I met Janluk Stanislas at a recent Caribbeing event and found out about his 2005 Caribbean futuristic short film, Trafik d’Info. As someone of Afro-Caribbean descent, I am always looking for speculative works from the Caribbean and so this excited me. Trafik d’Info, known as the first science fiction film from the Caribbean, centers on a 20th century organization of rebels who are illegally trading information despite censorship from authorities. One of the agents of the organization, Jouwa, hunted the militia, is attempting to save important information so that people in his generation and future generations can receive it. Later in the film we see the effects of the efforts of this organization in the future. Below is my interview with Stanislas about the film:
1) Tell us a little about your background and how it influenced you to be a filmmaker.
I’m French Caribbean, born on the island of Guadeloupe. I’m part of that generation that grew up with the values that our parents and grandparents instilled, but also grew up with the beginning of advanced technology. My parents had a TV when I was one, and I remember going to the movies with my father later on every weekend. My mother influenced both my brother and I to play the piano and always found a way to document the family. I guess that the essence of my art form today was always surrounding me since my young age.
On Wednesday night after watching American Horror Story: Freak Show, I tuned in to watch the latest of TV One’s Hollywood Divas episode, “Five Black Witches.” One of the opening scenes is the de facto leader of the group, Paula Jai Parker, presenting to producer Carl Craig the idea agreed upon in previous episode for a supernatural film about five black sisters who are witches who each would have their own special powers.
Parker acknowledged that there is no film she was familiar with that deals with the supernatural through the experience of the black community, although it can be argued that several exist (Beloved? Sankofa? Several independent films?), but Craig’s immediate reaction was an obvious aversion to the concept. He looked as if he was wondering what the hell Parker just give him. Although he did say this was cutting edge material, he felt that black audiences would have a difficult time embracing this type of story, that they will look at it as “demonic” (here we go).
Some of the best stories are the ones that connect back to original tales and cultural rituals that are part of the human journey. Today, sometimes the universal meanings, archetypes and principles behind our modern stories are hidden because we are disconnected from those ancient tales and rituals. Think of, for example, Little Red Riding Hood, which can be interpreted as an initiation fairytale with the grandmother as the grand wise mother or crone figure and the wolf as an Anubis-like figure leading her onto a path of rebirth of herself.
Eliciana Nascimento captures that universal story of returning to one’s roots and the ancient continuing to live in the new in her Afro-Brazilian and Yoruba Orisha-inspired film, The Summer of Gods. Opening with a boat ride, a young girl, Lili, is traveling with her mother and brothers to visit her grandmother and right from the start, we see she has the ability to hear and see spirits around her. Lucumi priestess and professor of afrofuturism, Koko Zauditu-Selassie, said during the panel that this establishing scene of the family going across the water symbolizes fluidity of generational memory and listening to the past, and that despite being abducted and forced across the water during the transatlantic slave trade, it did not change us completely. Water is a theme throughout the film, including a honoring ritual at the waterfall in Brazil in the beginning of the film and the two water-related Orisha – Yemanja (whose is along with her Brazilian festival a main inspiration for the film) and Oshun (the Orisha of the life-giving rivers). The water represents for this young girl a return to her ancestral roots and traditions, but also a fertile creative place where her new life can begin.
Here are two videos I watched from New York’s Channel 13’s Reel 13 film showcase and competition:
Catron Booker’s The Alien Project: “Alien imaginings? Alien times?Alien futures? Alien lives matter. An Afro-Futurist vision of resistance.”
Gus Péwé‘s The Vacuum Is Too Loud: “The story of a man who finds himself lost on Earth, determined to return home.”
Nappy Nation Media presents Ase, an African historical fantasy short film and TV series concept. Shot on location in Nigeria, it is “set in the ancient West African kingdom of Oyo, and is about three ordinary teens on a seemingly ordinary day who have a not-so-ordinary supernatural encounter with a dark and evil spirit known as Elemoso.
This short film is a brief introduction to the concept for a one-hour epic television series we are developing based on the same setting and primary characters. Artists from all over Nigeria and America united to bring this story to life, in celebration of the beauty, complexity, and history of African people.”
Take a look at the behind the scenes interview:
Directed by Olivier Gros, Benoit Rimet, Scott Bono and Charles E. Farkas, the film follows a “bluesman blinded by ambition and at the peak of his career is up by the Devil whom he had sold his soul 30years before in exchange for great success.” I guess this film is a possible extension to the Robert Johnson story if he lived to an old age. Also, the main message of the film seems to be if you don’t see the innate value of your creations, someone else will see that value and take it from you.
