2020 was a strange year for the film and TV industry, but it’s also a year that saw a boom in the industry in Kenya with award-winning productions like Sam Soko’s Softie holding the number one spot in Kenyan cinemas for seven straight weeks.
It’s also a year that TV became everybody’s closest friend as movies and shows became our escape from the bleakness of the year brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. For its Kenyan subscribers, 2020 saw Showmax release its strongest line-up yet of award-winning Kenyan titles and fan-favourites.
Reality – Sol Family
Sauti Sol, Africa’s biggest band, wowed their fans in Kenya and all over Africa when they let us in on some intimate and personal details about their lives in the reality docu-series Sol Family. Much-loved for humanizing the multi-award-winning band and for its many meme-able moments, Sol Family was brought to life by Eugene Mbugua, who’s known for other popular projects like Stori Yangu, Our Perfect Wedding and Concert Nyumbani.
Drama – Kina
Full of twists and turns unlike any other show in Kenya, the drama series Kina has earned its place as one of the best local shows to premiere in 2020. In a world where the rich and powerful always have their way, Kina follows the wealthy Tandalas, led by the unscrupulous Nana Tandala (Sanaipei Tande), and the poor Mwakazis, whose different worlds are brought together by greed, revenge, and justice. Kina also stars Jimmi Gathu, Bruce Makau, Maina wa Ndungu, and Alyce Wangari, who was recently nominated as Best Lead Actress at Kalasha Awards 2020 for her role as Bella Mwakazi.
Telenovela – Kovu
TV duo Rashid Abdalla and Lulu Hassan have mastered the art of telenovelas. 2020 was no different as they brought us yet another telenovela spun up in a web of lies and secrets. Kovu follows Jaffar Haze (Ken Ambani) and his family, who seem to have it all, but beneath all their money, they are a family riddled with dark secrets that soon begin to unravel and slowly tear the family apart.
At the just concluded Kalasha Awards 2020, Kovu was nominated for Best TV Drama 2020 and Best Lead Actress for Trisha Khalid.
Comedy – Njoro wa Uba
This year saw Njoro welcome a change of scenery from Nairobi to Mombasa but his trials and tribulations didn’t change because taxi drivers go through the same struggles everywhere. Praised by fans as the most relatable comedy in Kenya, Njoro wa Uba follows Joe Kinyua (The Whistle Blower) in the titular role of Njoro, a man who’s forced to become a taxi driver to make ends meet after losing a lucrative job due to allegations of fraud.
Documentary – Maisha Mkanda
Watch exclusive with Jonh Allan-Namu on Maisha Mkanda:
One of the best investigative journalists in Kenya, John-Allan Namu brought us the investigative documentary series Maisha Mkanda, perhaps Kenya’s most important production in 2020. The 13-part series goes beyond headlines and examines different topics of interest in Kenya, from widow cleansing in Nyanza to the femicide problem that has gripped Kenya in the recent years.
At the Kalasha Awards 2020, Maisha Mkanda was in a league of its own as it was the only nominee in the Best TV Documentary category with four of its episodes – Widow Cleansing, Mkorogo, Stalker in My Life and Road to Trauma, which won the category.
In February, award-winning Kenyan film 18 Hours premiered on Showmax. 18 Hours follows Zack (Nick Ndeda, Jacob’s Cross), a rookie paramedic, and his driver Mark (Brian Ogola, Lusala) as they race against time to save the life of a road accident victim who has been denied admission in several hospitals in Nairobi.
Directed by Njue Kevin, one of Kenya’s youngest filmmakers, 18 Hours made history at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards 2018 (AMVCAs) by earning Kenya its first ever nomination and win for Best Overall Movie, beating strong contenders like Nollywood favourite Shirley Frimpong-Manso (Potato Potahto). 18 Hours also won Best Movie East Africa and Best Picture Editor.
Supa Modo, Kenya’s first ever superhero film packs an emotional punch with the heart-warming tale of nine-year-old Jo (Stycie Waweru), a terminally ill but vibrant girl with dreams of becoming a superhero who can fly. When Jo is discharged from the hospital to spend her remaining days at home, her headstrong sister and the whole village come together to make her dreams come true and turn her into the superhero she’s always wanted to be.
Perhaps the most awarded Kenyan film ever, Supa Modo has won over 50 international awards including Best European Film For Children, European Children’s Film Association, 2019 and Generation 14Plus: Children’s Jury Special Mention, Berlin, 2018, the Artistic Bravery Prize at the Durban International Film Festival 2018 and Best Screenplay at the Carthage Film Festival.
Lusala won the Rimbaud award at the 2020 Les Rimbaud du Cinéma, held in France at the oldest active cinema in the world.
Brian Ogola (18 Hours and Poacher) stars as Lusala, adopted by an affluent Nairobi family a decade ago, but now imposed on to leave home and start on his own. Eager and willing at first, he makes the most of his life, until the demons from his past return, and he has to face them on his own. Stycie Waweru (Jo in Supa Modo) co-stars.
Lusala is the directorial debut of Mugambi Nthiga, who co-wrote Kati Kati and Supa Modo, and also appeared in Nairobi Half Life, Kati Kati, and the drama series New Beginnings.