Two women – Jane Wanjiru Mumbi and Mercy Owegi. Both are wearing face coverings and only with head and shoulders visible, are facing left as though looking at something. The woman on the furthest left holds a Canon video camera.

Calling the shots

Creativity and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Sometimes this is because it’s the path to true creative freedom. Or maybe creative thinkers just need to be their own boss. For graduates of K-Youth Media in Nairobi, it’s about making their own opportunities.

“How did I want K-Youth to help me during my time?” asks Kizito Gamba, who completed a course with K-Youth Media back in 2012and is now a board member. “It was to equip me, not only to tell stories, but to get work and make me more financially independent”. Kizito was one of the first graduates of K-Youth Media, which was set up as a non-profit with the aim of teaching media production and communication skills to young people from the informal settlements of Nairobi. The students are ambitious, but lack the finances to continue their education, so K-Youth Media fills the gap and in doing so, gives them both marketable skills and social mobility.

However, it is a sad fact that under the layer of educational inequality that K-Youth Media students and graduates face every day, there is also another troubling challenge. For the female graduates, breaking into the film industry is tough. “Women are kind of disadvantaged in this male dominated industry,” explains Kizito. “So, we applied for a grant, and were asked to do a follow-up documentary of some of the women who went through K-Youth Media Training.” The result is a short piece called Calling the Shots, created predominantly by a team of female filmmakers, and follows their journey into the film industry. In particular, these women faced a deeper challenge, as they have specialised in quite technical aspects of filmmaking. “It is said that the technical bit of it should be handled mainly by males,” laments Kizito.

Five women stand in a row, posing for the camera. They are all smiling. The women on the left, right and centre are wearing trouser. The remaining two wear patterned dresses with collars.
The team celebrated the first screening of Calling the Shots on International Women’s Day. L-R: Margaret Gathoni, Mercy Owegi, Shannel Okoth and Viona Faith with co-director Kore Abong’.

Not according to these young women, who have all gone from K-Youth Media to have successful freelance careers. Mercy Owegi is an aspiring professional producer and director. Shannel has her own photography studio. Margaret Gathoni is a lighting technician (sometimes called a ‘gaffer’). And finally, Viona Faith is working as a sound operator and currently dipping her toe into the world of creating musical scores for films. The team working on this project with K-Youth Media are also responsible for an earlier short film called Zawadi, which depicts a young woman’s life in the urban slums. Their experiences of taking this film to audiences around Kenya, and even a showing at the Kenyan Embassy in Sweden, form a key part of this new documentary.

Of course, K-Youth Media is – first and foremost – a charity, so funding and fundraising are never far from their thoughts. This, in part, is why the organisation is so keen for their graduates to take their skills and use them to create sustainable incomes. Fostering a passion and drive to succeed is core to what they do. However, the media production and filmmaking training that they provide relies on partnerships with MediaGymnasiet in Sweden, B-Kids Australia and the Obonyo Foundation, as well as grant funding and the support of organisations such as Canon, for equipment loans, educational support and expertise. Kizito would very much like to take Calling the Shots to the widest possible audience, but for now they are exercising caution. Instead, sending it to select film festivals and controlled distribution screenings, with a view to raising more funds to either increase the documentary length, its distribution, or both. “Once you out it on YouTube, that’s it,” says Kizito, who would very much like to see the message of Calling the Shots make a more targeted impact that creates maximum benefit for K-Youth Media and their young filmmakers.

Ultimately, these driven young women are defying convention by ‘calling the shots’ both in their careers and on set. It’s a powerful K-Youth Media success story but, perhaps more importantly, these young women will also serve as an inspiration to the next generation of women and girls who will seek media training through the organisation. Approximately 800 young people have come through their doors since 2011, searching for a path to live their passion, and many have found their way into an industry that is notoriously tough to break into. Learning the technical skills is necessary to achieve this, but K-Youth Media also teach something else just as important: that anything is possible.

Watch the trailer for Calling the Shots and follow K-Youth Media on Instagram for news on their latest screenings.

Written by Katie Simmonds, Senior Business Development Manager – Special Projects (Canon Miraisha & Canon Academy)