Judy attributes many of her opportunities as a filmmaker to being based in Nairobi. She says that there has been a history of Kenyan women creating films since the ’80s. It is such a significant phenomenon that people have written their PHD’s on the subject.
Judy’s theory is that in other film markets where films offer more money and prestige “it’s much more male… I think the women get squashed out of stuff.” In Kenya filmmaking is literally a labour of love “It’s a big hustle that never seems to turn up any money for the filmmaker…it’s insane. I don’t think guys like things like that!” she explains.
Ironically it is this environment that Judy is trying to change with her role as Executive Director of Docubox. Docubox is a Film Fund that was set up in Nairobi with the aim of “investigating the needs of the film community and within 5 years enabling local producers to tell local stories”. Currently the fund is supporting 6 films which Judy believes may not have made without their help.
Judy didn’t start out in film, her first career was in advertising where she became the first non-expat Creative Director of international agency in Kenya. Her concern with the industry was that it was very “expat heavy” and run by Heads of Marketing, most of whom ‘weren’t interested in understanding Kiswahili or delving deeper into Kenyan psyche”. She felt this led to adverts that didn’t win over Kenyan audiences. In fact, when she switched on the TV in general it all seemed to be re-runs of the Australian soap, Neighbours, and she says “I’d search for a face like mine but I wouldn’t be able to find it.”
It was the lack of local content that drew Judy to filmmaking that, and the fact that she was tired of “telling stories about brands” after 10 years in advertising. The transition to her new career was never an intimidating one for her. Within the first year of leaving she had made two successful films and she says “I remember coming onto the set for the first time and just loving it”. Since then she has tried to make a film every year and the latest, a documentary called “Scarred: The Anatomy Of a Massacre“, was launched earlier this year. It was screened to a packed auditorium, and a storm of interest on social media.
Currently Judy is trying to balance filmmaking and running Docubox. She says “becoming a filmmaker wasn’t terrifying but setting up Docubox was”. Now she has firmly overcome her fear and she is passionate about the impact they can have. She has realised she can give Kenyan filmmakers the support that she always looked for, not just in monetary terms, but also by building a supportive film community.
Judy says “We’re actually in a position where we’re changing things. I’ve learnt that you can transform a space. You don’t have to float along with the tide, you can control where you’re heading.” Both through her own storytelling and supporting others Judy is shaping the industry film by film.