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Meet Likarion Wainaina, latest block buster in Kenya’s film industry

Likarion Wainaina, the director behind the latest block buster in Kenya’s film industry, Supa Modo, has hustled his way up, scratching the surface one step at a time and the efforts are visibly bearing fruit. His film is a force to reckon with. He shares his incredible journey to his big break with Winnie Kabintie

Winnie Kabintie @WinnieKabintie

Life in Kenya is hard and for the average Kenyan youth, it requires real time resilience coupled with a fiery determination to succeed, to cut an edge, especially in an industry that remains fairly underdeveloped by the government. Could you share with us your journey in filmmaking.

Sighs! It’s not been easy! I have done every menial job in a production; I have been a set runner, extra, boom swinger, you mention it. But I have always had a passion for film. I recall that I did most of these jobs just to get some money to fund my productions.

Supa Modo is not your first production, but it seems to be the film that put your name in the big leagues. It made global headlines by becoming the only African selection in the 2018 Berlin Film Festival, where it had its international debut. It was also the opening film for the much acclaimed Nairobi Film Festival. What is so different about it?

Supa Modo’s story is so special to me. It’s my own story and I take pride and appreciate the fact that the producers gave me the room to tell it my way! The way I wanted it! It’s a story from my heart, my own voice! It also happens to be my first full feature film, the rest have been studio-based films.

I read about your mixed feelings during the pre-production of the film. At some point you considered calling off the production. What exactly made you get a change of heart? What kept you going?

The feedback I kept getting from the people around me. They affirmed me that the story was incredible, and those little ‘supa’ heroes at Kenyatta Hospital room 11b, those kids, they inspired me to tell the story.

Then part of my own personal story is in the film, I, just like the villain in the movie wanted, to be a film maker when I grow up. And now, what I enjoy, what I live for, is the reactions I get from people across the world when they watch the film.

Your bio mentions that you were born in Moscow, Russia but you often cite that you grew up in Kibera. Tell us more.

Mine is the unusual riches to rugs story. Yes, I was born in Moscow, but years later my mum and dad separated and we had to move back to Kenya.

Life was tough as my mother struggled to raise us single-handedly and that’s how we ended up living in Ayani, Kibera. Mum is actually one of the people Supa Modo is dedicated to; she’s a strong woman, my superheroine. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her strength.

Your first film, Between The Lines made history by becoming Kenya’s first movie to be projected in Imax. It also got a nomination at the 2015 AMCVA Awards for Best New Online Media. Would you talk to us a bit more about the film.

I shot Between The Lines in 2012 together with my friends and fellow hustlers in the industry — Brian Munene and Bruce Makau. In 2013, we had a deal with Imax that saw them project the trailer of the film during their screenings. I kid you not, we had to put in crazy work to convert the film for Imax.

At that time we didn’t have the technology we have now. I remember we spent a whole week at Imax Theatres — we actually slept there to get the work down because their screen has a totally different format. And thanks to that, a lot of Kenyans got to watch the film. We are hoping to go back to Imax with Supa Modo.

Did you have any mentors that walked with you in this journey?

I wish! It was just me and Brian and Bruce. We have encouraged each other and save up every month to fund our productions. Basically, we’ve learned on the job. So, we drew strength on each other.

Your short film, Endeavour was part of the 48 Hour Film Festival 2015 where you and the team worked on the film Bait, which was selected as one of the top short films screened at the Cannes Film Festival (2016). That’s quite a milestone. What’s next for you?

At the moment, I am writing scripts for two feature films. There is a genre called Afro-futurism, which is African sapphire, African in view of science fiction. It’s an area I have always had an interest in, long before Supa Modo was in the works, and now, I think I have the chance to pursue that.

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