system because it's a very early name, but the quickest and more practical understanding of it is one who can integrate easily. It actually directly means to enter and going back looking at Gatonye, Munene, Geture, my lineage that way is we literally just enter a place and we be.

[00:10:27] It took me I think around 30 years to come back to my ancestral home and my family. I've always lived elsewhere in the coast, in Kambaland, and I have many friends in the entire country. So, I think that name nicely haunts me.

[00:10:44] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): That's good. It does feel like people often have names that suit them. And you were just telling me about being a traveler and being comfortable anywhere. So it seems perfectly suited. Yeah. So you said you started as an actor and then you had experiences, you were lucky enough to work with other actors, with other directors on stage, etc. So how was the journey for you from wanting to be an actor to realizing that you, are going to go into being a director and a storyteller like that?

[00:11:14] Victor Gatonye: Okay. Well, it starts off with a very funny story. In the schooling days, I schooled in Nairobi. I was born in Eastleigh area, then later we moved into South B area. Which was somewhat middle class then but when it came to arts, it was the naughty, noisy children that were given arts just to sort of control you.

[00:11:35] So I was one. I was naughty. My son is a total copy of me, he's all over the place. So I ended up being in acting like that. Simply as a control measure, but when choosing my high school, my dad advised this thing that you seem to be so good at, why don't you go to a school that, you know, will appreciate it.

[00:11:56] So that's how I ended up in Highway secondary school which was a giant, in terms of school theater. And of course I got myself into, I literally walked in and said, I can act and I was picked in very quickly. Had the four years that were really beautiful. We traveled to a different town every year with drama. So that was a beautiful memory that I have.

[00:12:17] I've been to Western Kenya. I've represented in Nairobi, I've represented in Mombasa, represented in Kiambu Central Province as it was called then. When I finished high school, because of being a senior in high school, quote unquote, so I started to train the other students. And that's how that whole idea of directing came up.

[00:12:38] We won tremendously in my last year, where we helped direct a play. John Mwangi, now in Equity, and I, directed a play called Imperfections, in which I starred as a character, Spider. Sometimes I have people calling me that if I travel away from Nairobi. But we won. We won professors and doctors of the accolades of theater in East Africa.

[00:13:00] We were these stupid two boys in the newspaper the front cover, and it was written, Winners of Winners, just that way. I was picked for a newspaper article. When I went to the theater, I didn't have to introduce myself in Nairobi, and so I was picked, and I quickly joined the British Council Theater.

[00:13:18] There was a space given by British Council. There were people performing there. Heartstrings Ensemble we also made ours, which was called Skidnet. So, we already found our comedy culture in Nairobi Theatre, but coming from high school, we sort of inspired each other and we began to do thrillers. And for two years, we did the most scary place, in Nairobi.

[00:13:41] Literally we had like an ambulance on standby because of all the effects. We didn't know you're supposed to warn people. But that, that was like the exciting entrance into theater that I got and people like Gilbert Lukalia and Victor Ber. And just getting more confidence to be on stage to do different genres started to give me a chance to have my own character so that you're no longer necessarily idolizing someone, which is a nice place to start.

[00:14:11] We men have that. We have this man that you like, and you really want to be like them 100%. You even eat what they eat. But then as you mature, you begin now to break up and now have your own character, own goals. The more I was on stage and I was began to do commercials. I sort of began to feel stories that we were being given were not resonating very well with what I wanted to be.

[00:14:37] So I left the stage when I got a chance to go to campus. So that put me out of Nairobi again, when I went to the Eastern University in Lukenya in what we call now Machakos County. So I was then out of that sphere of English comedy and very old, old European comedy. That's what we were exposed to.

[00:15:01] So while at Daystar, that's really where I would say my vision matured by interacting with people from all over East Africa. So you're not now just looking at Kenya. We've got Southern Sudan. We have Tanzania. We have so many people, people from all over the world. We also had international exchange students and I ended up because of my talking and knowing everyone, I ended up being part of the organizing committees of all those events.

