Behind the Scenes: Whistleblower Movie Director & Producer Kick it with KenyaBuzz
few weeks ago, Africa Digital Media Studios (ADMS) launched the first ever locally produced action movie replete with stunts & effects- The Whistleblower.
Directed by Kenji Gathecha (Ma Empress) and co-produced by Bea Wangondu, the short film is a primer for a TV series we should watch out from 2021.
So what’s it all about? A family man and ex-soldier now working in corporate blows the lead on a high profile corruption case and becomes a target of state-inclined gangsters. But he’s not going down without a fight. Whistleblower is a riveting 17 minutes of intense action and a great plot.
Releasing a movie as a first-time movie director amid a pandemic isn’t an ideal scenario. Unless you’re Kenji Gathecha. Kenji has deftly made the shift from the small screen to directing The Whistleblower, which features an indie dream team that includes Joe Kinyua (Njoro Wa Uba), Lwanda Jawara (Sense 8) & Cecilia Nyambura (Makutano Junction).
We caught up with Kenji and Bea and they let us in on this compelling film.
KB: Starting off, Kenji, I’d like you to know, Ma’Empress is my guilty pleasure. Good job Kenji. Pleasantly surprised by how multi-faceted you are. Ma’Empress and Whistleblower are significantly different. Was the transition in directing styles a fish-out-of water experience?
KG: Thanks! I wouldn’t call it a fish-out-of water experience. I am after all, experienced in directing but I’ll admit I underestimated the scope of work.
KB: Bea, how did you link up with Kenji?
Bea: Kenji had been scouting for a producer for Whistleblower for about a month when he approached me. I read the script, loved his vision and I was sold on the same day. I was a bit sceptical because I had never produced an action film before but I took it in stride.
KB: Kenji, give us a little background on your directing career from your Project Fame days to now wearing “big boy shoes” in the Whistleblower. When and where did it all begin?
It all started in Uni. Think I was in my 3rd year. I wasn’t even studying film or anything related. One day, I picked up this book The nuts & bolts of filmmaking. It was a fascinating read. It sparked my interest in film and it was around that time I wrote my first script and casted my friends for a play I directed. Then I started getting gigs here and there. And now here we are.
KB: You’ve been producing for a decade now Bea, let our readers in on some of the projects you’ve worked on and is this what you always wanted to do?
Bea: I feel like I was destined for this. Ever since my dad introduced me to the arts as a child and I watched a Mohammed Amin film, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I’ve worked on a documentary based in Mogadishu on the kidnapping of journalists, a couple of local TV shows, I’ve also worked with Maisha magic in Uganda and I was involved with critically acclaimed Sense 8
KB: Wow! Kenji you were onto something when you chose to work with Bea. Would you say W.B is your biggest project yet?
KG: I’d say it’s my most personal. This is the first time I had full creative control over everything. From script writing to casting, directing and dabbling with production. I had a full plate. It was overwhelming. If I had hindsight on how complex this would have turned out, I would’ve delegated some duties. This film is less than 20 minutes long but it took close to two years to get it right. I take my craft very seriously. My team and I really put a lot of sweat into this.
KB: Whoa! So you’re more than just a director huh?
KG: I like to refer to myself as a writer director. I enjoy writing and directing scripts and after working on Whistleblower, I realized I am multifaceted. This project helped me explore the depth of my creativity.
KB: So Bea, are you just as multi-faceted? You spend a lot of time behind the lenses, trying to dabble in acting?
Bea: Haha! I did a lot of stage acting as a kid but I’d much rather be doing what i’m doing now. My background in arts as a child prepared me for this role.
KB: Kenji, you said this was the first project you had full creative control. Does this mean you were completely hands-on in the casting for Whistleblower?
Yes. I didn’t even call for auditions. I already knew who I wanted to cast. People I had worked with before on various projects. I was familiar with their craft and talent. We already had the synergy.
KB: They say art imitates life. Whistleblower is a very timely film. Given what’s going on in this country, was it by design that it dropped around the same time life-saving essentials went missing and were resold to the state?
Haha! Art indeed imitates life. The film coincidentally launched right around the time of a brewing scandal. This is a damning reflection of Kenyan society. Clearly, this country has no shortage of incidences to inspire the production of something like Whistleblower. I’ve had this idea since 2016 though. I immersed myself in research of various corruption scandals that lended ideas to this creation.
Bea: We have material that could last us decades. We just need the funding and goodwill to get these kinds of films to the grassroots without censorship. I want to screen the Whistleblower to, say, an audience in Magadi and also get it on mainstream media and the film festival circuit. It’s not easy but I have the tenacity to make it happen. These stories need to be told. We’re not seating for people waiting to save us. It’s time to reclaim who we are. Reclaim our identity. By taking the bulls by the horns, finding your tribe and getting your hands dirty. It’s work.
KB: You’re right, there is no shortage of material to replicate films like Whistleblower. So should we expect more socially conscious films from you henceforth?
Bea: The Kalasha Awards film jury loved Whistleblower so much they urged us to make it into a television series. We have gritty storylines we could get there. We just need the funding.
Kenji: My priority has always been to entertain. I’m not really inclined to activism. I do believe the industry should put out material that encourages discourse on social ills but my forte is more of offering an escape. I might consider writing and directing similar films in the future but like I said, I want to entertain first and foremost.
KB: Great, so what genre will you explore next? Seeing how multi-faceted you are. Sci-fi perhaps?
Kenji: *Laughs* not sure about sci-fi. My next project however, is based on realism. It’s going to be a romantic film. Script is ready. Still building up on other details. Watch out for it.
Whistleblower is available for viewing on Vumi Central