wanuri kahiu & kenya's first dystopian sci-fi film


Pumzi is a 20 min Sc-Fi film. In a futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III (“The Water War”), nature is extinct. The outside is dead. Asha lives and works as a museum curator in one of the indoor communities set up by the Maitu Council. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she plants an old seed in it and the seed starts to germinate instantly. Asha appeals to the Council to grant her permission to investigate the possibility of life on the outside but the Council denies her exit visa. Asha breaks out of the inside community to go into the dead and derelict outside to plant the growing seedling and possibly find life on the outside.

Pumzi is directed by Kenya's Wanuri Kahiu.

Her film From A Whisper -- centered around the August 7th 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya -- was a big winner at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009. It was nominated for 11 awards and won 5, including best screenplay, best soundtrack, best editing, best director, and best picture.

Related reading below:
+Kenyan Sci-Fi Short Pumzi Hits Sundance With Dystopia
+Wanuri Kahiu: A Visionary Director (interview)

(SOURCE: Wired) Kenyan Sci-Fi Short Pumzi Hits Sundance With Dystopia

Pumzi, Kenya’s first science fiction film, imagines a dystopian future 35 years after water wars have torn the world apart. East African survivors of the ecological devastation remain locked away in contained communities, but a young woman in possession of a germinating seed struggles against the governing council to bring the plant to Earth’s ruined surface.

The short film, which will screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “started off as a small script about what kind of world we would have to be if we had to buy fresh air,” writer/director Wanuri Kahiu told Wired.com in a Skype interview.

Like recent standouts District 9 and Sleep Dealer, the short film taps into Third World realities and spins them forward for dramatic effect. But to produce Pumzi, Kahiu looked to the past, as well as the future.

She researched classic 1950s films to create her movie’s futuristic sets, comparing the processes of matte painting and rear-screen projection with indigenous African artwork.

“We already have a tradition of tapestries and functional art and things like that, that loan a backdrop for films,” Kahiu said.

Made with grant money from Focus Features’ Africa First short film program, the Goethe Institut and the Changamoto arts fund, Pumzi will share the screen with two other films as part of Sundance’s New African Cinema program.

Mentors from Focus Features introduced Kahiu to South African producers, including Simon Hansen, who worked with Neill Blomkamp on Alive in Joburg, the predecessor to last year’s sci-fi smash District 9. Kahiu said she hopes Blomkamp’s blockbuster will attract attention to other African films.

Kenya, frequently used for location shooting, boasts experienced crews but little funding. “You just hustle,” Kahiu said. “There is no set funding option. You borrow against banks, you do anything that you can to make your film.”

Distribution is another difficulty. While Kahiu hopes to offer Pumzi online, the Kenyan infrastructure is too underdeveloped to effectively distribute the film in her country. Meanwhile, directors in the country have been watching the prolific film community in neighboring Nigeria for inspiration.

“Nollywood has its own distribution network and Kenya is slowly copying and picking up that very grass-roots distribution route,” Kahiu said.

Focus Features granted Kahiu complete control of her film. After producing commissions for African networks and retaining no rights, she helped create Dada Productions. Her first feature-length movie, From a Whisper, a dramatization built around the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, garnered five African Academy Movie Awards.

Kahiu’s future plans include expanding Pumzi to feature length as well as nurturing her local film community.

“I would like to work and build an industry, so that everyone walks away well-paid, with great hours,” Kahiu said. “Just a humane society, of sorts.”

Pumzi will play five times at Sundance between Friday and Jan. 30. For those unable to make the Utah film festival, the trailer and stills below offer a glimpse at Kahiu’s sci-fi short. (source)

(SOURCE: Jamati) Wanuri Kahiu: A Visionary Director

Jamati: You have been educated in the UK and US and had an opportunity to work in film in the US. What are the similarities and the differences that you have noticed in making films in the west and in Kenya?

Filmmakers the world around have the same heart. The crews I have been fortunate enough to work with have the same drive and professional passion. The difference between the industry in Kenya and that in the West is the support. At every level from the inception of the idea to it’s execution to distributing the end product there is already an existing industry and established method of trade. In Kenya almost everything you do is a struggle and most times you make your own way and learn the hard way from your mistakes. You become your own mentor. In the West, film-making is a viable profession, a respected profession. In Kenya, it is a viewed as a hobby, a pastime. It therefore does not get the corporate or governmental support it needs to thrive as a viable industry. This makes it more expensive, more risky and more challenging to create work.

Jamati: Your first film ‘Ras Star’ is a wonderful exploration of the cultural taboos that affect African youth in a modern world. What gave you the inspiration to do the film, and what message were you trying to convey?

The short film ‘Ras Star’ is based on Nazizi, a friend who works as a musician in Kenya. I have seen her struggle in the industry to get her work out. I wanted to tell the story of her struggle within her own family as a teenager trying to express herself in a world where artistic expression is not encouraged. It’s a message about support. We, the artists need support, and we look to find it from whatever the source, be it from the industry, your family or even the local hooligan!

Jamati: ‘From A Whisper‘ has garnered 5 African Academy Movie Awards. How difficult was it to capture the emotions of the Embassy bombings?

What became evident from the start of the film is that everyone, cast and crew remembered where they were on the day. It was not hard to capture the emotion of it. The difficulty was choosing what story to tell and how to tell it in a way that is not insensitive to the people who continue to hold that day close to their hearts.

Jamati: You are involved in several projects that show a leaning towards movies that make a statement about social ills and celebrations. Is there a particular message/statement that you are trying to convey through your movies?

I try and make films about real people with real emotions that anyone, locally or internationally can understand and empathize with, realizing at the same time that every person living in Kenya is a social statement. So any story told about a character who has lived, struggled, failed or succeeded in a post-colonial country like Kenya becomes a statement about the state of the economy, a comment on the country’s politics and its social norms. We are the heroes and the villains of our own lives.

Jamati: What advice could you give an aspiring director in Africa?

To write their own stories. Their own experience as Africans. And to plant a tree.

Jamati: Are there any projects we can look forward to seeing from you?

I am currently working on a short film ‘Pumzi’ a futuristic short film about an East African territory where the outside is banned and everyone is forced to live inside. I am also writing my a feature-length script based on the Kenya Land Freedom Army. (source)

Submissions: scripts at liberatormagazine.com

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