Riverwood used to churn out between 10 to 30 movies a month in downtown Nairobi. Those figures have since dwindled as consumer consumption methods have changed. Now they do a movie a week.
The Riverwood Ensemble Filmmakers Association, the umbrella body, has 250 members. They also have a website for sampling trailers, upcoming productions and a YouTube Channel. They recently started screening Kenyan movies at Planet Media Cinemas.
Mwaniki Mageria owns Balozi Productions, which distributes these movies. He and others are the founding creators of Kalasha Film and TV Awards. He is also a board member at the Kenya Film Commission and treasurer of the Guild of Film Distributors in Kenya and also sits on the Government Creative Economy Taskforce.
He’s a bundle of joy and energy: big laughter, big soul and a loud likeable disposition. We met in my office the morning after his team—France—lost the Euro 2016 final to Portugal.
Late night, huh?
Oh yes, man. We lost.
I don’t drink. My voice sounds like this because of sinuses, they act up when it’s cold. When I was young I played rugby and fractured my nose so the drainage is thin and when it’s cold it gets thinner.
Are you enjoying your life at this moment?
I’m enjoying my life completely. I always enjoy my life. I made up my mind that that’s what I was going to do; to be an encourager of people. I really love people. I enjoy being with people, I enjoy the energy that I get from being with people and I take them as they come, I don’t judge anybody.
What puts you down?
What puts me down, my homa! (Laughs) I really don’t understand when people don’t understand me. They think that I am pretending to be who I am. I am just a happy guy. My dad, a technocrat, told me, “What’s you 10-year plan?” I looked at him and thought, “10 years?! Eh, boss, can we talk about 10 weeks?” (Loud laughter).
Yeah, you know, even two weeks is too far out man! I take pretty much time as it comes. I have an idea of what I want to do and I’d make a plan, but I take a day at a time. That is what God has been teaching me of late, that his mercies are new every morning so that means that every morning he gives you what you need for that day so maximise that day.
The tomorrow will take care of itself. Many times we plan and it doesn’t happen. But if it doesn’t happen, too bad, if it happens, well and good. At the end of the day God is in control and what he wants to give you is what he will give you. I don’t want to preach….
Go on, please…
When Peter and the fishermen were out at sea the whole night, they hadn’t caught anything at all. But in the morning God told them, “Put your net on the other side of the boat” not on the other side of the lake and immediately they caught fish. Where were the fish all that time? All they did was move from this side of the boat, to the other side of the boat and they caught the fish. So, God knows where the fish are. When he wants you to catch, you will catch.
What side of the boat are you putting your net right now?
(Laughs) Okay that’s a very good question. (Pause) It’s actually a very colourful question. (Long pause). Am I putting my net on the side God has told me to put it? I think so, I mean I enjoy the film industry very much. I’m mostly using up most of my talents in MC-ing. I am natural in front of a crowd. Whether it’s bringing in the hordes of fish is another thing. You have to look at the value of life first. Remember we talked about this when we were in Sweden…
Yes, money versus meaning…
The value or the quality of life is not based on the amount of money you make, but in Kenya, it is. If you’re not driving a big car, living in Runda or Karen, if you are not employing a lot of people or bribing a lot of people, (Laughs) people don’t think of you as successful. Listen, I didn’t see my daughter last night after the match, this morning, before she went to school she came and hugged me. Isn’t that cute?! (Laughs). Now, that is “meaning.”
How is Riverwood industry doing?
Well it used to run into the billions of shillings, but now people are changing their mode of consumption of film, there are flash disks and all these has really changed the ball game completely. Revenue has shrunk. Now we are competing with the likes of ‘‘Game of Thrones’’ and ‘‘House of Cards’’. Digital migration has changed the model completely.
Will Riverwood ever go mainstream like Nollywood?
You see it did in Nigeria because Nigerians were exporting their culture. Kenya really doesn’t have a standard culture. We don’t have anything that stands out. We couldn’t even agree on the national dress. I think that we are lucky that we even have a national language. (Laughs).
So I don’t think we will ever be the same as Nigeria, but I think we have space that we can fill and I’m seeing it being filled by the people who are doing TV dramas like Kona and Mali. That is what we’ll see selling. We need to do different stories, we need to do historical stories. We are very rich in history.
How did you end up here in Riverwood?
It’s a good question. It’s a very good question. I started off in the motor industry—CMC, where I did eight years. Then I moved to Marshalls Kenya.
Are they still around?
(Laughs) Yes, I was there four months. Then my dad came back from abroad and we decided to set up Balozi Productions, did some theatre work, filled the National Theatre with plays. We then did a national search—Balozi national search which was exciting. It was the first time I met Churchill. He came in and auditioned. He didn’t make it. (Laughs) but thanks be to God because he opened up a lot of other deals for him.
He put his net on the other side of the boat.
(Laughs loudly) Oh yes! I then worked for Amazon Motors. I got fired not long after. (Laughs) That was a blessing in disguise because as soon as I got fired I thought, “I am tired of cars now. Let me get into something that is me.”
So I went to media, and I got a job at Capital FM first as an intern then later I did ‘The late Night Capital’ and ‘The Sunday Breakfast show’ which was very exciting. I learnt a lot. I left Capital, then I went to Family Media in sales and marketing. For the second time I got fired. No actually the third time now. (Laughs). Then straight back to Balozi. Look, my story is so long…(Laughs)
What are you struggling with now?
Have I made enough impact? I’m asking myself that. It’s a middle age thing. Do I have massive wealth and property? No. But then when I look at the value of the other things, I think it balances out. But yeah, it would be nice to have large amounts of money…
So, you’re obviously born again and stuff…
What does the Bible say about amassing wealth? Materialism.
“Lay up your treasures not where it can be eaten by moths or rust or cankerworm but lay up your treasures in heaven.” So that is something I’ve been able to do. By the way I’m an elder at the Nairobi Chapel.
Three children, eldest 20, youngest 16.
What’s your biggest fear as a parent?
That story you wrote of the guy whose son got crushed by a school bus? I’d hate to bury my child, but I don’t think it could happen.
Oh, how do you know?
It’s not my cup. You know like when Jesus said “take this cup away from me?” It’s because he knew the cup of death was coming. That’s not my cup. It’s a premonition.
Who’s your greatest influence?
My dad is my greatest influence. He is a great man. He’s, you know those unsung heroes who’ve done great things.
And incidentally, what character would you be in the Bible?
That’s a hard one! Who am I most like? (Pause) I think David.
David. Isn’t he the one who sent that poor fellow to be killed in war so that he could steal his wife? You sneaky guy.
(Laughs) While David had many weaknesses in his life, he sought to be obedient and humble before God.