If there is something like a geist of cinema, we can see its movement across world history roughly in this way: from North America/Europe to East Asia/Far East Asia. And from Asia to South America. From South America to the Middle East. We are now at the dawn of cinema's last and final movement—across the continent of Africa. Africa (and particularly Senegal) has produced great directors, but their works have not added up to something like a movement, a general mood, a cultural revolution. Think, for example, of Iranian cinema in the 1990s—all of those talented directors transforming cinema and being transformed by their transformation of cinema. This was a movement, a mood, a revolution. (Sadly, some of these filmmakers are now under arrest, which is why this Sunday, June 12, the Cine Foundation International and Northwest Film Forum are presenting a screening of films influenced by that great movement, the Iranian New Wave, in the history of world cinema.)
Africa. What will cinema become in Africa? Two new films hint at the possibilities. One will be screened at SIFF, The Destiny of Lesser Animals; the other, a short, Pumzi, will be screened at Hedreen Gallery as part of the Radical Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club. The former is set in urban Africa; the latter in the future of Africa. The former is a crime film; the latter is science fiction.
The Destiny of Lesser Animals, which is directed by Deron Albright and written by its star, Yao B. Nunoo, is about a Ghanaian police detective who was deported from the post-9/11 United States and spends much of his life and energy trying to return to the land of milk and honey. After he finally obtains a fake passport and visa, they are stolen. For reasons that are too complicated to explain in this space, he ends up looking for a killer who has obtained a police gun. What we are thrown into is the maze of a dense African city—it flows with sexual desire, market goods, and social/personal memories. The film makes perfect sense until the final parts of its third act. Here, a sudden turn in the plot is made, and I honestly do not know what to make of this turn and the film's ending. But the sections that do make sense to me—the detective work, the formation of a friendship between two African inspectors, the discussions about the political history of Ghana—are fascinating.
The other film, Pumzi (I haven't seen it yet, but it screened at Sundance 2010), is a short film by a Kenyan woman, Wanuri Kahiu, set in a postapocalyptic East Africa, and concerns a curator who lives in a desiccated and underground city. The Destiny of Lesser Animals can be seen as the African transformation of detective cinema; and Pumzi as the African transformation of science fiction cinema.
The Destiny of Lesser Animals, Harvard Exit, Sat June 11 at 7 pm; Admiral, Sun June 12 at 3:30 pm
Pumzi, Hedreen Gallery, Sat June 11 at 8 pm
Shorts in Support of Iran, Northwest Film Forum, Sun June 12 at 7 pm