When a terminally ill girl returns home from the hospital with just months to live, her village rallies together to fulfill her dreams of becoming a superhero, persuading her she has special powers and casting her as the star of her very own movie.
It’s the poignant story at the heart of “Supa Modo,” the sixth feature from Tom Tykwer’s Kenyan shingle One Fine Day Films and Kenya’s Ginger Ink Films Africa, which will have its world premiere as part of the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus program. Cologne-based sales agent Rushlake Media is handling world sales.
Directed by Likarion Wainaina, “Supa Modo” is a tender, bittersweet fable about a suffering mother who’s determined to bring joy to her daughter’s last days, with veteran thesps Marrianne Nungo and Nyawara Ndambia starring alongside newcomer Stycie Waweru in an eye-opening debut.
Wainaina says he auditioned roughly 500 children from across Kenya before casting Waweru in the lead role. “The moment I met Stycie, I knew she was going to be Jo,” he says, laughing. “I know it sounds like a cliche for every director!”
Such leaps of faith have rewarded Wainaina in the past. A high-school dropout, he calls himself a product of “YouTube University” who learned the ropes of moviemaking online. He shot his first short film using a borrowed camcorder, but within a few years had landed a recurring gig in the director’s chair for the South African web Africa Magic.
Though Wainaina has helmed close to a dozen made-for-TV movies for the channel, he considers “Supa Modo” to be his “first true film,” crediting the intensive mentoring and workshopping of One Fine Day. “They gave me the space to be me.”
Since the release of their first feature, “Soul Boy,” in 2008, One Fine Day and Ginger Ink have been a reliable pipeline for East African filmmakers: along with Germany’s DW Akademie, they’ve trained more than 1,000 young directors, cinematographers, scriptwriters and technicians through a series of annual workshops. The films have had legs on the festival circuit, with Toronto and Berlin premieres all but guaranteed with each new release.
Yet the films, whose budgets dwarf those of the typical fare from Kenya’s local Riverwood industry, are largely underwritten by financial support from the German government. Bolstering an industry that can stand on its own two feet has proved vexing.
One Fine Day co-founder Sarika Lakhani says she’s worked with both German and Kenyan partners to improve the framework of an industry “that is viable without the German ministry.”
Along with Ginger Wilson of Ginger Ink, and other local players, they’ve continued to lobby the Kenyan government for the creation of a tax incentive, an idea that’s been periodically kicked around for years.
While the nuts and bolts are still being debated, Lakhani notes the importance of a rebate scheme “that would not only benefit our productions, [but] would help the Kenyan industry at large.”
Wainaina, too, recognizes the challenges. “We don’t have things in place to generate our own income,” he says. “Funding from abroad will only take you so far.”
In the future, the helmer says he’d like to look at box-office receipts in Kenya, study audience demographics and shoot movies on budgets that can generate modest returns, which can then, in turn, be poured into more productions.
Despite the uphill climb, Wainaina says Kenyan filmmakers are optimistic. “We don’t just lie on the ground and say, ‘Hollywood is so far away!’” he says. “We work with what we have, and we’re so joyful to make our movies.”