[00:15:29] At some point I was like the alpha organizer in the campus. And it's really, really felt good and affected my work. So when I came back after graduating, we sort of were brave. We started to do our own things. It wasn't easy. It looks like we were rebellious, but we'd come together and do a play our own way.

[00:15:50] And we started to venture into the Sheng language, which is the street slang language negatively looked on from maybe a parental perspective of keeping secrets or wanting to plan something away from the norm or your family heritage. But really, Sheng... sheng for me growing up was an identity.

[00:16:09] Everywhere you lived, you had a Sheng and that would identify you. It would either really put you in trouble or really save you, depending on the context. So, going back to Sheng, I kept being brave enough to bring it little and little. And of course that negative bit of it made it even harder to get fans.

[00:16:27] But, if you jump forward we are now at the theatre. We almost have a sort of middle class standard, people. We are like half of the ladder of success. So we have some voice, this group of ours. There came a training program called Makutano Junction, which was health and started with tuberculosis and AIDS and all the misconceptions.

[00:16:51] So I had been doing something they called TFD, Theatre for Development, that we covered female genital mutilation. We covered civic education under the Section 2A. So I was getting exposed to now a higher level of content that has more and deeper subtexts. So getting into Makutano, that was like the best school you could ever, ever go to in Eastern Africa.

[00:17:17] We had trainings for technical, trainings for acting, training for the subject that you're writing in. And I ended up becoming a guinea pig. I would be in one department and I would do well and then I would be kicked off to another. And then I started to write. And then one day I wrote a script for a director called Shani Gruel.

[00:17:39] And it came back with like four full scapes of notes. And I told my senior then I was doing sound, I told him I'll never write again. This guy hated my writing. Until my senior, he's called David, he asked me, one day you'll be a director, and you'll ask yourself where he got the time to write four full scapes in between directing the show.

[00:17:59] Oh, and then I went and I asked him, so why did you write so much? He said, because you have something but you're all over the place. So that sort of gave me an excitement that he saw something in what I was doing and it didn't even take a month. One day he just plugged me into directing and walked off set.

[00:18:16] So here I am, I haven't figured out writing. Now I have over 68 people, some of which were in the shows I mentioned in the eighties. So now I'm supposed to tell people like grew up watching what to do. And that was the worst day of my life because everything I said was wrong and bad and confused, but somehow everyone just said, keep, keep, keep saying it in your language.

[00:18:40] Don't try and say it in their language. Just say what you think you want. And when I started to say it in Swahili I want to sell the story of the switch in this scene. They realized that I really knew a way of storytelling that had every technical aspect in it, as much as I've never gone to school for it.

[00:18:58] So then that's how I got to know what to train in. And the whole world of directing was born at that point.

[00:19:06] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I have to say the first thing I thought when you said this director gave you four pages of feedback was he must have seen something. I can imagine if you're giving feedback as a designer on a portfolio, I'll give feedback. And the more feedback, perhaps it's, it's not that the more you care, but you want to show that you care, you want to give them something of value back as well.

[00:19:27] So that was really, that's really exciting that they took the time to do that for you. And then you got that comfort into being able to tell stories in Swahili and Sheng. And then you've created a few things in Sheng as well, and Swahili, right? That's, that's where things took off.

[00:19:42] Victor Gatonye: Yes. After working for media for four and a half years, I thought I'll challenge myself into that dream I still had. As much as I love developmental science content, and we were learning a lot of things. When I thought I had some money to risk, I left respectably, David never forgave me, but we were very good friends.

[00:20:02] So I started to be a freelancer. And to look for shows or create shows that would speak about people I grew up with. And would have Sheng, would have Swahili and would have spoken Swahili, not taught Swahili cause that's where I think we had gone into a loop. You'd watch a show. It was very, very educational Swahili and no one speaks like that.

[00:20:26] They may write like that, but no one speaks like that. So years later into freelance, getting jobs, meeting people, going for tremendous numbers of workshops in and around the country. The company MultiChoice will start to fund shows that were a bit free and free minded. So when I landed in MultiChoice MNET, it was like a duck on water.

