Jinna Muture was apparently born ambitious. From the time she was eight, she knew what she wanted to be: a superhero of course!
“I grew up watching ‘He-Man’ on TV and reading comic books about superheroes like Luanda Magere and Spiderman,” said the 32-year-old independent film maker whose first feature film, Leo, about a Maasai boy who also dreams ofbeing a superhero, is currently showing in cinemas around Washington DC.
From the time she was 16, Jinna knew she was destined to be a film maker. It’s taken her more time than she’d anticipated since she didn’t launch her own independent film company until 2010 and didn’t produce Leo until two years after that.Nonetheless, by age 20 Jinna was already making short movies at her film school in South Africa where she studied script writing,cinematography, directing, and production design, all key ingredients in making professional films.Besides that, from an early age, she was devising and directing plays both at church and in school, developing skills that would serve her well once she finally began making movies herself.
After a year at Daystar University, college seemed more of a distraction and diversion from the course she’d already set for herself.“I wanted hands-on experience,” said Jinna who acknowledged her Cape Town film school also taught her to appreciate African culture.“That’s where I came to realise I was meant to make movies that told positive stories about Africa,” she said, noting that most Western films painted the continent in negative stereotypes.Coming back to Kenya, she got her first big break when Kwani? publisher and founder Binyavanga Wainaina recognised her talent and gave her a chance to make her first music video which he subsequently launched at the Carnivore in 2005.
Jinna was just 24.“The video was nominated for an MTV music award and even made it to MTV America as one of the first African music videos to be shown in the States,” she said.But Jinna had broader ambitions, even the dream of “making it” in Hollywood, so she spent several years in the US working her way up to Tinseltown, up until the economy collapsed in 2008.“At that point I had to seriously re-evaluate what I was doing with my life,” she said. She was almost at the point of despair but instead, she chose to write her script for Leo.That was also the point at which she finally listened to her London-based big sister Brenda who suggested she look for Kenyan businessmen to back her film.Brenda’s good friend was the personal assistant to Chris Kirubi and she was prepared to open a door for Jinna to have a meeting with one of Kenya’s wealthiest men.
Before she got back home however, she met her first investor, a Kenyan living in Texas whose children loved doing theatre with Jinna.“I had staged a children’s Christmas play while visiting a girlfriend before returning home,” she recalled.The Kenyan’s support enabled her to come home and begin assembling her cast, crew and logistical arrangements for shooting the film.“I went to Chris Kirubi to request the use of his mansion as one of the locations for filming Leo, not to ask for financial support,’ she said.Coincidentally, it was right around the same time that CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) was coming to interview her.The cinematographer who shot Spiderman was also in Kenya and he loved her script. Kirubi was aware of all these events,but when he heard that a Texas-based Kenyan was backing Jinna’s project substantially, that was the tipping point.He too agreed to invest a comparable sum in Leo. He also agreed to play himself briefly in the movie.
‘We made Leo in 41 days and did our first test screening in London and South Africa at Oprah Winfrey’s Girls Leadership School,” said Jinna who was thrilled with the positive responses.Unfortunately, she hasn’t got the same from film distributors. “So we had to devise a different business model. We went to airlines (with the backing of Kenya Film Commission) and got Leo into a half dozen of them, including Kenya Airways.”Since then Leo has been shown in no less than 10 global cities. And currently, it’s being screened on five college campuses in the Washington DC area.“Rather than look for accolades at international film festivals, we’ve chosen to hit box-offices where tickets typically sell for around $12 (Sh1,100) a piece.”By showing a Maasai boy’s ‘‘superhero’’ story to full-house crowds across Europe and America, Jinna is not only making money for her investors.She is also proving that positive and well-told stories about Africa can be well received around the world.