Judy Kibinge feted with film on her life: ‘Out of the Box’

The documentary explores the trajectory of her decorated career in film

In Summary

• The films focus on African women filmmakers making an impact in the industry

• Judy Kibinge founded Docubox with the aim of giving a platform to filmmakers in East Africa to tell their stories with access to grants, training and mentorship

Lindiwe Dovey and Judy Kibinge at the premiere of 'Out of the Box: The Screen Worlds of Judy Kibinge' at Docubox Offices on Ngong Road on March 1
Lindiwe Dovey and Judy Kibinge at the premiere of 'Out of the Box: The Screen Worlds of Judy Kibinge' at Docubox Offices on Ngong Road on March 1

Filmmaker Judy Kibinge celebrated 10 years as the founder and creative director of Docubox, a film fund, with the premiere of a documentary in her honour titled Out of the Box: The Screen Worlds of Judy Kibinge.

Lindiwe Dovey, a professor of film and screen studies at SOAS University of London, directed the film. She explored Kibinge's life since she began working as a creative director in the advertising industry in the 1990s and her transition to filmmaking, where she is also a producer and writer.

In 2019, Dovey started her project, ‘African Screen Worlds: Decolonising Film and Screen Studies’, with the aim of showcasing African films to a global audience.

“The marginalisation of African filmmakers and films on the global stage frustrated me,” she said.

The European Research Council funded the project, aiming to highlight what's happening in the African film industry and encourage collaboration and engagement among creatives.

The films focus on African women filmmakers who are making an impact in the industry.

The other film Dovey has directed is that of South African female film producer Bongiwe Selane, From One Woman to Another, which explores different dimensions of Selane's filmmaking.

Films play a big role in impacting society, and Kibinge was determined to do storytelling through films. When she decided to jump into the world of filmmaking, she said it was a hard decision, but her mind was already set on pursuing that journey.

“I remember during that period, I was approached with a job offer with a salary three times what I used to make, but I had to turn it down,” she said.

Kibinge started as an assistant creative director, then became the creative director at McCann Erickson (Kenya) between 1994 and 1999 and oversaw the creation of one of the best TV ads for Kenya Breweries (Tusker: My Country, My Beer) as well as for Everyday (Simply the best) among other local and international brands. 

By the time she decided to do films, the industry in Kenya was not as vibrant as it is now. 

In 2002, she released her first short film, The Aftermath, then Dangerous Affair, which won several awards and was credited with starting the wave of contemporary filmmaking in Kenya.

Project Daddy, Killer Necklace and Something Necessary are among the other films done by Kibinge.

The Scarred: The Anatomy of a Massacre is a film Kibinge made when she first heard of the Wagalla Massacre after reading an article in the newspaper in 2003.

The film, which she said took several years to complete, tells the history and experiences of both the survivors and the victims.

The Kenyan Army carried out the massacre in 1984, rounding up thousands of locals in Wajir at an airstrip, denying them food and water, and then shooting them. Women were raped, men tortured, stripped naked and beaten mercilessly. Many were left with physical scars.

“I think the film had an impact as the government later came out to apologise and acknowledge what had happened,” Kibinge said.

Kibinge's desire to transform the film industry and provide a platform for other filmmakers led to the birth of Docubox in 2013.

Dr Joyce Nyairo describes Kibinge as a person who has a large personality that embraces everybody.

“The art scene in Nairobi is very fractured, petty and small. I knew if we're going to set up a documentary film fund, I wanted it to be the kind of place that grows others,” she said.

Docubox, which serves the East Africa region, offers a space for filmmakers to pitch their ideas, collaborate, get grants and training, get equipment, and finally screen the films to audiences.

The idea is to make everyone in the film industry grow.

Docubox enables filmmakers to explore and express themselves freely without limiting the type of content they can produce. Some of the films done under Docubox include Softie, Millet, No Simple Way Home (Sudan), I Am Samuel, New Moon, Wahenga and Finding Sally.

Kibinge believes that to transform the film industry, it takes more than just putting a lot of money into it. “It's more about collaboration, trust and shared value systems,” she said.

In her words, people do not become who they are by the food they eat, but by what they watch and what they observe. “You become what you see,” she said.

Among the notable awards she has received are a State House commendation by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kalasha Lifetime Achiever in 2021.

In 2017, she was handpicked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to join the ranks of voting members at the Oscars.

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