Goethe Institute And Afrofuturism in Films

The Goethe Institute [according to their site: ‘We promote knowledge of the German language abroad and foster international cultural cooperation. We convey a comprehensive picture of Germany by providing information on Germany’s cultural, social and political life.’]

all this month in various locations are curating a show called Afrofuturism. A suitably intriguing catchphrase that initially called to mind equal parts SHAFT and the works of authors such as the late, great Samuel R. Delaney or Ray Bradbury.

Your humble writer here, and his plus one, braved the cold to see a showing of three short films of Afrofuturism. Nestled in a ChinaTown neighborhood, surrounded by businesses and eateries, and theaters and neon lights cutting the night, and crowds, and the steady traffic roar of a bustling metropolitan city… here at what some call ‘the end of days’, the very walk to the Goethe Institute is a study in futurism.

However that is where the wonders of that night would end. Upon entering Goethe Institute your invitation is checked off and you are directed to a theater. A small intimate theater that at capacity could hold maybe a 100 people, and kudos to the interest in the subject, that the theater was filled.

A nice introduction is provided, the host is very knowledgeable, and introduces the nights slated schedule with a deft and assured hand. Two of the filmakers are in residence, and I clap appropriately, understanding that live events, even the quietest ones, are always something of a give and take, a call and response. Applause is the audiences side of that conversation.

When warranted.

So the introductions done, a nice polite crowd seated, and away we go. Only not really… we get 10 minutes into the first film before they realize they are showing the wrong film.

Not the most august of starts. And following that, the projection pauses a couple more times. But getting past the surprising technical issues and confusion that Goethe Institute was having, we move onto the real issue of the night… the trio of short films.

Let’s start with:

The bad:

The films all have severe pacing issues, the rougly 30 minutes per film feeling more like 300 minutes. This is generally because with the exception of the first film, PUMZI (South Africa, 2009), they are not very good films. They lack the rudimentary narrative structure to be considered a film, much less enjoyable. These are sketches, outlines of film.

The second film DREXCIYA (Germany, 2012) has an interesting idea, a future where Europeans are the refugees, illegally being smuggled into Africa to escape the oppression and hunger in Europe. It is a fantastic idea, that the film does nothing with. It is instead endless sleep inducing minutes of people walking and sitting in a desert. Possibly interesting if there was any intriguing conversation or interaction between the people, but there isn’t. The movie is a missed opportunity on every level, except one which I’ll discuss in the good section.

The third film is the worst of the bunch. Mainly because it really had no business in this grouping of films. It was a performance piece, that really had nothing substantive to do with the term Afrofuturism. I can’t even give you a title for it as its not listed in the publicity for the event, which would suggest it was a last minute substitution.

A dance/performance piece, two people gyrating all over a church, it mixes grating noises, overbearing voice -over, and scrolling text, to create an annoying hole (or whole, take your pick 🙂 ). Even writing that above synopsis, the film still sounds like it could be interesting, unfortunately it isn’t. There is not an artful or enjoyable bone in the body of this non-film.

There is a place for performance art, or what is known as reactionary art, art that is conceived less to say something than to shout or antagonize, or simply get their soundbyte out there, and I would say that place is not a filmfest pulicized as being about Afrofuturism.

I haven’t walked out on many movies, but I would have gladly done so on this one. The only thing that kept me to the end was 1/the knowledge that despite feeling like it was 300 minutes long, that in reality it would be done in less than 30 minutes, and 2/the logistics of all the hassle it would take in getting from my seat to the door.

My biggest issue with the last film is, it wasn’t a film; it was a performance piece diatribe, that had no business in that film forum. It’s a bait and switch, no different than going to see say Cowboy short films, and being provided instead a short film about genital warts. That is a perfectly valid topic, it just has no place in the film topic advertized. The fault for this film has to be laid completely at the foot of the curator at Goethe Institute. No way should this non-film have been selected.

Okay onto..

The good : PUMZI The first film of the trio (they hinted at showing a fourth fim, but after ‘movie’ #3 they would have had to pay me to stay), I thought it really embraced the concept of Afrofuturism, using the pressing issues today of deforestation and drought and water privatization to extrapolate a tomorrow that has inherited our ills. It does suffer from pacing issues, feeling long even for its scant 20+ minute running time.

The soundtrack of the second film, by Nneka Egbuha, I found fantastic and the only saving grace of a movie that had an interesting premise but completely useless execution.

And that’s it as far as the good. Goethe Institute offered an intriguing premise for an event, received a solid turnout, but if my thoughts, and the grumbling and comments I heard from the crowd are indicative, they failed in the successful curation of this event. And while I definitely applaud them for trying something different, my desire has always been for something to be done well, rather than just saying you did something.

Will they try something similar in the future, I can not say. But I would say if they do, get it curated better, with better selections.

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