Vazi Couture’s Pace Setters List Of 2021.
Agnes Kola is a 26-year-old , Assistant director, Theatre Actor, writer and producer from Nairobi, Kenya. She has been nominated for the Best Assistant Director Women in film awards and was recently in the nationally acclaimed musical, Subira as Subira 2. She has played a crucial role in the making of the films Tipo, Hullabaloo, Maempress, and Anda Kava alongside Abel Mutua, Philip Karanja, Forty, Denise Kibisu, and Joyce Arigi.
1. Her humble beginning.
Her love story begins in kindergarten. Yes, in addition to learning how to write her name within the confines of an exercise book line, Agnes Kola’s heart was taken hostage by the stage. Her passion for theatrics did not dwindle with age, if anything, it heightened with a ferocity to behold. Agnes went on to perform in Kenya Drama Festivals in primary school, high school, and campus. She recalls being the only pupil in class 3 performing alongside kids in class 7 and 8 in these festivals. To her, the stage is where depression, chaos, and worry come to die. To her, the stage is where the world witnesses the birth of bliss, peace, and extraordinary creativity.
When The Lion King was released in 1994, parents all over the world invested in the film for their children; at least this way, they would not consider thermos flasks as fancy toys airplanes. Agnes was among the children who got to sit at the edge of their chairs with their eyes wide and faces bright, thoroughly entertained by the musical numbers performed by wild animals. Between Timon and Pumba’s humor and the vicious battle for Pride Land, it was hard to peel her eyes away from the screen. It was this film that birthed the concept of singing and acting on stage, pushing her to join the field of theatre. The dream then was to play the wittiest and well, craziest character in the cartoon, Rafiki. In addition to being extremely entertained by the film, Agnes wound up pursuing a new love interest, Broadway.
2. The beginning of her career.
After completing her high school education, Kola’s passion for theatre was still raw and palpable. Her first choice was to study a course entailing theatre at Maseno University. This, however, did not pan out. Her uncle, Calvin Jabedo, gave her an alternative idea that would introduce her to another door in the creative industry. Agnes joined The Kenya Institute of Mass Communication in South B, Nairobi where she pursued Film Directing. Most higher learning institutions tend to focus on the theoretical part of learning instead of the practical bit. Kola’s school was different as it allowed its students to interact with the practical ropes of directing a film. What she learned in class is what she found once she joined the Kenyan film industry upon graduating. During her first year on campus, Kola and her classmates were introduced to the concept of photo stories. The following year they found themselves learning how to make documentaries. You know how you reach third year and you have to do a project involving interviews and data collection? Students studying film are required to do feature films. With the funds they acquired, Kola and her coursemates broke into groups and worked on their projects.
Through their time at school, Kola was introduced to pitch tests where students were expected to present their film concepts. The best pitch would allow a given student to become the producer of their film as the others took on the roles as assistant directors and directors. Kola found herself thriving as a screenplay writer.
3. Her success story.
By the time she was completing her academic year, Kola had received two awards; the best screenplay writer and the best drama director of the year. Her first accolade was credited to the third feature film she had worked on in third year; Hera, a Musical. The second award was an acknowledgement for her hard work and commitment in the Drama club. She had been the vice-chairperson of a large drama club known as the Powerhouse. These are not the only awards she snagged while studying at KIMC.
While at the campus, Kola actively participated in the Drama Festivals. In her second year, her drama troupe went to Meru to participate in the festivals where she received awards for being the best actress, best overall artist, and the best female artist of the year. In her final year, her drama troupe performed in Kisumu where she once again went home with the awards for best actress, best female artist of the year, best overall artist of the year, and the best solo verse recital of the year.
Before Kola graduated, she got an intriguing call from Rose Muli from the department of film services. Muli wanted to recruit her to be an assistant director for a variety of projects. Excited, Kola agreed to this proposal where she went on to work with Mr. Kibara, a generous man who happened to be the human version of “think outside the box”.
4. Amazing work she has been involved in.
Some of the projects she got the pleasure to work on while at the DFS were the informative documentaries on SGR, SRC, Kura, and KENHA. As you have probably deduced by now, these were government-oriented documentaries. All in all, this experience was quite insightful for Kola who got to work alongside amazing personalities and gain much-needed exposure.
Kola left DFS and went on to work at Phil-It production when she received yet another interesting phone call from none other than Abel Mutua. At this time, Abel and his team were working on the famous TV show called, Maempress and he wanted her to come on board as an intern producer. As you can imagine, she jumped at the opportunity of working with the exceptionally talented personalities in the Phil-It production crew. On her first day of the shoot, Abel introduced Kola to Denise Kibisu, a woman who has become such an integral part of Kola’s career and life. Denise gave Kola wings to fly and refused to cage her, giving her a plethora of opportunities to apply her talents and skills in the film-making industry. It was Denise who inspired Kola to become a producer.
