GINGER INK FILMS AFRICA: Possibilities Brought to Life

Ginger Ink Films Africa is recognised as being the region’s leading producer of long form content for the local and international markets.

Their production portfolio boasts an impressive array of eight feature films, seven of which are currently available worldwide on Netflix.  This slate of seven films, including Nairobi Half Life, Kati Kati, and Supa Modo, with their notable critical acclaim, represented Kenya’s first three entries for the Academy Awards. An achievement made all the more commendable as they were made as part of a filmmaker’s training masterclass designed to offer collaboration, mentorship and opportunity to upcoming Kenyan filmmakers who were struggling to finance their projects.

Intended as a one-off collaborative experiment, the first film in that slate was the award-winning Soul Boy, directed by Hawa Essuman. Set in Kibera, it follows Abila, a boy whose father has mysteriously ‘fallen into a coma’. Panicked Abila seeks help from a witch doctor, embarks on a dangerous journey through Kibera forming unexpected alliances. The film highlights themes of family, love, and the solidarity of community. Garnering several international awards, the film was such a success, that funding was secured to make one more film. The partnership of Ginger Ink Films and One Fine day grew to make a total of seven feature films in only 10 years.

Standing on the shoulders of Soul Boy, Nairobi Half Life (director Tosh Gitonga (2012)) is arguably the most watched, loved and awarded film to come out of Kenya. It was a game changer for Kenyan audiences, staying in cinemas for a record six months, and accounting for more sales than Batman and other American blockbusters at that time. It tells the story of an aspiring Kenyan actor who moves to Nairobi, and quickly gets entangled within the city’s web of criminal gangs and systemic corruption.  The ‘Half-Life’ in the title, a term used to denote a cigarette shared between two people, also refers to the universal human experience of living a life we have not really chosen for ourselves. 

In 2013 came Something Necessary, directed by Judy Kibinge. In post-election Kenya, Anne, a survivor of a brutal attack, offers Joseph, a former perpetrator, a job on her farm. As they work together, they form an unlikely bond, leading to healing and forgiveness. Something Necessary is a powerful exploration of reconciliation and human resilience. 2014 saw the release of VEVE (Director, Simon Mukali), a powerful exploration of the corruption and impact of the Khat (Miraa) trade, set in Meru and Nairobi.

Kati Kati, (director Mbithi Masya) released in 2016 broke the mould for Kenyan filmmaking, as a fantasy/drama. It is the story of a young woman Kaleche who wakes up with no memory in a wilderness camp known as Kati Kati.  As she forms friendships with the other residents, she discovers that each person trapped there is burdened by unresolved issues and unfulfilled desires from their past lives. The residents are caught in a state between life and death, seeking redemption, and closure by taking responsibility for their pasts. Kati Kati is a thought-provoking drama that explores themes of memory, identity, forgiveness, and the search for meaning in life and in death. Kati Kati earned Director Mbithi Msaya the prestigious FISPRECO award at TIFF, where it opened.

Supa Modo (Director Likarion Wainaina) is a family drama about a terminally ill young girl who dreams of becoming a superhero. Her community comes together to fulfill her wish, creating the character Supa Modo to bring joy into her life. The heartwarming film explores themes of love, friendship, and imagination in the face of adversity, celebrating the resilience of the human spirit and the power of children to live life to the full. It won the European Children’s Film Award, the first African language film to do so, and has become a much-loved icon of Kenyan cinema.

Lastly in the slate masterclass came the poignant and brave LUSALA (Director Mugambi Nthiga), released in 2019. Young man Lusala, adopted by an affluent Nairobi family a decade ago is forced to leave home and start on his own. Eager and willing at first, he makes the most of his life, until the demons from his past return, and he faces them on his own. Finding it difficult to separate memories and regrets from the real and present world, LUSALA explores themes of identity, guilt and belonging.

Evidently, the focal point of the films we have produced, and the stories Kenyan filmmakers have wanted to tell, lies in the diverse and complex realities of what it means to be human, and how we are all shaped by our environments, and the ones we love.

Committed to empowering the next generation of filmmakers, we collaboratively established a comprehensive training program that is grounded in understanding the art of filmmaking. By providing practical experience, refining skills, and offering mentorship from industry professionals, we have created a supportive environment for talent to flourish.  This has built capacity across the Kenyan and African film landscapes, and the reputation of Kenya as a viable filmmaking location has contributed to the return of large-scale productions from overseas.

Having seen Nairobi Half Life, The Wachowskis (directors of The Matrix), chose Nairobi as one of the eight cities to feature in the Netflix production Sense8 (Seasons 1 & 2). Sense8 was the largest production ever to take place in Nairobi, with 4,000 people on set in down town Nairobi on one day alone. With the time closure of the Globe flyover, and the stunt and crowd sequences across the city, Sense8 made full use of the now burgeoning pool of cast and crew. It was a huge international success.

Working with the Ridley Scott Creative Group for Kipchoge: The Last Milestone, (Director Jake Scott), Ginger Ink had the immense privilege to showcase Kenya’s most loved sporting hero as he broke the 2-hour marathon.  As per Ginger Ink Africa’s company tag line ‘Possibilities brought to life’, The Last Milestone documents in real time the events leading up to the day, and elation of his home crowd watching from the centre of Eldoret. Kipchoge: the Last Milestone is also available on Netflix.

Ginger Ink Films Africa were also co-producers on Fishing Without Nets, the first large scale feature film produced out of Kenya in the Somali language. Filmed almost entirely on a tanker off the Malindi coast, with first time actors, Fishing Without Nets went on to win best Director at Sundance in 2014.

This international recognition has been a clearing for international exchanges to take place, strengthening the economy of the Kenyan film industry. Kenyan crew have become much sought after not only in Kenya but across Africa. Ginger Ink Films Africa has been producing content for clients in all corners of the continent, and is proud to say that Kenyan crews are now unmatched for their skill sets and versatility.

Ginger Ink Films is still expanding its roster of service work, with projects currently booked to the end of the year. They are invested in pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, a slate of TV and films currently in development, all of which embrace relevant and thought-provoking narratives. 

Looking into the future, Ginger Ink Films Africa is excited to push the boundaries of filmmaking with its list of films currently in development, all of which embrace relevant and thought-provoking narratives.  As we continue to bring these projects to life, Ginger Ink Films Africa remains at the forefront of fostering a vibrant and sustainable future for the African film industry.