Early this year, Kenyan award-winning producer and founder of We Are Not The Machine became the first black African to win Sundance’s Amazon MGM’s prize.

She bagged the award for her work on the documentary Battle For Laikipia which screened at the film festival under the World Cinema Competition category.

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Speaking about her award at the time, she said, “I am the first black African to win Sundance’s Amazon MGM non-fiction prize for producing and I hope that it will inspire other African producers to embark on creative producing for independent projects.”

KBC Digital caught up with Toni Kamau after her win. Here is what she had to say about winning, producing as an African woman and her future plans.

On winning an award

It’s great winning awards or getting nominated as it does help recognise all the gruelling hours spent producing as part of a team – working on story development, building and managing creative teams, fundraising, structuring co-production deals, securing broadcast agreements and rolling out festival releases and awards campaigns. 

On what it takes to do production work

Creative producing is difficult and gruelling work, especially because I am based in a country with few local financing sources and support, outside of Docubox, DOCA and Kenya Film Commission’s empowerment program. 

It was rewarding to see the final work on screen and share it with the world. Awards are a much-valued and added bonus.

On showcasing at International festivals

Kenyan filmmaking teams need to develop festival release and distribution strategies that are suitable for their specific projects and goals. 

Some films may not require an international festival release and may go straight to broadcast – that is still fine. 

My advice to producers is to assess your project, do research on festivals, and distributors and understand what kind of films they take, review comparable films whose festival and distribution path you would like to emulate and work from there to craft your release and distribution plan. 

It’s not one size fits all, and there are different metrics of success, all of which are valid.

On her future

I’m excited about the projects I’m currently working on with incredibly talented directors, cinematographers and writers. 

My goal is to work on stories about African and African diaspora innovators and creatives who are driving change.

 I can’t talk about all of them, but I’m honoured to be working on a documentary following a female engineer building an innovative solar-powered vaccine smart fridge. 

Her story is really inspiring and illustrates the inherent drive and entrepreneurship that we are blessed with as Kenyans. We just need a conducive environment to be able to thrive.

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