[00:20:49] It was so much at home. Landing on the first show that I did was called Changes with 'Tosh' Gitonga. I did season three with Tosh. It was fun. The first time I'd ever done long sequences of a drug baron, big investigations. You have to research who is MI6, who's who, when these things are being mentioned.

[00:21:09] And I couldn't believe that, wow, we'd reach a place where our dramas were now international. Someone in another country would watch them and go, Oh, that's what happens in that country. Interesting. And maybe they can even build in parallels again. So more confidence again, confidence increased. Working with people like Tosh who are more exposed and very kind to open up.

[00:21:29] We kept working then we started to do the Kenyan versions of daily shows, which are monsters. So we were commissioned to do a show called Kona.

[00:21:39] So after being commissioned into this daily show, it's like a military training for two years. That's all you do, it's so much knowledge you gain. And then the mind now begins to have more power. And you say, this is my style. This is what I would want. You even say it with your mouth now.

[00:21:54] You're no longer just doing it secretly. That's where you'll find even in my papers, we formed a company called Zamaradi Productions and formed between a partnership of people who worked with in the last 15 years together. That's George Mungai being our oldest and most exposed. Appie Matere on production.

[00:22:12] There's Gibson, who was pure mathematics. I was in a financial school, so, he doesn't do film, but he knows the math of film. And there's Mr Kioni Joseph, who is from the seventies. So he knows Kenyan TV, not just what we think is TV. He knows the history and it became very exciting. We had some float and we did eight original Kenyan dramas.

[00:22:37] And they stemmed from experiences that many of us have gone through in trade towns all over Africa, where you come up and you set up a small shop, bring your cousin to serve tea, then you bring your other cousin from up country to serve fruits, and your friend's small cousin can do phone repairs. So you find it's a whole corridor of people who really know each other doing business.

[00:23:02] So there's relational issues, there's business, there's religion, there's all social aspects and economical aspects are in a show. And to be able to do that kind of subtext full show in Sheng and Swahili was really nice. The show was called Trade Center. I'll send you a bit of those. It's there in my document, but I can send you the posters.

[00:23:24] So Trade Center, we wanted to have to do it. It was a pilot project for Kenya, but we want to escalate it in every town in Africa. I know it's very ambitious, but any town in Africa, the show can fall in. And that was the thinking of Zamaradi. When we do a show, it must be able to be replicated elsewhere in the continent and hopefully anywhere in the world because trade and socializing is a human thing.

[00:23:50] It's not an African thing. It's a human thing. And that was the spirit. So We pushed our dream to the extent where we built our own small Hollywood. Unbelievable. So we got materials that were locally available. We started to think, if we want to do a story, let's do a story in a place where we can afford the materials.

[00:24:13] So we started looking at towns away from Nairobi, iron sheets, wood, small roads. And we got a place in Lavington, Nairobi, and we built an entire village. It started with a shack, then another shack, then three shacks. Then after four months, it was shacks on top of shacks. And it was amazing. And we could put the camera in positions that you couldn't really, if you were shooting on location.

[00:24:39] We could rebrand a house, we could have scenes where a house explodes, or fire happens, or people fight, and, you know, we escalated our performances into interesting areas now and we shot on that piece of land, we shot four of our serieses. I came up with Sunrise, with very good writers, we created it, and expanded it.

[00:25:02] Sunrise was... I'm passionate about that's my first show. I feel I expressed the way I think and I was going home from a drink. I used to live in Rift Valley, then. To be more precise. I was going home and I heard gunshots. And turning the corner, there was a thief. He was on the ground. I'll rephrased that.

[00:25:23] I don't know whether he was a thief but he'd been shot by police. And on one side, there was milk pouring out. And on the other side, of course, he'd been blasted by a G3, so there was a lot of blood. And sort of just being told walk, walk, walk. Go past. And I kept looking, and that picture for me stuck.

