Jackline Emali is a scriptwriter and a film producer with the biggest can-do attitude I have ever seen. She’s a tenacious and conscientious filmmaker who’s always working on a film project. She’s produced her own films, among them The Box, Amazing Grace and On Your Marks. On Your Marks, a crowd-funded short film was the only Kenyan Film screened at the Miami Film Festival in 2017. She’s had her scripts commissioned by MNET and has also written for NGO’s. She’s the current secretary of the Kenya Scriptwriter’s Guild and a founding member of the Chap Chap Shooters production team.
How did you get into film?
That’s a long journey. I used to be an actor in my own ka-small town in Kericho and a public speaker. I used to write and perform poetry. I don’t know somehow the art of writing poetry disappeared. I got to the Talent Academy, there was an audition call and I participated. I happened to be the third among the top people from South-Rift who came to join the talent academy here in Nairobi. At that time, it was sponsored by the Ministry of Youth and UNICEF.
While at the Talent Academy, I had so many questions about the scripts and poetry we were given to perform, then I discovered that there is actually someone behind it, someone who wrote it and that was a writer. That’s how I ended up being a writer. I just fell in love with writing. I started pushing Cajetan, who happens to be my mentor now, pushing him to get me through the whole writing process. I did a couple of online sessions with him and made my first movie from the online class. I kept on growing and growing. I ended up being a producer because I realized no-one was buying scripts so I decided to find ways of making my stories, turning my scripts into movies and slowly by slowly, that’s how I got into production.
What was the name of the first movie?
It’s called Sunset at Dawn. It’s on YouTube. It has quite some viewership. It encouraged me to keep doing it and the more I do it the more I see growth in everything from the first movie until now.
I wrote another one that won an award at the Coast Film Festival. A one-minute movie, a short film. It’s about perspective and how kids see things. It’s called The Box. I’ve done a couple of movies, there’s On Your Marks, Amazing Grace among others. I’ve sold a few scripts to MNET also. MNET had put out a call, Cajetan, my mentor, pointed me to that call. I submitted some of my synopses, they selected a few and yeah… That’s how we ended up writing there.
Is there a project you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?
I’m proud of everything. With every step that I’m taking, I see growth and that makes me happy. All of them are special, they define me in one way or another.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the feature film for On Your Marks, I really want to make that movie. Besides that there are other projects we’re doing, we’re collaborating with different partners and they are ‘in the kitchen’.
I’m also the secretary of the Kenya Scriptwriter’s Guild. We are a group of writers from across the country who’ve come together to voice our needs especially in terms of growth both in quality and quantity of scripts in the country.
Congratulations on screening On Your Marks, the short film at Miami Film Festival. Tell me about that experience.
We did the proof of concept for On Your Marks and submitted to several festivals. It was selected for the Miami Film Festival in the independent filmmakers’ category. We got to attend and screen. We got feedback from people across the world and that’s how we developed more interest in making the feature film. We also have interested parties locally and internationally.
It was fun. It was an experience and a half. Watching your film relate to people from across the world is interesting. I think it made me feel like I had under-estimated the movie itself and seeing how people reacted to it was amazing. I think that was the moment that defined my life, like ‘I will never stop making movies’.
How would you describe Kenya’s film industry at this moment in time and where do you think it could go?
The industry has grown and I feel like I’ve grown with it. I’m seeing progress. In the next few years, we will be farther ahead. One of the problems I see is people are not willing to invest in the script-writing process, preferring to invest in the technical and all the other areas. I think as part of the storytelling network, there’s no department that is less than the other so they should all be given equal opportunity.
What do you think it takes to grow the industry, in terms of each filmmaker’s role?
One, practice. Two, collaboration. The Kenyan team doesn’t win because one person went to the Olympics, we win because we went there as a team. In the same way in the film industry, there must be an emphasis on collaboration and team spirit. If I don’t have a good script, you don’t have a good production no matter how much you’ve spent on the technical angle of things. It has to be teamwork and collaboration, working together makes the work easier than working on your own.
What’s Jaki’s dream – end-game?
First, I’m not going to stop making films. I would like us to have an international channel through which people everywhere can access Kenyan films and also compete more on international platforms, with more entries and more wins. This would mean work for everyone for the actors, for the crew, for the writers… everybody.
What would you advice someone who’s starting out or someone who’s interested in film but they’re afraid to venture out and try?
Find a way to tell your story.
What do you do when your not making films? What do you do to have fun?
When I’m not making a film, I’m thinking about the next film.