Kenya: Docubox finds funding in innovative ways for documentaries with character-driven storytelling

10 March 2017

Top Story

If documentary is the poor and lonely relative globally, imagine how hard it is to finance and make African documentaries. Judy Kibinge’s Docubox scheme has been both fertile and innovative. Russell Southwood spoke to her about what they’ve done and what they have planned for the future.

Docubox was launched in 2012 as a documentary film fund that “supports intimate, character-driven storytelling and encourages new forms of ownership and authorship in East Africa because we believe that true stories well told make the world a better place to live”.

With Ford Foundation funding its first act was to put money into support for 24 documentary film trailers:”The idea was that we supported a trailer, which is a sort of pitch. We supported the process of moving to the next step.”

With the support, the film-makers had to resubmit the trailers to bid competitively for $20,000. Six winners were successful and got this almost unimaginable sum to make their documentary. With further funding support from Hivos and others, those in the second round got varying amounts between US$6-18,000. One lesson Kibinge takes is on funding levels:”If you’re going to fund people in this way, you’re going to need to raise more than US#20,000 and to give them all the support they need.”

Docubox held a global event called The Good Pitch in October last year:”It’s been created by Britdoc and happens all over the world. This year it’s Copenhagen and it was previously in Johannesburg.” Six of the best documentary ideas were selected from across the continent from Sierra Leone to Johannesburg:”The idea was to surround each film with an army of supporters and have the audience and the panels support one or other of the films.”

It brought together international documentary makers (including the producer of White Helmets who supported one of the films), the African documentary makers and potential funders for the films:”It raised over US#100,000 and to get that, we put in a lot of pre-work with Government, philanthropists, foundations and individuals. We wanted to show them work which was supporting their organisations so that when the time came they would be committed to funding one or other of the films”.

“It was important to get the Ministry involved (for Jackie Lebo’s Turkana) and the Minister came for the day. And for Thank You For The Rain Agra (the biggest agricultural organization was in the room. The Ford Foundation said it would give extra funding.

Among the original six films supported were Philippa Ndisi-Hermann’s film about the port of Lamu (which had already crowdfunded) started by looking at how this port town was changing but morphed into how the experience changed the film-maker who converted from Christianity to Islam during the shooting of it. Truth is about a gay Kenyan sportsman living in one of Nairobi’s slums and followed his life over several years.

The Letter is made by husband and wife team Maya von Lekow and Chris King. It’s about Kenyan rapper Kaledze’s mother who is accused of being a witch. The film-makers followed the family - who were split by the accusations – over a three year period:”It turns out not to be about witchcraft, it’s about inheritance. As the matriarch of the family she owns a large piece of land and people want to get it.”

Docubox has taken on another three rooms at its offices to create a mini-hub:”It’s a place where film-makers can meet and work.” It also runs screening events with Q and A sessions afterwards to build interest and audiences. It has also run Social Media shorts:”We did a project called Story Tent, where people would come and tell us their stories. We did one called Love Stories where people would tell us about love, everyone from gardeners to TV presenters. We did twenty five minute clips. We’re doing a Neighbourhood series on the same basis from Kibera to Karen, with the best things about the neighbourhood.”

So what of the future?:”We have core funding for this year but nothing beyond that. People are so interested and talented film-makers want to apply.”

And when is Kibinge herself going to make her next film?:”I’m going to make one this year. I have a long list of ideas. I like love stories with twists and turns. I miss fiction with lots of drama.”

Watch Judy Kibinge talk about her film Something Necessary and the impact of the 2007 post election violence: 


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