Kenyan Fast Cheap Film-making: RIVERWOOD

The African film-making success story of Nigeria’s Nollywood has been joined by another fast-rising star: Kenya’s Riverwood. Both are beneficiaries of the digital revolution in film-making over the last decade, and both are using low-cost digital film-making and editing to tell local stories — in the process making money and creating thousands of jobs.


Launch of a locally produced Film.

What is particularly attractive about this phenomenon is its rough-and-ready approach to film-making: combining low-cost digital cameras and film editing software on personal computers, with small budgets and fast turn-around times. Films are made on location using local people. These factors make getting into film-making accessible and within reach of more people.


Improvising film-maker shooting a scene.

The origins of Riverwood

Riverwood is named after River Road, a bustling creative and business hub in Nairobi. Riverwood operates at a furious pace, with 20 to 30 films made every week. It adds up to 1,000 films a year selling 500,000 copies at 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.60) a piece. This has resulted in a turnover of 1 billion shillings (US $13 million) in the past two years.
The whole industry is totally self-sufficient, and is following the well-trodden path laid down by Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.

Trailer Courtesy of Youtube.

One of Kenya’s female directors is leading the renaissance in film-making. Her name is Wanjiru Kinyanjui and she explains the success of Kenya’s Riverwood, Nigeria’s Nollywood and Uganda’s Wakaliwood as follows:

“Movies are very important because I think they are the most important art in Kenya – in Africa, Basically, because Africans have an oral tradition, and a visual one, there is a huge market for African films”


A Kenyan Blockbuster film.

Riverwood films share a common characteristic of on-the-spot sets and a resourceful and cheap approach.
“They are shot in two, three days and edited in a week,” she continued. “They are selling because people can identify with them. The films being in Riverwood are basically the lives of people, reflecting the Kenyan way of life and entertaining Kenyans.”


A Film-maker using locals on set so no need of make up and scene settings.

And it is a new form of employment for many people: “When I am making a movie, I need people: you employ very many people. And you also employ yourself. It is a real way of getting rid of poverty. Because all this talent, which is untapped, could be working.”
And as Riverwood rising star director John E. Maina puts it: “Hollywood is the model for any society that wants to develop.”

Creative copyright protection

While still in its infancy compared to Nigeria’s Nollywood, Riverwood is already pioneering ways to protect the creative rights of filmmakers and build a financially-sustainable industry. Inspired by Hollywood’s ownership of creative material, Kenyan filmmakers have come up with some ingenious solutions. Each production company has a rubber stamp and signs on the sleeve of the DVD (digital video disc) – even if it is 1,000 copies. If a director finds a pirated copy, and even if pirates have forged the rubber stamp, the signature will look like a forgery.
“It is based on a business model,” said director John E. Maina. ”It is commercial. So it is self-sustaining. This is how Bollywood is growing, this is how Nollywood is growing, this is how Hollywood developed.”


Film-makers with signed copies of their products.

As pioneers in copyright protection, Riverwood directors strongly believe they are an important part of the country’s development.
“When you pirate a product, and the resources are not channeled back to the person who created that product, he is losing out on creating a new product for you tomorrow,” said Maina. “So you are the loser: tomorrow you will not have another product.
“Riverwood, Nollywood, Hollywood, are the model for any society that wants to develop. No society will develop without an audiovisual industry. And I think the way to protect an audiovisual industry is through strong copyright laws,” he said.

“The audiovisual industry is a mirror. If you don’t have a mirror to see yourself, you don’t know who you are. If you don’t have that mirror to see yourself, you are lost.”

Riverwood vs. Wakaliwood

In similar fashion to the popularity of Kenya’s Riverwood, Uganda’s most popular movie industry named itself Wakaliwood. Read the story of Wakaliwood, and how you can get an action movie shot there for just $200, here.


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Cult Kenya correspondent
Peter - Nairobi

Born in a dusty village along coastal Kenya where only a handful of people had ever seen a car i progressed through my education eventually ending up in "THE CITY" (Nairobi) to study Journalism.I now work with a local media company ...

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Continent: Africa
Capital: Nairobi
Population: 40,046,600
Area: 582,650 km2
Currency: Shilling
Languages: Swahili, English

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