[00:25:41] And I always wondered, why did he have milk? Did he have a condition? He has to take milk. Was he taking milk to his child? So that's when I came up with the idea of Sunrise, and it was in the morning after they said bad people on society, the thieves, were coming home, some to take their small sisters and brothers to school, others to sleep, others back to their families, others back to their sick parents because really on the ground, in my experience and how I've grown, crime did not always just come from evil defiance.

[00:26:16] It didn't, and I lived in that sphere of life. There was a need to take care of a sick parent. There was a need to fit in and be a man and be able to take a girl to the disco on Friday. There were interesting human needs all over. Of course there was deviance-ness, in a sense, there was.

[00:26:32] But there was that level of people just wanting to be, but being in a context where it wasn't as easy for them. So they resulted in crime. I mean, my first bus fare to the National Theatre, like, for the first year was actually paid by thugs. Like, literally.

[00:26:51] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): How did that happen? Did they say, Oh, you look like a kid with potential. Go to the seat. Why would thugs send you to the theater? Yeah.

[00:26:58] Victor Gatonye: They would see me rehearsing, holding papers trying to memorize and they go, what's this? And you explain, and they said, you know what, since we can't really reform and people already think this is what we are, how about we make something good out of you? And so they would make sure, and they would ask me, do you need to go to the theater?

[00:27:16] Here is 10, Bob here is 20 Bob. Very interesting but they even once came for the show, scared like everyone else but that is what then I wrote into Sunrise and it was a well received idea. People could touch base with it. Many parents admitted their son is caught, but really their son was a breadwinner. And no one really knew, but the son was the breadwinner. So the case is not as straightforward. And those were the stories in Sunrise and the chief trying to make a better context for these children or the next generation so that they don't have to turn into crime. So we were not glorifying crime, but we were just looking at society's issue from a more practical perspective and trying to get a headway out of it.

[00:27:59] So moving on that way, the shows that we did were always about using what you have currently in society and seeing whether you can make headway. It doesn't have to be years or light years of progress, but just headway. Can tomorrow become better? Just tomorrow. And then tomorrow we'll think about the next day.

[00:28:20] So we did series like FIHI, which was set again, ironically, away from Nairobi at a time when all the shows being funded was centered on the new Nairobi, the new landscape, the skyscrapers, the beauty, music. And I felt this is beautiful, but it's still only resonates to a certain place when I travel out of Nairobi.

[00:28:44] So Fihi was about a village, of course, a utopia village, but the village wanted a better governance. It wanted better religion that spoke to the people. They wanted better social control. They were dealing with alcoholism from the family level and Fihi was that utopia village that also they had to deal with issues of past injustice and family heritage issues, which we don't deal with often and they come in form of many other issues like family breakdown and hatred among families. So they were looking at these issues head on. Of course, we were creating situations that made them have to look at these issues. And Fihi was rejected in Kenya from the first time we made the idea.

[00:29:32] We pitched and we were rejected in every single place we went to. It was painful. We were told to make it more classier, more aspirational. And that's exactly what we did not want to do. So when we got a chance to do it, and risk the financial burden of doing it, we did it now in that village. We expanded our village, and we did all of Fihi in a made up village.

[00:29:56] We literally used the spirit of the show. We used what we had sold a bit of land, created Fihi the village, and we shot 56 episodes. When we sold it the first time in Tanzania, it was show number one. Now, this is a back story. You know, us and Tanzania, we fight over which Swahili is the best. And they hate us because of Sheng but that's the irony.

[00:30:19] It became show number one in another country, even in a harder context. So, that excited us to really go into doing stories where we could see our aunties, our grandmothers, our parents, not illusional people that we really may not be able to meet in society.

[00:30:38] I don't know how a CS's wife does. I don't know what they do in the morning for the first two hours because there's no CS in our family. And majority of the viewers in Kenya, they don't have a CS in their family, like a cabinet secretary or a business mogul. But I know what my aunt does, the one who's a nurse at the local clinic or at the referral hospital.

[00:30:58] I know her. I know her very well. I know she likes a drink on Friday, which is comical irony. So if I put her on screen and I give her a life and a family, the audience, they fell in love. It became bushfire and so we produced the other eight shows. We've sold them almost twice now, and I think some of them are going to a fourth sale.

