When Kevin Njue or Njue Kevin, as he refers to himself, walked into Java, Karen Shopping Centre, my first impression of him was a humble man. We are told not to judge a book by its cover but I judged this particular one and the story inside it turned out to be similar to my judgement. This was my first time meeting Njue and I had been eager to see what the writer and director of such a highly anticipated film like 18 Hours would be like.
Sue Wanjiru, who plays the character of Sabina in the film described him as a down to earth person and director.
“He (Njue) is very easy to talk to and work with.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Nick Ndeda who described him as “very approachable”.
They both said that Njue treated all cast members equally irrespective of their roles. This created an atmosphere where every actor found it easy to approach him in case they needed to run something by him.
Lorella Jowi reached out to Njue and requested him to become the first guest on Film Link Africa’s new segment The Wild Card; a platform meant to recognize and appreciate film makers in Kenya and Africa as a whole. He honored the invitation to talk about 18 Hours film and a few weeks ago on one sunny Tuesday morning, we found ourselves seated in Java waiting for him to arrive. The interview was scheduled for 10.00am. Earlier, Njue had called saying that he would be late. There was more traffic than he had anticipated. A few minutes to 11.00am, a man with back length dreadlocks walked into Java. He was dressed in blue jeans, a grey shirt with black patterns and a pair of black canvas shoes. He walked directly to our table.
“Sorry I’m late. That was the longest Taxify ride I’ve ever had.”
We exchanged pleasantries before heading to the interview location, Cold Springs Karen Boutique Hotel.
When asked to introduce himself, I noticed that he introduced himself as Njue and only added Kevin as an afterthought. I didn’t ask him about this but throughout the interview and interaction with him I could tell that he was a man who was very proud of his African heritage. Njue was born in Nyeri where they lived before moving to Mombasa. He later moved to Nairobi for his studies in Kenyatta University where he wrote and produced his first film Sticking Ribbons. Fast forward 4 years later, he wrote and directed his first feature film, 18 Hours.
18 Hours is a film that follows a rookie paramedic who survives 18 hours in an ambulance for the life of a road accident casualty who is denied admission into hospital.
The film has been in the making for the past two years, at least for Njue; from the time he read the story to its production.
“When I read the story 2 years ago, I was touched. It got me thinking about what I could do as an individual to change the situation and prevent such an incident from happening again,” he said.
The film tells an emotional story that explores the sad situation of the emergency medical system in Kenya. It was inspired by the real life story of Alex Madaga who died after spending 18 hours in an ambulance because he couldn’t find a hospital that could admit him. This sad story was narrated by Brian Ochieng, the paramedic who was with the victim in the ambulance until his time of death. Madaga’s wife Jessica Moraa was also present during this tragic incident.
Coincidentally, this interview was held 5 days after exactly 2 years when Alex Madaga lost his life. Njue says he wanted to tell this story so that he could start a conversation around the emergency healthcare system in Kenya. The three actors I spoke to all attributed the story behind the film being the main reason why they took up the roles. This was not just another acting job.
“When I got the chance to read the script after getting the part, I remember feeling a heavy sense of responsibility to try and do my absolute best because this was a story inspired by true events,” said Brian Ogola who hopes that through the film the right steps will be taken and the state of emergency healthcare system in Kenya improved.
From the beginning of its production to this moment, the story has been given the attention and airtime it deserves by the Kenyan media and Kenyans in general. Njue together with everyone involved in the film’s production only hopes that this film will drive change in Kenya’s emergency healthcare system.
Njue is quite a young writer, producer and director. He is 25 years old. But from the way he talks its very hard to tell he is that young. He oozes intelligence especially in matters regarding film. All three actors agreed with me. Both Brian and Nick admitted that they had never worked with such a young director as Njue before. But they were amazed by his energy, drive and level of professionalism that not so many young people possess.
“He (Njue) is very mature, wise, a visionary and very professional,” Sue Wanjiru spoke of him adding that age doesn’t really matter as long as one possesses those qualities.
From an early age, he knew he wanted to be an actor but later settled into telling stories through writing. He is passionate about film since it gives him a platform to share his experiences and those of others.
“I want to share experiences. Film is the best way for me to express my experiences or things that I have seen.”
Throughout this interview I could tell that his passion for film is inborn. He is especially passionate about telling Kenyan and African stories through film.
According to Brian Ogola, Njue’s passion for film is what captivated him throughout the film’s production.
“Njue’s passion for film is the first thing that drew me in from the audition process to the subsequent filming of 18 Hours,” said Brian adding that his (Njue) “professionalism, drive and work ethic is what got us all to buy into his vision”.
Even after making award winning short films like Sticking Ribbons and Intellectual Scum and now a feature film, he still describes himself as an upcoming filmmaker. He says that “you always want to make a better film than your last”.
He said that what makes him a good director is the fact that he approaches and handles each story differently. He believes that each story should be treated uniquely.
I wanted to hear from the actors what kind of a director Njue is. They were the recipients of his directives and therefore in a better position to describe him as a director.
Nick called him “a very hands on director” while Brian said that he is “very attentive to detail and prepares for everything before hand”. Sue said that he is one of the few directors who gives his actors freedom to explore the character and interpret them in their own way. This, according to her is every actor’s dream.
What stood out for me about Njue’s directing style is something Nick Ndeda said. According to him, Njue helped and encouraged the actors to find the reason behind every line. It was not about cramming and saying the lines. He not only did this with the main actors but with the extras too; even those who had just one line. He ensured that they understood the context of their lines. This helped move the story forward and maintain the level of intensity it needed throughout.
Njue was saddened by Alex Madaga’s story and wanted to do something that would effect change in Kenya’s emergency healthcare system. He hopes to achieve this through 18 Hours, a film that both Nick and Sue said they are proud to be associated with for being a game changer.
At the close of the interview, we asked Njue what his most memorable moment in life is. As he pondered over the question, I could see his face light up with excitement before announcing with a wide smile on his face,
“It was when I met the woman who will be my wife.”
18 Hours film premiers on 10th November 2017 at Prestige Cinema. Tickets can be found on Kenya Buzz.
*Njue’s interview on The Wild Card segment will be available on YouTube soon. Follow our social media pages @filmlinkafrica for updates.