Yesterday I had the opportunity to screen (twice) the new short SF film, PUMZI (Swahili for “breath”), written and directed by Kenyan filmmaker, Wanuri Kahui. The venue, Le Grande Dakar, the Senegalese restaurant in Brooklyn. The whys, I assume because, though the film is playing in the shorts program of the New York African Film Festival, the screening times were very inaccessible for the average working New Yorker, as well as because of the growing buzz surrounding this groundbreaking film.
PUMZI, takes place in a dystopian future where humanity has been forced to live underground as a result of World War III and the destruction of the environment, so-named the Water Wars in the film. A young woman, Asha, played by Kudzani Moswela works as a museum curator, in service to a council called the Maitu. After receiving a mysterious box with a soil sample, she eventually discovers that it contains no radioactivity and is fertile enough to support life. She soon decides to apply for a pass to go above ground to search for the source and possibly more non-radioactive areas. This monumental discover, however is not taken too seriously and is treated rather threateningly by the council and they “advise” her to send in the sample and to disregard her discovery. Asha however is not convinced this is the correct thing to do, especially in light of her consistent dreams of life blossoming on the surface of the planet. After being taken into custody for disregarding the command to turn in the soil sample and plant, she escapes to the surface where she eventually faces a tough decision on how to support the life of the little plant.
After the film, Kahui conducted a short Q & A with the audience of restaurant diners. She informed us, among other things that the film was made on a miniscule budget of $35,000, was shot in South Africa, as part of a production between Kahui, Hannah Slezacek, Focus Features, Africa First, Goethe Institute, Changamato Fund and Atomic VFX, was produced on the SI-2K camera from Silicon Imaging, Inc. created by Simon Hansen, who previously produced the short, Alive in Jo’burg, the pre-cursor to District 9 and was originally inspired by her research on the only African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya in the 1970’s.
Kahui, who has made films prior to PUMZI, including “From A Whisper”, 2008, the award winning feature narrative that portrays the aftermath story of lives affected by the terrorist bombing in Kenya in 1998 is a graduate of the Masters Program at UCLA in the United States is currently working on a narrative script about Wangari Maathai.
PUMZI is a beautifully photographed, well executed and extremely professional film that holds its own when it comes to direction, camera movement, acting, music, editing, production design, costume design, make up and vfx.
PUMZI tells the condensed story of a big idea in 22 minutes. Kuhai covers not only themes of ecological disaster and war, but of water waste and management, where every drop of liquid is accounted for down to the sweat on your back. As Mos Def said, “(It’s the) new world water and every drop counts…” It’s a water economy in the film, where it seems everyone must play their part not only in supporting the larger group (where a sort of time share in physical energy is cast upon the society or at least among what seems to be the working class) but in addition everyone is individually responsible for their own water recycling – if you follow my drink and reuse logic. It made me weary of the future.
On another level, I imagined as the main character risked her life to find out the truth, (by trekking across the desert alone and physically unprepared with a small “life” on her hip, on a search for “hollowed ground”), how it was maybe reminiscent of our ancient ancestors trekking out of Africa and spreading the “human seed” around the world. Extremely strong visual statement.
All in all, I really enjoyed the film so much, I stuck around to watch the second screening, which of course just afforded me the opportunity to take in the splendor of its beauty again. Black folk look really beautiful in the future, even when it seems bleak and full of despair, and you can always count on a Black woman to get it started again… ;0)