Ugandan-born Swedish director Baker Karim is a seasoned filmmaker with a track record that speaks for itself. His latest project is a Mombasa-based thriller – Kadzo that is set to hit the screens next year.
Born in Uganda in 1974, Baker’s family moved to Sweden as refugees from the Idi Amin regime. Afterward, he traveled to the United States to help his older brother Osmond Karim make a graduation film. While in the US, Baker studied Art in Los Angeles and Film at the American Film Institute.
Later, Baker Karim worked at popular American film director Roger Corman’s production company – Concorde/New Horizons. In 1999, he made his feature film debut with the drama Fyra Kvinnor (1999). Baker Karim has since then made several other films such as Malcolm (2002), Familjen Babajou (2009), and Afrofuturistic sci-fi Jorbundna (2021) among others. Currently, his career boasts several accolades including screenings at the Cannes Film Festival, and the prestigious Guldbagge and Kristallen Awards nominations.
Together with his brother Alexander Karim and the writer Camilla Läckberg, Baker Karim owns a production company called Bad Flamingo. This company in partnership with Kenyan-based film house Zamaradi Productions is behind the production of Kadzo.
Apart from Baker who is the director and one of the film’s scriptwriters, Kadzo’s crew also features top film talent from Kenya – script writers Victor Gatonye and George Mungai. Additionally, the film has a star-studded cast that includes Alexander Karim, Carolyne Midimo, Robert Agengo, Caroline Muthoni, and Brian Omollo (Khaligraph Jones) among others.
Kadzo storyline tells the story of MZ a drug dealer on a mission to save young sexual worker Kadzo. The thriller explores the Mombasa ganglands while addressing themes such as love, drugs, and crime. Production is underway at the moment.
KV caught up with Baker Karim to get the details on the upcoming thriller and his film career.
Is this your first time working in Kenya and why did you choose Kenya for this specific film?
This is my first time making a film in Kenya. I knew some guys who were film producers in Nairobi who told me about the scene in Kenya in both art, fashion, music, photography, and most relevantly in filmmaking. I decided to make the leap and come here to set my latest film in Mombasa.
How is the whole experience of working with a Kenyan production company and Kenyan actors on this project?
The thing that’s striking is the work ethic. It’s very different from Sweden. I think the film production scene is more like Los Angeles in the early 90s. People gang together to make the best and they are all super committed and excited about the future of film in Kenya. It was a pure pleasure to see. The quality is very high for film crews. The actors are phenomenal. Just amazing.
What are the screening plans for Kadzo?
We’re looking at screening the film in Kenya and through a streamer. Our intention is to make an international Kenyan film. We believe there’s a market for it now. Even in Europe and America.
Being a scriptwriter and director, do you ever struggle to pick one or are you comfortable wearing all hats?
I’m actually both financier, producer, director, and writer and sometimes I shoot my own films (Director of Photography). It’s never a struggle. It’s whatever suits the project. I can wear multiple hats on a film with ease. It’s never a problem.
What is an ideal writers’ room for you?
I don’t work with long series formats so I don’t actually do writers’ room. In the Kadzo film, we were two main writers and I. That’s a good team to make a script work.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
I don’t struggle with writer’s block. I don’t deal with it. If I don’t feel like writing I wait. Sleep, watch YouTube videos, and talk to people. I don’t sweat it. The subconscious is cooking up something. It will come.
Your track record is very impressive and even features screenings in the coveted Cannes Film Festival, which moment(s) would you say solidified your career in film?
We’ve managed to do a lot of things, but a career is never solidified. You’re never better than your latest film. That’s actually the harsh truth. I’m not trying to solidify anything. I want to stretch and develop and grow. Even if I’m in this business for 30-plus years already, it’s about growth and learning. Not about solidifying.
If you were not in filmmaking, where would you be?
What has been your favorite film project so far?
Kadzo. The latest one is always my favorite.
Do you watch the films that you have directed, or written?
Not really. I’m really fed up after the process. Tired. Sick and tired even. I stay away from my own films after they’re released. After maybe 5 years I’ll take a brief look at something again and usually, I don’t hate it as much as I did once it was finished.
What traits do you think make a good film director and what advice would you give to upcoming script writers and directors?
Patience, patience, patience! On a personal level, you have to allow for the process. The actors, the script, and the crew, just give it time to grow. And in a life perspective too: a career is always in the making. Don’t worry if it doesn’t take off directly. It can take time. Have patience.
Are there any other crew (or cast) roles that you secretly wish you could take part in?
Ever been part of a film that you were not proud of? If so, what did you learn from it and how were you able to move on?
Many films I was not proud to be part of. I learned that experience happens with both good projects and bad ones. So, from that perspective, there are no “bad” experiences. Get back up on the horse and do it again. That’s the takeaway.
Which filmmakers do you look up to and why?
I look up to everyone who has ever finished a film project. No matter how small. Film productions are super hard to do. Many talk about wanting to do it but never get going. Everyone who manages is a hero to me.
Apart from Kadzo, which other new projects are you working on?
What do you live by?
I live by the creed that I try to be honest, and generous and have humor in my life and work. That’s a good way to live and it’s a good way to be a director too.