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One-on-one with Softie film-maker, Soko Sam


Activist Boniface Mwangi is the subject of a new documentary film, Softie , which was directed by Soko Sam.

Softie, which premiered last Saturday during the Sundance Film Festival in New York City, tells the story of Mwangi as an activist and how his family inevitably becomes victim in the process.

Soko and Mwangi met eight years ago at Pawa 254, a creative hub that was foundered by Mwangi.

At the time, Soko was working on a short activism manual and he says he found Pawa 254 as the right place to set up his project as a film maker.

Mwangi, who is well known for street protests, invited Soko to one of the protest but he never showed up. However, the pictures which were taken during the protest intrigued Soko.

Boniface Mwangi and other activists during a past demonstration on the streets of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO
Boniface Mwangi and other activists during a past demonstration on the streets of Nairobi. FILE PHOTO

He used the photos to make quick mock up of what he wanted to do on the activism manuals.

It’s after the mock up they both decided to work on Softie (Mwangi’s childhood nickname), which was supposed to be a mini documentary.

The director of the movie captures a charming idealist’s transformation through his grassroots campaign, while exploring the complexities of balancing Mwangi’s deep love of country with the needs of his family.

Soko Sam, the film director.

Nairobi News had a one on one interview with Sam Soko:

How did the Idea come about?

The film never really had a concept, it just organically grew. It was meant to be a 5-minute activism manual, then a 25-minute piece about activism in Kenya, and now this, a story of love and sacrifice for family and country. All these phases have taken seven years to go through.

What went through your mind when it was selected for the Sundance Film Festival?
It was one of the most humbling experiences in our lives. It’s a milestone for our growing industry and serves as an inspiration to other filmmakers.
And as a first from Kenya, I hope the film inspires audiences to become active citizens in their own right, and find harmony with those they are fighting for and alongside.”

Boniface Mwangi and his family. PHOTO | COURTESY

Since it premiered how has it been received?
We had a standing ovation at the premiere and our screenings have been amazing. The film will be on the prestigious POV strand on PBS so the reception has been amazing.

As a film maker behind the 2018 Oscar–nominated narrative short Watu Wote, what are the challenges you face in Kenya and in Africa?
Some of the challenges that we share include scarce funding opportunities for projects, limited or no support from both the public and private sectors, and lack of access to training and mentorship opportunities.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when you start working on a project?
My inspiration comes from both from Kenyan and African storytellers. Kenya is a very interesting cocktail of life, full of cultural influences — African, Arabic and Asian cultures have found their way into our lives. The works of authors like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe influenced me, as well as the Kwani? publications — Kwani? is an urban publication that speaks to our present day lives and culture.

What’s next for Softie?
The film is our expression of our Love for Kenya. We are looking forward to bringing it home and figuring out how to pull this together. We are also looking forward to our European premiere in one of the world’s top documentary festivals.

About the Documentary

The film opens with images of blood that paints the picture of a nation bleeding due to wounds inflicted by corruption.

It shows how the political system has choked the country since colonialism and continues into its near-60 years of independence. Despite the corruption and the high cost of human life, the documentary shows how two political dynasties have clutched onto the most powerful political offices in Kenya while the blood of Kenyans continues to pool at their feet.

The movie’s synopsis, describes Mwangi as daring and audacious, and recognised as Kenya’s most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri.

Boniface Mwangi and his wife Njeri. PHOTO | COURTESY

In the movie, Mwangi has long fought injustices in his country as a political activist. Now he’s taking the next step by running for office in a regional Kenyan election.

But running a clean campaign against corrupt opponents proves hard to combat with idealism alone. And Mwangi soon finds out that challenging strong political dynasties is putting his family at risk.

Should the country really come before family, as he has always believed? His moments with Njeri and their children will deepen the viewers’ understanding of the aspiring elected official, offering introspective respites from the turbulent pace of the campaign.