The Kenyan film industry has come a long way since its inception. In the early days, the industry was dominated by foreign films, but today, Kenyan films have gained a significant following both locally and internationally. Understanding the evolution of the industry is crucial for anyone interested in the film industry, whether as a filmmaker or an avid viewer. This blog post aims to provide an overview of the evolution of the Kenyan film industry, from the early days to the current state of the industry.

Part 1: The Early Days of the Kenyan Film Industry

The emergence of film in Kenya

The history of film in Kenya dates back to the colonial era when the British brought in their films to entertain their soldiers and colonial administrators. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the Kenyan film industry began to take shape with the establishment of the East African Film Unit.

The pioneers of the industry

The East African Film Unit was established to produce films that would promote East Africa’s culture and people. Some of the pioneers of the industry include Mzee Odera Owiso, who directed and produced the first-ever Kenyan film, “The 12 Apostles,” in 1957, and Peter R. Hunt, who directed and produced the famous film “Born Free” in 1966.

The challenges faced during the early days

The early days of the Kenyan film industry were marked with numerous challenges, including lack of funding, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to equipment. The industry also struggled with censorship, with many films being banned by the government for being too critical of the government and the ruling class.

Part 2: The Birth of Riverwood

What is Riverwood?

Riverwood is a term that was used to describe the Kenyan film industry, perhaps because some early films featured or were shot along River Road area of Nairobi? I am not sure. The name “Riverwood” was adopted in the early 2000s when the industry experienced a surge in local film production.

How Riverwood really came to be

Riverwood came about as a result of a need for local content that would speak to the Kenyan audience. In the early days, the industry was dominated by foreign content, and local filmmakers struggled to compete.However, with the advent of digital technology, local filmmakers were able to produce high-quality films at a lower cost.

Impact of Riverwood on the Kenyan film industry

The birth of Riverwood marked a turning point for the Kenyan film industry. It gave rise to a new generation of filmmakers who were passionate about telling Kenyan stories. The industry experienced a surge in local film production, and local films began to gain recognition both locally and internationally.

Part 3: The Rise of Digital Distribution

The shift from traditional distribution to digital

The rise of digital technology revolutionized the way films were distributed in Kenya. In the past, films were distributed through physical copies, such as DVDs and VHS tapes. However, with the rise of digital technology, filmmakers were able to distribute their films through online platforms, such as YouTube and Vimeo.

The emergence of VOD platforms in Kenya

The emergence of Video-on-Demand (VOD) platforms in Kenya, such as Showmax and iROKOtv, provided filmmakers with new avenues to reach their audiences. These platforms gave filmmakers access to a wider audience and allowed them to monetize their content.

How digital distribution has impacted the industry

Digital distribution has democratized the film industry, making it easier for filmmakers to produce and distribute their content. It has also provided audiences with more options, allowing them to access a wider range of films.

Part 4: The Netflix Effect

Netflix’s entry into the Kenyan market

In 2015, Netflix, the world’s leading streaming service, launched its services in Kenya. The move was welcomed by many in the Kenyan film industry as it presented an opportunity to showcase their work on a global platform. With over 200 million subscribers globally, the platform promised filmmakers access to a wider audience and potentially increased revenue.

Impact of Netflix on the Kenyan film industry

The entry of Netflix into the Kenyan market has had a significant impact on the film industry. The platform has helped to put Kenyan films on the map and brought much-needed attention to the industry. For example, the 2018 film “Rafiki” was one of the first Kenyan films to be featured on Netflix and received international acclaim, including a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.

The opportunities and challenges presented by Netflix

Netflix has presented several opportunities for the Kenyan film industry. It has opened up new markets and provided a platform for local filmmakers to showcase their work to a global audience. Additionally, Netflix has invested in local content production, providing funding for films and series, and partnering with local production companies.

However, there are also challenges that come with Netflix’s entry into the Kenyan market. One of the main challenges is the competition for audiences and revenue. With more content available on the platform, local filmmakers now have to compete with international productions to capture the attention of viewers. Furthermore, there are concerns about the ownership and distribution of content, with some arguing that Netflix’s model may not be sustainable for the long-term growth of the industry.

Part 5: The Future of the Kenyan Film Industry

The growth potential of the industry
Despite the challenges, the Kenyan film industry has enormous growth potential. With a population of over 50 million and a growing middle class, there is a large market for local content. Additionally, the industry has a pool of talented filmmakers and actors who are capable of producing world-class content.

The role of government in supporting the industry

The government has a crucial role to play in supporting the growth of the Kenyan film industry. This includes providing funding for local productions, creating policies that encourage the growth of the industry, and improving infrastructure to support filmmaking.

The impact of technology on the future of the industry

Technology is rapidly transforming the film industry, and the Kenyan film industry is no exception. Advances in technology have made it easier and more affordable to produce high-quality content, and digital distribution has made it easier to reach wider audiences. However, there is a need for the industry to adapt to these changes and embrace new technologies to remain competitive.


Recap of the evolution of the Kenyan film industry

The Kenyan film industry has come a long way since its early days, with the emergence of Riverwood and the entry of Netflix into the market marking significant milestones in its evolution. The industry has faced many challenges along the way, but it has also shown great resilience and the potential for growth.

The importance of adaptation and innovation in the industry

To remain competitive in the global market, the Kenyan film industry must continue to adapt and innovate. This includes embracing new technologies, exploring new markets, and developing new content that resonates with local and international audiences.

Final thoughts on the future of the industry
The future of the Kenyan film industry is bright, with enormous growth potential and a pool of talented filmmakers and actors. However, it will require the support of the government, investment from stakeholders, and a willingness to adapt to new technologies and trends. If these conditions are met, the Kenyan film industry has the potential to become a major player on the global stage.

By danny