Jo (Stycie Waweru) is a witty nine-year-old terminally ill girl obsessed with Jackie Chan movies. When she is taken back to her rural village to live out the rest of her short life, her only comfort is her dream of being a superhero – a dream her rebellious teenage sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia), overprotective mother Kathryn (Marrianne Nungo) and the entire village of Maweni think they can fulfil…
Here are five reasons we think Supa Modo will be your new favourite African film:
#1. ‘Supa Modo’ has won over 50 international awards, including at Berlin
Supa Modo was named Best European Film For Children from the European Children’s Film Association and won a Children’s Jury Special Mention in the Generation 14Plus category at Berlin in 2018, among many, many other awards. Just here in South Africa, it’s won the Artistic Bravery Prize at Durban International Film Festival; the Audience Award at Jozi; and Best New Director at Cape Town.
#2. ‘Supa Modo’ has a rare 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes
Variety called it “a tender, bittersweet fable,” while The Seattle Times wrote, “I’m glad movie theatres are dark because I ugly-cried my way through all 74 minutes of Supa Modo. I straight-up bawled my eyes out… Brutal and beautiful, melancholy and joyous, Supa Modo is simultaneously crushing and uplifting.”
#3. ‘Supa Modo’ is produced by Tom Twyker
German director (and composer) Tom Twyker is known for acclaimed films like Run Lola Run and Perfume and TV series like Babylon Berlin and Sense8, but his most important legacy may be setting up One Fine Day Films in 2008 with his wife Marie, who’d been teaching art in the schools and slums of Nairobi.
The initial idea was to give African filmmakers an opportunity to write and produce their own stories, and, under the mentorship of experienced filmmakers, reach an international audience. Since then, One Fine Day Films, in cooperation with DW Akademie, has trained over 1 000 filmmakers from 21 African countries, and, with their Nairobi-based partner Ginger Ink, has released six award-winning feature films, including Soul Boy, which won the Audience Award at Rotterdam; the Kenyan box office phenomenon Nairobi Half Life; and Kati Kati, which won the FIPRESCI Critics Prize at Toronto in 2016.
#4. ‘Supa Modo’ is a love letter to the imagination
“What’s the harm in a little pretending?” That’s the central question of Supa Modo, which AwardsCircuit described as “a love letter to cinema…”, Toronto International Film Festival called “a stunning reminder of the power of imagination”, and Little White Lies labeled “a love letter to the power of escapism.”
Director Likarion Wainaina says he drew heavily on his own childhood in making this film. “I drew from that time when I was nine years old and I had my first cinema experience in an old shack at the edge of Kibera slums in Kenya. I saw Jackie Chan star in Legend of the Drunken Master and right there and then I knew I wanted to make films. From that moment onwards, films became my solace. Every Saturday I would go back to that shack and for three shillings per movie, I would let my mind be transported to other worlds. Worlds that gave me hope, excitement and fear.”
#5. ‘Supa Modo’ is a celebration of life in the face of death
A film about the inevitable death of a nine-year-old girl is not something you’d expect Variety to call both a “crowdpleaser” and “uplifting.” But Supa Modo is the kind of film that will make you cry and cheer in equal measure; a film that is as aware of how cruel life can be as it is of how powerful families and communities can be when they stand together.
A month before production, Likarion went on a research trip to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. He visited Ward 1E, the special unit where children with terminal illnesses reside. “I went expecting the worst but I was greeted by the most heartwarming, kindest children you will ever meet,” says Likarion. “There was so much life in that small ward.”
He was particularly moved by a boy who told him that all he wished for was “a helicopter, more Chapatis and for his mum to be happy…” As Likarion puts it, “This brave young soul already knew he won’t live long. He just wanted his mother to be happy; her sadness was the only thing he couldn’t live with.”
Likarion realised then why he wanted to tell this particular story. “Because someone somewhere has lost someone. Death has snatched that someone from you but you know that they would want you to be happy. Do not fear death; fear not enjoying life. The heroes at Ward 1E are enjoying theirs. So everything since that day, from the shaping of the characters, to the cinematography, to my directing, to the post production; everything I have done for this film is in honour of those little amazing angels at Ward 1E.”