Movie Seen! Pumzi: Does Kenya's first sci-film hold up?

With Pumzi set to be Kenya's first science fiction(sci-fi) film, Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu surely had her work cut out for her to ensure she set the standards high and didn't disappoint Kenyan audiences. Although there was controversy surrounding another Kenyan film Otto: The Bloodbath, a horror film(which I'm yet to see) it does seem Kenyan filmmakers are finally exploring other film genres. Though I'm skeptical as to the claims that Otto was Kenya's first horror film, I am pretty sure there hasn't been a Kenyan sci-fi flick before.

Set 35 years after World War 3, the movie takes place in a futuristic East Africa that has been devastated by the effects of drought and global warming. Kenya is now a barren wasteland in which (as we see on a newspaper headline) people have to trek for days in search of water. Millions of people have perished and there are few places where one can escape the drought.

 A Natural History Museum, which also acts as a sanctuary for people escaping the drought is the main setting for Pumzi. In it we see the protagonist Asha (Kudzani Moswela) who works as a lab researcher though I admit I didn't really get what it is she was actually researching. In the movie we see that there is an extreme shortage of the water, forcing them to use other methods to obtain clean water(which makes for some gross but interesting scenes).

As regards to the lead actress this is probably the main issue I have with the film, the fact that they used a South African. For a film that is supposed to be Kenya's first sci-fi movie, its really disappointing that Wanuri allowed this to happen. Focus Features(who also did District 9) are the production house behind Pumzi, and I don't know if they made the decision lead actress, but even so I feel Wanuri should have fought for a Kenyan lead. It's bad enough that South Africans have been taking away opportunities that should have gone to Kenyan actors and filmmakers for years.

 As for the look of the film it resembles George Lucas' classic THX 1138 with a touch of 5th Element. It also employs decent CG effects with the outside scenery, the lab and some dream water effects. As for the costumes though you feel like you've seen them before, they are well designed and look good. The film features no dialogue apart from the some computer AI which I find was an interesting decision though it doesn't really harm the film. The film is short at only 20 minutes(due I guess to the $10,000 budget) but it remains well paced. It has a good closing scene where we see Asha walking out into the desolate land and when we discover what her mission its really quite a moving and powerful image. It really makes you think about the issues we are having currently with environmental desolation. After the movie I was wondering if Wangari Maathai has seen it and what her thoughts are on it?

::KC Blog:: rating  3/5 stars

"A good start to the Kenyan sci-fi genre, with a theme relevant to Kenya's current environmental situation. A shame about having a South African as lead actress though."


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