Directed by Trinidadian Shaun Escayg, Noka: Keeper of Worlds is a film about an 8-year-old boy named Gabriel with a rare form of schizophrenia which he inherited from his grandfather who recently died. At his grandfather’s funeral, he meets an old friend of his grandfather, who introduces him to “an unseen supernatural realm” for which he and his grandfather are gatekeepers. “Gabriel must abandon all he knows and loves to fulfill his purpose, his legacy, as a NOKA.” I am getting a Matrix, but more fantastical and less technological driven, vibe from this film; I like the Caribbean perspective of it and would like to see it as a feature length film.
We all know that humans use technology as a tool for our own advancement, but what about when technology becomes a trap to our own destruction? How do we as humans rationalize it all when technology does not help but is controlling us and leading us to chaos?
This is one of the themes explored in Kevin Jarvis’ satirical documentary-styled apocalyptic film. A Dangerous Cure. The film essentially consists of several interviews about Savia Jones, a media personality who was making a film about a zombie virus epidemic at first for fame, but then gets in too deep. As is already known, apocalyptic films, shows and books are a major part of our current culture, but this one gives a slightly different feel with its old school documentary style and closer-to-reality plot. It feels as if the film could happen right now, but also, with its timeless feel, seems as if it already happened.
Here is the Web premiere of the short film Danger Word, directed by Luchina Fisher and starring Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott. The film, which is based on Devil’s Wake from Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, follows a 13-year-old girl and her grandfather in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. If you enjoy zombie shows and films, like The Walking Dead and The Night of the Living Dead, this is a nice addition, mainly because 1) the lead characters are not the stereotypical ones — a young black girl and an older black man, 2) the zombies develop a trait that gives a an interesting twist to how would living humans be able to differentiate between themselves and the dead and also gives a slight remnant of humanity to the zombies, 3) the film has good story and character development that I see potential in it becoming a larger film, and 4) did I mention the black girl, who is the hero of the story, although it does end tragically, and I wonder what happens next for her character.
The collective, HowDoYouSayYamInAfrican‘s behind-the-scenes video of their film, Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera, which is “reimagining the traditional opera to pose a central question: “What happens to the black body when it is haunted by a ‘blackness’ outside of it?” The spoken, chanted, sung, and screamed libretto explores the consequences of centuries of global racial strife that are thrust upon on those born of African descent.” The film will be showing at the Whitney Museum of Art from May 14th-25th.
British filmmaker Shola Amoo‘s film Touch, which he recently premiered in the United States at The Future Is Weird showcase, is now online. The futuristic short follows Jessica and George who are in love, but Jessica hides a secret which puts her life in danger as she chooses to love and go her own path. Based on what I saw, I already want this to be a longer film. Amoo is also currently working on his next film, A Moving Image.
Last Saturday, I went to to New Films/New Directors short film showcase, which included Frances Bodomo’s 14-minute film Afronauts. Based on the 1960s Zambian Space Program, which grade school teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso set up and had amongst its crew a 17-year-old girl and two cats. In Bodomo’s film, albino model and actress, Diandra Forrest, stars as the 17-year old Matha Mwamba who is part of the mission to be the first Zambian astronaut. Along with her are the other members of the Zambian Space Academy as well as Auntie Sunday, played by Yolanda Ross.
As said in a post-film discussion, the film has a timeless quality to it. Shot in black and white, the contrasts between the light of such images like the moon and shadows, like in the tent, are particularly striking. Also striking is the desert setting of the film; for a film about a space academy training to be astronauts, the lack of stereotypically futuristic or hi-tech tools replaced by the recycling of waste and scrapped materials, brings to the forefront the characters and why they need to do this. The characters do not seem to want to complete this mission for some commercial or nationalistic glory during the Cold War’s Space Race, but to show the desire of the spirit to overcome what appears to be the insurmountable. Despite her aunt’s fear of the danger or even her own, she is determined to go to the moon. Despite how they appear to others outside of the academy (just look at the original film for the space program above) and it rudimentary technology, they completely believe in the mission. Hoji Fortuna, who plays Nkoloso, tells Matha that she is the “mother of the exiles” and that he sees those in outer space “welcoming [her].” His nickname for her, a play on her name (“powerful woman”), harks back to a universal “mother of the abominations,” the mother of all the outcasts, and the underdogs, like in Revelations riding her beast of a spaceship on her way to usher in a new world.
Afronauts will be showing at NYU’s First Run Film Festival on April 3rd, the Dallas International Film Festival on April 5th and 6th, and at Sundance London on April 26th and 27th in addition to several others. Also, Bodomo is planning on turning the short into a feature film.