[00:31:19] It's not as successful as we thought, but they're breaking even, which is nice. So coming close to now where we are as Zamaradi. We got a chance to adopt a show from South Africa, which was sort of African spirit of integrating. So one of the ideas was to pick an idea right across from the other side of Africa and do it.

[00:31:40] So we had been talking in this scope about this idea. So we were easily picked. We were the people who'd been talking about it for years. So we went to South Africa and I studied on a show called The River with director Zolani Phakade in Johannesburg, and then when we came back, we set up the show called Kina, which was our version. And again, it talked about the world of the rich and the poor, but not the usual cry baby cry. No, no, no. It was the existence in both areas which have their own struggles and the parallels of the two. So there was now a show that showed interdependence of these two classes, which is what you see in Nairobi.

[00:32:22] You'll always see people walking on the roads. They are moving from one economical side to another, to work, to get food, to make their side better. And so Kina has really worked well. We had those characters I just mentioned. We had like the main loved character comes from Kamiti maximum prison, the first time we see him. And he robs someone cause he's a thug.

[00:32:46] He's a thug but his mother loves him. And she loves him cause anything he steals, the first thing he does is improves the house. He would make the roof, he would do something. So here comes another cross purpose way of telling a story and looking at society as it is. And Kina has been immensely successful.

[00:33:04] We finished filming. We've done over 930 episodes. It took us four years. We've trained just shy of 30 people who now have new careers. Not only just training, but they've been plugged into new careers. We've trained six directors who are all employed apart from me. So it's been, if you measure the impact of a show that's designed for the people, and I've seen it now, it helps the people doing the show, and it helps society.

[00:33:36] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I have to say it's really admirable that you're both taking characters from real life because effectively we are a lot of the time our culture, whoever is directing, whoever is instructing to executive produce these things wants us to look aspirationally whatever country we may be in and And it's important to actually look at the real lives that are happening, right?

[00:33:59] Instead of fabricating other lives that we should all be looking up to apparently. And you're doing that as well with the actual actors with the directors. So I guess when you told me that you're taking a well earned rest after five years, that's because of Kina.

[00:34:14] Victor Gatonye: Yes.

[00:34:14] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Mm hmm,

[00:34:15] Victor Gatonye: For me, it's that maturity of first coming from doing this absolute show where you're looking at only characters in this area. Then after doing Kina, then now you're looking at holistic society because in Kina we had business moguls, head of police, but they rely on the people. They know each other.

[00:34:33] And it's one society. So the whole design of thinking in terms of doing a piece, like thinking of my next piece, it will be more holistic. And I think it will touch people the right way and sort of just make you realize. In Tanzania, there's an artist who said Msanii ni kioo cha jamii, which translates that an artist is a mirror for the family. Really what you do is you hold up a mirror. And then let people see what they see. And I know of course, art is business and you must direct certain thoughts, but it's sweet when your audience just sees what they want to see, almost like in theater as people see an ensemble and then they choose who to watch.

[00:35:12] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Mm hmm. You've talked about bringing in actors and you've talked about yourself coming in as a young actor and being given those opportunities. Before our conversation, I had a chat with an actor, actually. And I said, if you could ask Victor any question. What would it be?

[00:35:30] And they want to know how do you cast people for characters? How do you bring in new talent? Right? That's what every actor wants to know. So, so maybe we can let them know.

[00:35:39] Victor Gatonye: Yes. For me, the casting and pre production part of a production is always my jewel. That's where really I am strong in. Getting new actors, or rather getting actors for me, comes from hours and hours of either reflection, reading, a lot of observation. I have a hobby of just sitting and watching human beings without interrupting and just seeing... whoa, that's interesting. He didn't say hi, but he tapped his head. Peculiar, nice behaviors that we have which I think is good cinematic language so that you're not just talking in film, but you're seeing something new.

[00:36:14] And I am very passionate with actors who become the characters. So that I don't really look at the star-ness of a person. That's for my producer to tell me we need this person because of numbers and I listen to them but I look at performers who are able to let go of themselves and without much care, just become these characters.

