On Saturday night, the National Museums of Kenya came alive for the third edition of Riverwood Academy Awards.
As expected, a constellation of Kenya’s favourite stars on the big and silver screens gathered to crown the best among them.
The awards are the brainchild of the Riverwood Ensemble Filmmakers Association (Refa), which brings together producers from all over Kenya.
Ilaa — or flower in Kikamba language — was the night’s biggest winner, taking home three awards. It took home the best cinematography, best editing and best original score gongs.
NTV’s "Pray & Prey" won two awards, with Elly Yang Omukubi and Pascal Tokodi named the best lead and supporting actors in a TV series, respectively. The popular TV series had received five nominations.
Speaking at the venue, NTV’s Justus Tharao said the station would unveil a new programming bouquet with a special focus on local productions that would resonate with audiences.
“A win for Pray & Prey is a win for our viewers for believing in us and keeping us in check,” he said.
"Ngahiha Cia Wendo", which airs on Maisha Magic East, was named the best vernacular series and produced the best supporting actress in a TV series, Ms Peris Wambui.
The biggest award of the night went to "Hidaya", a film from the Coast, which was named the best feature film of the year.
Shot in Taita-Taveta County, it starred, among others, veteran actor Likobe, who urged actors to be proud of their work.
Acknowledging that actors are viewed mostly as celebrities, Mr Martin Githinji, who won in the best director category for his role in Happy Anniversary, said the awards were encouraging for actors.
“We work in a vanity industry and nothing is as gratifying as getting a pat on the back,” he said.
The awards pitted industry veterans against newcomers and the top categories delivered the night’s biggest upsets.
Jackie Kaboi emerged the new favourite leading woman, with two nominations in the best lead actress category. Her performance in Choices earned her the award.
Little-known Samuel Ngunjiri was named best lead actor for his role in "Confession", a short film, edging out veteran actors Likobe, Gerald Langiri and Mike Njeru.
Speaking at the awards, Refa secretary Mwaniki Mageria outlined ambitious for the local film industry.
Mr John Karanja, a Refa board member, said there were plans to train more filmmakers, with a view to improving the quality to international standards.
“Riverwood producers are first and foremost business people. Their business model is low-budget, fast turnaround production of content for home viewing. But we want to change this and make quality productions,” he said.
Mr Mageria said this year was more competitive.
“We made call-outs on social media and had a jury of Kenya’s finest film minds make the decision that had everyone agreeing indeed that the winners truly deserved their win,” he said.
The academy’s judges conferred on Oliver Litondo the Living Legend Award. Best known for his portrayal of Kimani Maruge in the Hollywood blockbuster "First Grader", Mr Litondo received a standing ovation when he called for more investment in the creative economy.
“We need creative thinkers, especially in the government, who can creatively come up with solutions to problems facing the nation’s youth,” he said.
Mr Litondo urged the government to give incentives to encourage local and international filmmakers to invest in the industry, which has the potential to create thousands of jobs and contribute immensely to the economy.