Interview With Filmmaker Samuel Luchemo
An exclusive interview with award winning filmmaker Samuel Luchemo
When we began this blog, we aspired to tell stories of artists in Kenya using their talents to impact their society positively. In 2018, we caught up with talented actor, talent manager, filmmaker and entrepreneur Samuel Luchemo. As an actor and producer, he has taken part in a number of film productions that address certain key social issues. He also began an initiative dubbed ‘The Rose Campaign’ that seeks to empower young women living in informal settlements. Here he is to briefly tell us about his journey and aspirations as an artist.
Good Afternoon Samuel. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.
It’s a pleasure to meet you too.
You describe yourself as an Actor, Talent Manager, Break-dancer, Film Director and Producer. Which one came first?
I would say I started out in music. I was first a break-dancer, and then I became a rapper. I am still a rapper and songwriter although not professionally. I then ventured into acting which led me into entertainment entrepreneurship; specifically event organizing, talent management and film production.
You’ve said that you started out as a rapper. Did you always aspire to be a professional rapper?
I have always liked music. When I was a kid I loved break-dancing because I loved Michael Jackson. I got interested in writing songs when I went to high school, and as I was writing I also began performing at school events. I liked the feeling of performing in front of a crowd and it made me aspire to make a career out of it.
Let me now focus on Samuel the filmmaker. Briefly tell us about your filmmaking journey?
Professionally, I can say I began in the year 2013. Previously, it was just a hobby. In high school we had a film project and I was tasked with creating the soundtrack. I ended up acting in the film and I absolutely loved the whole acting experience. When I finished high school, I continued auditioning and acting in a few short films. The first professional film in which I acted in was called ‘The Exchange’ whereby I played the role of a drug dealer. It was interesting and really captivating being a drug dealer. Most people loved it. I thereafter took interest in the production process because I wanted to create my own stories and showcase it in front of an audience. I have been part of a number of films as an actor and a producer. I acted in a Ugandan production, Whisperer 2. I have also acted in ‘Broken’ which was a Mwelu Foundation production in 2016. I was also semi-featured in ‘Sense 8’. I have just completed a short film ‘View From Above’ where I worked was the production manager; part of the crew and cast came all the way from the United Kingdom, France and Russia. I have also worked in advertising. I worked with Guinness in the years 2016 and 2017 and recently with Safaricom.
You’ve told me your first film was ‘The Exchange’. Let us talk about your other film, ‘Broken’ which you did in partnership with the Mwelu Foundation. How did that partnership come about?
‘Broken’ was a wonderful film which we shot in the year 2016. They actually knew me from my work as a talent manager. We kept on working together regularly and they are the ones who reached out to me to audition for this film. It was a really nice film. I was playing the role of a Pimp! Who wouldn’t have fun doing that! It touches on a very sensitive issue; the challenges ladies face as they try to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. They sometimes meet up with rogue producers, managers and promoters who force them to exchange their bodies for favours amongst other vices. It was a really fantastic experience being part of this production. It was shot in Mathare; the cast and most of the production team were also from Mathare.
What is the major challenge you faced as you ventured into filmmaking?
There was a lot of discouragement as I took my first steps in the industry. Most people did not and still do not regard it as a “job”. There were also very few deals coming my way. Sometimes, I also had to travel very long distances to audition and network. In this industry you really need to work hard to build an effective network that will enable you get assignments constantly. These are just a few of them because starting out was really difficult and I had to be mentally strong and determined to ensure the challenges do not hinder me from achieving my goals.
You’ve talked about the discouragement from people as you were starting out. In your opinion do you feel that there’s a negative perception of the whole arts industry in our current society?
There’s a huge negative perception in Kenya on the whole arts industry. Film is an economic opportunity just like any other industry. Many people are making a living out of it. Furthermore one is able to interact and network with diverse groups of people. This interaction has personally broadened my mind and knowledge. There is a lot I can talk about the film industry and it is our job as artistes to unite and show society the industry’s worth.
In your opinion, what do you think us, as creatives, need to do to change this negative perception of the whole arts industry?
As creatives, we need to first and foremost embrace our own stories and narratives. There’s too much imitation of what others are doing elsewhere yet we have so many stories to tell. Netflix took up the story of Pablo Escobar and created one of the most watched series globally, Narcos. Here in Kenya for example, we have a yet to be told story of a certain police officer who has highly feared in Nairobi in the 90s and 80s by the name Patrick Shaw. Picture that movie or television series. We also need to embrace unity because united we stand and divided we will constantly fall. Without unity we cannot progress as creatives. Hollywood is coming to Africa and not vice-versa. The sooner we get our act together and sort out our industry, the better for all of us.
You’ve recently began an initiative in conjunction with Sauti Afrika and Nerds Production called the ‘Rose Campaign’. Briefly inform us what it’s all about?
It’s an initiative that seeks to empower hundreds of thousands of young girls’ lives through providing sanitary towels to the less fortunate girls and provide a platform for women and young girls to speak about health matters concerning reproduction.As we were working in the slums, we noticed that most young girls cannot afford sanitary towels. Some were using tissues, others were using blankets, some even engaged in sex with older men to get the money to buy sanitary pads. It was really sad and heart-breaking! We decided to increase awareness on their plight using social media, and thereafter organized a fundraiser to donate free sanitary towels to the young girls. We also conduct mentorship sessions for the young girls on how they can work on their talents and use them to not only benefit them but also their local community. We are recruiting more volunteers and well-wishers as we seek to expand the scope of the initiative to better the lives of more young girls. We have actually also been to Meru through an Actor I used to work with who is based there. Anybody interested can always contact us .
From ‘Broken’ to the ‘Rose Campaign’, it seems you have a passion for community development.
It’s always good to give something back to the society. I ventured into talent management because I’m passionate about helping individuals grow to a higher level; same case with trying to uplift young people living in informal settlements. It isn’t their choice that they were born there and I believe we all have a duty to empower them if we all aspire for a greater nation.
Do you feel as artistes, whether through our artwork or through other side projects, we have done enough to impact our local communities?
I would say we haven’t done enough. There are some who have done incredible things in their local communities but I would say most out here are still seeking fame. Even when they engage in these projects, it’s not genuine. It’s more about the fame and the P.R. I believe we should always seek to impact somebody’s life in whatever way we can and learn to separate ‘Showbiz’ from genuine community-impacting initiatives.
One way in which filmmakers have tried to address certain societal issues is through receiving funding from non-governmental and civil society organizations that tackle the specific issue they seek to address. However, there have always been mixed reviews in the industry as to the role these organizations play in especially the film sector. What is your opinion on this matter?
It depends with the organization. I have worked with very good organizations such as The Mwelu Foundation, Hivos and Pathfinder. However, that does not mean that all organizations are good. At the end of the day, it all lies with the filmmaker. What do you want to achieve through your production? How do you want the society to view your production?
As we conclude, is there any production in the near future which we should look forward to?
Oh Yes! I’ve just told you about View From Above. I am working on a number of feature and short films and documentaries that showcase real African stories. My company was the official promoter of Ketchup, the Nigerian Musician, during his recent visit to Kenya this year. My vision is to conquer the African entertainment industry and of course as any other filmmaker Oscars is the dream!
The dream it is for all of us. Thank you very much Samuel for your time and supporting the Talanta Manufaa initiative.