Kola’s time in Phil-It was meant to only last for three months but God seemed to have other plans for her. As her time elapsed in the production company, Kola was summoned to join the Hullabaloo production team as, wait for it, an assistant producer. Fate’s surprises did not seem to stop here as she was chosen to be the producer of the FreshPro advert and the Assistant Director of the Safaricom Jichanue TV Commercial. Yes, you have guessed it right, fate had more in store for her. Kola was recruited to be the assistant director in Anda Kava the show that has come to nestle in our hearts. She was also given an additional role in Hullabaloo, as an assistant director. Currently, Phil-It is working on producing a film called Grand Little Lie where Kola is the assistant director. In addition to this, she has taken on the role of the second assistant director in an upcoming film project that will merge Nigerian and Kenyan settings.
The Phil-It team has helped her grow in her element by throwing her into deep-end projects that allow her to navigate the film industry while wearing different hats. These great personalities have helped shape her career, teaching her that nothing is impossible when you put in the work. It is here that she met Michael Munyoki aka Smalls, an assistant director that taught her that people on set respond more to appreciation and constructive criticism delivered in soft tones rather than loud bashing words that kill the flame within an artist. Kola believes in hard work paired with talent. You want success in your field? Put in the work. Also, if you wish to learn and grow, be willing to listen. You might be gifted in your element, you might have profound knowledge about the industry but going to a set all-knowing can deny you an opportunity to learn something that can change how you perceive the film industry.
Recently, Kola got an opportunity to play a role in the brilliant musical play, Subira as Subira 2. Before this project, she did not really think that theater was a large industry. This was until she saw actors being flown to Kenya for the play. Her time here taught her that a person’s craft can take them around the world. That is why we should never be scared to invest in our gifts.
5. Agnes Kola’s cheering squad.
Kola recalls how her mother wanted her to focus on carving a conventional career path like nursing. Now, she is her biggest fan. Her brother Kevin Kola has been her support system throughout her journey. She remains eternally grateful to her parents, her grandmother, her siblings, and her relatives who have been supportive and loving even when things looked bleak. She still remembers how her mentor from KIMC, Charles Manyara, believed in her stories and encouraged her to voice them. He taught her how to break down a script and internalize it, an element that is crucial to an assistant director. As for her friends, she cannot thank them enough for being her cheerleaders.
Kola credits her success in the film industry to God, her supportive family, her amazing friends, and the brave strangers who dared to believe in her.
She appreciates how Denise Kibisu gave her wings and allowed her to soar and how this incredible woman became her haven. She speaks fondly of Calvin and Rinah Jabedo who have held her hands and invested in her passion throughout her career. She cannot fail to appreciate how Abel Mutua gave her a chance to join the Phil-It Production crew and how Philip Karanja offered insights that revolutionized her creative side. Here, she also got a chance to work with Forty, the director of Hullabaloo who opened her eyes to new perceptions on set. And how can she forget Joyce Arigi aka Lamborghini? She was the one who gave her her first opportunity to work as an assistant director in the industry in her feature film, Tipo. The latest strangers to believe in her gift is Abu Melita and Isaya Evans who gave her the chance to work under them as the second assistant director in the upcoming international film that will borrow concepts from both Nigeria and Kenya. Finally, there is Isaac Waithaka, one of my most inspirational beings Kola has ever worked with. They worked together on a boxing documentary. All these individuals have gambled on her abilities because they believe in her.
Kola’s journey has not been without struggles. She has battled with fear which births self-doubt, a common vice that has crippled many people who have been brave enough to fight for what they love. Being an assistant director can be quite stressful. You will have good days and you will certainly have bad days. It is not easy to handle adults and if you are not patient, you will always wind up fighting with people on set. Kola has also noted that working in the film industry is like working as a contractor; the moment a project is done, you are out of a job. Unless you get a referral, you can end up staying at home for a long time. This can be quite demoralizing. However, the film industry in Kenya has begun investing in online showcased films where a team comes together and uses their little resources to create a movie that can be displayed on various online platforms. Screenplay writers no longer have to watch their scripts crinkle over time as they wait for TV stations to get back to them.
7. Career highlights.
Kola’s career highlights have been being nominated for the Best Assistant Director Women in film awards and attending a workshop on the first AD with Film Pro East Africa. Her mantra is that life is a mistake that only art can correct. It is through playing the role of someone else that you understand humanity. Kola’s dream is to travel globally on the account of her craft. Personally, I cannot help but picture her in the big leagues, competing against Tarantino and Spielberg for the best director award at the Oscars.