[00:36:37] And if they can add something, just something every day to the character, then they are growing. That said, I really like to mix old school actors. The ones who are there before now this hype times actor, I'd call them. And then you have newcomers, total newcomers. And we always have trainings going on in our productions.

[00:36:59] We have before productions, in between and we also help them at the end of the show to sort of let go of the character. So when you mix these three form of actors. They are safe. The new ones are safe with the hands of the old ones and the global heat influencers are there to excite us and also give us numbers because it's a business. Business needs numbers.

[00:37:20] Numbers is money. Most of the time we will write on our online pages Zamaradi production has. I for certain, I have all this information. I put out on either African history, awareness, and a lot of my experiences on set and people that have come to love and have inspired me. So in all online platforms, Victor Gatonye or director G you can go there and many times you'll find information.

[00:37:50] I have a lot of fun on TikTok where I show my experiences of film, the emotions at every one point. So it makes like a nice series if you go to my TikTok page. And again, so many people come to ask for either actors, they come to ask for work or just inspiration.

[00:38:08] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Definitely directing people to your TikTok then. And thanks for sharing that. Also it's a really good to hear that you're bringing in that balance from your experience as well of how to develop as an actor and giving people experienced members of the community to work with as well.

[00:38:24] Well done. Well done on that. If you've got other things you'd like to add other things you'd like to share we'll definitely link to your work by the way from from our website.

[00:38:32] Victor Gatonye: Awesome. Maybe in short is to talk about something called Nderi film village. There is a small village in Kiambu very tucked in village where we came in to do a few scenes. Because of our genre of village shows and today as we speak, every major series in the country and some international series and a show like Mpakani series, which is very unique.

[00:38:57] It's a military tactical drama that we did. They've all shot in Nderi and so our village that we made a small village somewhere, that dream of a small village now has a home in Nderi village, where we employed so many people over five years. Now there's another series going on. In fact, two.

[00:39:18] Our small utopia dream found a place in Nderi, which you're free to visit that now we have a place we are related to it, but it's bigger than us now, but there's a whole film village in our country that actually functions has its own economy.

[00:39:34] It's recognized by government. It's under an affiliate group called EFWE. We have actors ranging from 80 to 5 years. It's amazing. It always excites us, the village. So, I think going into the future, you'll find me at Nderi Film Village.

[00:39:50] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Nderi Film Village. Is that also an extension of the previous village that you'd built? Does that village still exist for people to visit?

[00:39:58] Victor Gatonye: A few years into it, we had to move and it was painful to set it down, but we hope to build another village soon cause we are going back into original content. So it will still come back.

[00:40:10] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Awesome. That's good. That's good. Well, see you at Nderi Film Village then.

[00:40:15] Victor Gatonye: Awesome. Yes. I'll send you a number of pictures of our thing, but Nderi is there. It's very exciting to visit. And you're welcome.

[00:40:23] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Awesome. Awesome. Thank you.

In this episode, we have the pleasure of introducing Victor Gatonye, who holds the role of Creative/Technical Director at Zamaradi Productions, boasting nearly two decades of experience in the realm of TV and Film production. Victor is widely acknowledged for his pivotal role in nurturing Kenya's Film industry, steering Zamaradi Productions to create more than 71 TV films, 11 TV Shows, a feature film, and successfully executing two international projects in Canada and Sweden.

He takes us on a captivating journey, providing his unique perspective on the history of TV and Film in Kenya and recounting his personal evolution into the multifaceted roles of a Film/TV director, actor, story developer, and writer.

Victor's storytelling in TV and Film genuinely resonates with the human experience, offering a lens to examine the challenges we encounter in life. Furthermore, you'll gain insights into the creation of a small-scale 'Hollywood' by Victor and his team, as well as how it has organically grown into something more extensive than just Zamaradi Productions.

This is the 29th episode under the ‘Shifting Narratives’ program supported by the British Council SSA Arts.

Episode Credits

Produced by Nairobi Design

HostAdrian Jankowiak

Producer, Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)