African Film Directors: Kenyan Film Directors Wanuri Kahiu and Likarion Wainaina

Wanuri Kahiu

Wanuri Kahiu is a household name in the Kenyan and African arts industry for her Afro-futuristic approach in most of her projects. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Wanuri describes herself as “part of the new generation of African storytellers”. She is the co-founder of Afrobubblegum, a media company that supports, creates and commissions fun, fierce and frivolous African art. She has a Masters degree in film directing from UCLA, Los Angeles and worked on the sets of films like ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘Catch a Fire’ before relocating back to Kenya.

Wanuri Kahiu had her big break when she wrote and directed, ‘From a Whisper’ in 2009; a film about two families affected by the American Embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998. ‘From a Whisper’  was nominated in 12 categories at the 2009 African Movie Academy Awards and won 5 awards of those nominations including Best Director. The film also scooped 4 awards at the 2009 Kalasha Awards, out of seven nominations.  ‘From a Whisper’ was followed by ‘Pumzi’ a Sci-Fi film set in a water-deprived earth, that tells the story of “Asha, a young botanist who risks everything as she escapes to the outside world in order to nurture a plant, 35 years after World War III”.

With this film, which she wrote and directed, Wanuri made history as this was the first ever Kenyan Sci-Fi film. In total, Wanuri has written, directed and produced over 6 films which include ‘The Spark That Unites’ and ‘For Our Land’ – A Wangari Maathai documentary -, ‘Ama’s Mama’ and ‘Reflection’ among others.

Her Afrofuturistic approach has earned her recognition worldwide and seen her speak on big stages like TED Talk and recently at the 2018 World Economic Forum.

“When you’re writing, try not to think about your audience. Think about what you want, and what is a genuine emotion for you. Because if you put the genuineness of the emotion into the film, then audiences will respond to that pure emotion, will respond to what you’re saying as a result.” – Wanuri Kahiu


Likarion Wainaina 

Likarion Wainaina was born in Moscow, Russia but moved to Kenya when he was still a young boy. The self-taught Kenyan film director says that “the art of creating new worlds, exploring the characters that live in it and documenting their lives” is his reason for getting up every morning.

Before making his debut as a film director, Likarion worked as an actor, theatre director, gaffer and cinematographer. Likarion directed his first film, ‘Between The Lines’ in 2013; a short film he described as a ‘love letter’ to actors after learning how some are denied roles for rejecting advances from directors. ‘Between The Lines’ earned him his first recognition as a director when it was nominated for an Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award in 2015.

His next film, ‘Bait’, about an extramarital affair that goes wrong, won awards for best director, Audience Choice and Judges Choice awards. It was part of the annual 48-Hour Film Festival. The film was also selected for screening at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. He has also directed a TV show ‘Auntie Boss’.

Likarion Wainaina’s biggest project yet as a film director is ‘Supa Modo’, his first feature film, which had its world premiere at Berlinale in Germany on February, 2018. He is also the mind behind the story’s idea. The Kenyan feature film which will premiere in Kenya later this year, tells the story of a young girl whose dream of becoming a superhero is threatened by terminal illness, inspiring her village to rally together to make her dream come true. The film has received major praise and positive criticism so far and late this week received a Special Mention Jury award at the Berlinale Generations KPlus 2018. As a film director, cinematographer, producer, writer and editor, Likarion has contributed to over 10 films, TV shows, commercials and music videos. Likarion Wainaina is definitely a director to watch out for.

“Cinematography is painting the mood of a film using the camera and lighting. It’s like the story is the canvas and cinematography is the paint brush”. – Likarion Wainaina

Check out his work here>


To laud the great contribution by African film directors, Film Link Africa will be highlighting film directors from around the world in a series we are calling; African Film Directors.  

In this series, we will list African Film Directors in no particular order. This series is not about comparison. It’s not about who has made more films or won more awards. It is about celebrating African Film Directors by highlighting their work and contribution to the African film industry, irrespective of their age, race, number of films and/or awards.

See also: South African Film Director John Trengove


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