Last week, I attended the premiere of the Detroit techno icon Jeff Mills‘ film, Man from Tomorrow, and the film and following conversation stirred some thoughts. Overall, the 45-minute, Jacqueline Caux-directed film was a surreal journey into Mills mindset as a DJ, mixing his music with Caux’s otherworldly imagery. There are obvious abstract influences from films like Metropolis and 2001 Space Odyssey. The film begins with an epileptic-inducing sequence filled with his percussive womb-like sounds and flickering and distorting images that play with shadow, light and colors. It then switches to a scene were a group of people dressed in dark colors move in some sort of a trance state around in a circle and a straight-line march within this blank, minimalist space. Jeff MIlls eventually separates himself from this crowd going into his own heavenly space. Throughout the later part of the film, we hear his thoughts in a voiceover on progress, change and the future, our nomadic nature, space exploration and human self-discovery, the circling of time (that things can be revisted if the context of the circumstance has changed), time travel through music, and creating new language as we expand into our future.
Hearing Jeff Mills in conversation after the film, gave me some more context for the film. As a DJ, his constant travel, recording in studios and his performing, which is usually done away from the crowd, leads him to a kind of detachment, loss of placement and isolation. Music and sound, ephemeral and transient as they are, are the things he finds most reliable and able to shape. We see that within the foundation of the film. However, I do wonder if that sense of detachment could possibly also give him a superman (or even time lord) mentality, where he feels outside of time and space, kind of above and separate from everything else even while surrounded by them? How does that affect how he sees afrofuturism since based on his research, he thinks it is not as futuristic as he would like it to be. Is futurism suppose to look only one way?