Over the weekend, 254 was abuzz after Kenyans outboxed stiff competition at the just-concluded Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) in Lagos Nigeria, bagging five awards. It was a double win for Phoebe Ruguru, 21, who scooped the Best Overall Movie award and the Best Movie award in East Africa for the movie 18 Hours. She speaks to Faith Kyoumukama
Congratulations on the double win. It’s quite an achievement. Could you sum up the experience for us?
Being at the event was a surreal experience. It was exciting, especially in the days ahead of the gala. In the past, Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) was known to be a West African affair, but now we have East Africans winning awards.
We are creating products that can be consumed all across Africa — it’s a testament that the industry is growing. It was amazing to feel part of the event.
The film industry in the region has come of age, and yet even with Kenya breaking the mould both regionally and internationally, the local film industry still lags years behind its counterparts such as Nollywood. Where do you think we go wrong?
Like you said, of course, Nollywood has been around for many years and the best way to grow is to learn from their mistakes. Another key thing other industries have done that we haven’t really made big strides in making an investment. People like to invest in the thing that has already been verified and proven to work.
When something works we want to copy. The first step to build an industry is to take the risk and make an investment. Some challenges are also distribution and the kind of content Kenyan filmmakers are creating. Now, the narrative has changed, but it’s all about diversifying the market. I would now like to change the narrative; we are catching up.
With the spotlight now set on the upcoming awards, Riverwood Academy Awards, what are some of the things the players of the local industry can do to break the wheel?
A lot of it has to do with the audience. The best thing for key players to do is to engage the local audience. We focus too much on attracting personalities from international circles such as Germany or France. AMVCA and the West African market has really connected the audience and they have a strong local network.
It has had a ripple effect across Africa. What needs to happen to the local industry is to reach realisation that we do not need foreigners to invest. We are capable of running our own industry. Time and again we have seen sceneraio where a lot of local productions gain recognition internationally before our own people appreciate them.
People don’t seem to appreciate the nature of a journey. We’ve seen many Kenyans credited abroad, and that’s when Kenyans get to value that person. It’s time to pay attention to our own filmmakers.
Alongside the recent awards, what other accolades are under your belt?
Apart from film-related awards, I was a runner-up for the Young Achiever’s Award, 2016 at the African Women in Europe Awards. In 2016, I won the award for Best Young Achiever at the Women For Africa Awards.
In 2017 I was for the second time, nominated for the Young Achiever’s Award by African Women in Europe. In addition, I was nominated for the UPF Awards; a non-governmental organisation in special consultative status with the United Nations.
What is it about the movie, 18 Hours, that captivated what has now become a global audience?
Well, the film director Njue Kevin, once said, it’s really about casting the evil spirits of reliance and every person can relate to that. The movie follows the real-life accounts of rookie paramedic who spends 18 hours in an ambulance trying to save the life of an accident casualty.
Most people have been in a situation where they are fighting for something. It’s a universal feeling and I think that’s what connected with them. It’s a feeling of helplessness; a movie that speaks to your emotions.
As a film that stemmed from so much tragedy, is there a message you wish to send to Kenyans to challenge perhaps say a change of systems to ensure the episode that led to that day never befalls another?
Part of the inspiration to make the film was to hold the mirror against the system and kind of say this is the reality. We also wanted the audience to know how the system works and to learn more about health services. We also wanted to hold our leaders accountable, so that they can be driven to take the necessary measures.
Do you have a success story drawn from the movie?
Yes, we have the Emergency Medicine Kenya Foundation. They have partnered with us and are now using this movie as a tool to show people what actions to take as well as push the emergency policy.
18 Hours has made an impact, and we are proud of that. What other productions have you worked on? 18 Hours was our first movie from our company Rocque Pictures. We started out with short films.
What is your parting shot to young people inspiring to be filmmakers?
Age is just a number. I started film creation when I was 14. I learnt this industry is all about making art, interacting and networking with people. Go to events, invest in your art and be irreplaceable.