Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pumzi : African Science Fiction

Pumzi is a 20 minute science fiction film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu which had its US premier at the Sundance Film Festival this week. The movie takes place 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 [in East Africa]. 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.

Watch the trailer:

Kahiu's last movie, the 2008 drama From a Whisper, depicted the aftermath of the 1998 US Embassy in Nairobi and won 5 African Movie Academy Awards.  

Kahiu has expressed some frustration in her blog about reporters questioning her decision to make make a science fiction film:

Yesterday, I did an interview and the reporter asked if Science Fiction is new to Africa. Mmmmm… yes and no. If you listen to the stories that have been told for generations, elements of fantasy, science fiction have always existed within them. [. . . ] I am just a new generation of storyteller, using cinema as my tool. The genre means less to me than the story. PUMZI chose to be Sci-Fi. The story dictated the genre.

[. . .]

Another interview I did a while back in South Africa asked why I would chose to do a Sci-Fi film when there were so many other stories to tell. What? How does that make sense? First, the genre does not dictate the story. Second, (I can feel myself getting hot at the memory) who decides the limitations of imagination? What story am I supposed to tell? Is there a formula that I have to follow because I was born in Kenya? Really? Really????? Aurghhhhhhhhhhh…
 I find the idea that some stories are meant to be told through science fiction to be a compelling one.  It's not just that science fiction allows exploration of "what if" ideas, it's that SF settings can be used to tell stories that transcend present-day social and political boundaries.  As Kahiu notes:
PUMZI is based on a futuristic Africa where borders cease to exist and the people who own the resources control the communities.  Familiar, no?

According to  the Wired Underwire blog, Kahiu hopes to offer Pumzi online, and plans to eventually expand the story into a feature length film.
(via SF Signal)



  1. That looks fascinating--thanks!

  2. I just saw Pumzi at New York's African Film Festival and was astounded. Wanuri Kahiu, the writer and director, avoids bashing viewers over the head with rhetoric about recycling, global warming, or the wastefulness of over-consumption. Instead, she uses details--such as the way humans are employed to generate energy in this future world--to speculate the consequences of our current practices. Pumzi manages to be both sparse and complete. This is a must-see film.


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