Mark Wambui is a visual story teller who uses a little more than just the mouth to tell his stories – the film form.
At 25 years, he has been trained in various aspects of filmmaking by reputable film training institutions in the world such as Talents Durban, Sony, One Fine Day Films, DW Akademie, the Columbia Global Centre in Nairobi and the Africa Academy of Filmmakers.
Mark was also a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2016, but that is not all, he holds a degree in Broadcast Journalism from United States International University–Africa, an institution that was witness to his early days as he tried to decide whether to be fish or fowl.
“I started writing when I was in high school – I discovered that my writing was visual, so when I joined USIU-A and discovered the film form, that became my path,” he explains.
He attributes the flare of his film career to his journalism lecturer, Mr Evans Mutua, who has a heavy background in film despite being a journalism lecturer. He mentored and acted as his springboard of ideas in things film during those early days.
“When I was in university, my social life was very limited because my free time was spent either in the video editing room or learning about cinematography in Mr Mutua’s studio. By the time I was in my second year at university, I had already worked on my first editing project,” says Mark, observing that one of the things that helped him to progress fast in this field was starting his career early; identifying his true passions early.
“In filmmaking, the beginning is always brutal; no money is forthcoming and you may not be able to access the most basic requirements you need for a project. This is where many give up and try other things that can give them an income. But you have to stay in there,” Mark notes.
For him, one of the factors that keep him going is the passion that he has in filmmaking; the internal drive and strength that he finds in it. It can be very easy for someone to give up in the creative industry when all they meet is a wall seemingly blocking any attempt that they make. Mark calls this the brutal phase that can make a filmmaker begin to doubt their capabilities or even their validity as a creative.
“Starting out is hard. Grind through, know that you are good and that way, you will begin to grow,” he advices. When you grow in your field, your skills speak for themselves and corporates will begin to approach you and the better your networks will become.”
Opening up one’s mind to learning is also a very important part of growth.
“I find that for my scripts to be better for example, I have to workshop them or simply share them with trusted critical friends who can punch holes into them and identify weak areas that I may remain blind to,” Mark says.
He is hopeful that in a few years’ time, the film sector in the country will be a lot better as we begin to have experts taking up the training of aspiring filmmakers.
“In this country, we have not had film as a curriculum, and this makes it difficult to come up with training that can actually help filmmakers in our institutions of learning,” Mark says, remarking that the number of young people actively seeking knowledge in the art of filmmaking today means that if they can actually find proper places to get the skills, then we are looking at a total shift in a couple of years to come.
“Whatever you are doing, do it well and strive to make it better than your last project. As a filmmaker, you are only as good as your last film, and this is what will sell you to your future clients,” Mark says and advices that it is important to pay attention to one’s own rhythm as a creative.
“When I choose to work on a project, I ensure that my values are not put at stake; I think that it is very important for my truth to come out in the stories that I tell,” he remarks on the question of whether he can sacrifice his beliefs at the altar of a good deal. But he is quick to add that he rarely has to draw the line except where malicious or divisive stories are involved.
And how does he stay authentic in the globalised world in which we live today?
First of all, one cannot run away from the fact that people will always try to understand your work in the context of other things – where you come from and your identity; all these will come up in the interpretation of your work and it is thus crucial to not be unrealistic in your creativity.
“I think the easiest way to achieve this is through the artists being honest with the stories that they want to tell and just taking time to research.”
And to all the up-and-coming filmmakers, he has advice for you: All the glitz and glamour that you see in filmmaking is just about 10 per cent of all there is to the art. The remaining 90 per cent is sweat and blood.
“You must be very determined and passionate and focused and then find people that share your dream and then build a network and start to work together,” he says.
He points out that film is a very important medium of communication because it enhances the sharing of stories which have immense power to transform.
“Film has the power to move us forward, and the more we imagine, the more we become liberated,” he says.
On the recent controversial Kenya Film Classification Board bills, Mark says that it is dangerous to restrict works of art because art is supposed to be honest and expressive to serve any useful function in the society.
Film is more secular than it is religious, so any efforts that are put to “regulate” without an openness of mind might be counterproductive.
“I hope that Kenya Film Classification Board, KFCB, in their heart of hearts, have the conviction and the best interests of the creative industry and that it is not just a fight of egos,” he concludes.
MARK’S WORK AT A GLANCE:
In May 2016, he sold the rights to his Script, Tether, which he co-wrote with Christine Mwai, a scriptwriter, on the lives of Henry Wanyoike and Joseph Kibunja to the producers of the First Grader and Hotel Rwanda.
His film, September, was selected for the Zanzibar International Film Festival and Burundi International Film Festival in 2015.
Deceit, a short film that he co-wrote, produced and directed, was the only film in East Africa to receive official Selection for the 35th Durban International Film Festival and nominated for the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards 2014.
- He has directed several documentaries and commercials for a variety of clients such as the African Union, UN Women, Scania East Africa, Unilever & USAID