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Two Children Facing Death Teach Us How to Live
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Supa Modo

Likarion Wainaina, Kenya/ Germany

In SUPA MODA the nine-year-old Jo (Stycie Waweru) has a shaved head and dreams of being a super heroine. She wants to play and run around playing with all her friends she has met at a children’s hospital in Kenya. As they wait for their fate, Jo tells the others she will give them all her posters when the time comes. Jo’s spirit is full of hope, strength, happiness and perhaps even a little bit of denial since she is battling a terminal illness, but what else can she do? Despite the advice from the doctors to keep her in the hospital, Kathryn (Maryanne Nungo), Jo’s mother decides to take her home. She wants to protect her and be there to comfort her. Her sister, Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia), has quite a different reaction; she begins to involve the community in half-truths by creating situations which make Jo believe that she has special powers.

The film SUPA MODO reveals the process of a family in crisis when facing an inevitable situation with a terminal illness. It is a remarkable children’s film since it’s rare that the main protagonist dies in the middle of the film but the film has to find its end. It illustrates perfectly Kübler-Ross’ The 5 Stages of Grief and Loss by showing how each person in Jo’s community feels and how they evaluate their own feelings and cope with this process. Jo symbolizes a superheroine who can motivate her entire community to create something beautiful so that her spirit lives on. It is a film with strength and heart. It reaches out to a topic that is not addressed to children, which needs to happen, since they too, would have this process of mourning, if someone around them dies. The five stages of Grief and Loss is a universal one. It doesn’t depend on culture or religion and there are ways for us to help each other to go through this process and not settle into a long depression.

It is not surprising that this film has won 16 awards which include the best Michel Filmpreis at the Filmfest Hamburg and has been nominated for Kenya’s entry for the 2019 Oscars. This year Kenyan film director Likarion Wainwaina has set his marks high by working with mentors who helped him find this universal message. This film was produced as part of the One Fine Day Films workshop project. The founders of this project, Tom Tykwer and Marie Steinmann, wanted to give African filmmakers the opportunity to learn from mentors and create their stories for an international audience and it not only opened in the Generation section at the Berlinale Film festival this year but received special mention in the Kplus category.

Wainwaina started off as part of Kibanda Productions which tells Kenyan stories the Kenyan way. His first breakthrough onto the European scene was when he and his script writer Brian Munene were accepted to the Cannes Film festival in order to participate in The 48 Hour Film Project. They had to create a short film which included a script, cast, and shooting, all edited in the set time period. Their short film Bait was well received at the Cannes film festival in 2017 and won six awards at various festivals.


Joseph Madmony/Boaz Yehonatan Yacov, Israel 2018

Now a Haredi or ultra- orthodox Jew, Menachem (Moshe Folkenflik), tries to follow his religious path by working hard as a grocery cleck. As a widower he is trying to take care of his daughter Geula (Emily Granin) who is diagnosed of cancer in the film GEULA. He soon realizes that financially he can’t pay for the expensive special treatment which is her only chance to overcome the illness. He makes a desperate decision to bring back his former rock band and play at weddings for one last tour. It is not an easy decision to make since he knows that it doesn’t fall into place with his religious path. But he has to have faith in the decision he makes. His only problem is how to convince his former band members to agree to help him in his plight.

During this effort we see the unconditional love that Menachem has for his daughter. The film is brutally honest where one sees this small waif of a child becoming so sick that she collapses. Menachem’s complicated history is revealed and begins to expose him to hidden wounds, since he has not come to terms with his past. He still mourns the loss of his wife, who also died from the same form of cancer that his daughter has, and has not been able to move forward in his own life. He reconnects to his secular past and finds his way through his music, which he clearly missed. In his redemption is he gaining possession of something for a payment or is he clearing a debt from the past? Or is he being saved from an error that he made because he could not face his mistakes he made in the past?

The symbolism in this film is heavy-handed since the center of Jerusalem is called Geula where the Haredi Jews live and Menachem’s daughter has the same name. It feels like fate holds the future of him and his daughter, and he has to go through the mourning processes in order to set him free of the past.

Joseph Madmony graduated from the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School in 1993 and has mostly worked as a scriptwriter for films and television. Being the son of a rabbi, he has an inside view into the spiritual side along with the despair that comes from having to make hard decisions. He was also the chairman of the Israeli Writers Guild in 2003-2004. Boaz Yehonatan Yacov is from South Africa and has come together with Madmony to create this film.