IN/FLUX: Mediatrips from the African World

The first in a projected three DVD series, IN/FLUX is a collection of ten short films and videos from Africa. While the topics range from the personal to the political, several themes bear themselves out as you watch each piece. You come out the other side of this set with a feeling of disorientation, bewilderment, and attempts, both private and public, to make sense of the confusion that is palpable in a fast, paced, dizzying world, where there is often no time to process the images and emotions that flood us, nor offer a chance to see history and tradition beyond the use of their detritus as symbols to process or, through advertising, to desire.

Imposed, or manipulated, disorientation is the subject for two of the most powerful films. In Under All Means Necessary (directed by Dineo Bopape in South Africa), the primary image is of a dancing, dread-locked girl, her image slowly becoming warped, distorted—abstract; her heartbeat becomes more dominant as her image disintegrates—she maintains her humanity; with complete abstraction comes applause, cheers—by/for who? She fades out to cartoonish music, a garish reimagining of her former space. In an offering from the Democratic Republic of Congo and directed by Mowoso, Postcolonial Dilemma suggests local backlash to colonial exploitation by turning the tables. In a charged, daemonic scene in grainy black and white, ala Kenneth Anger, a dazed white woman with a machete through her skull is lead underground by a group of men. Briefly placed into a small room where she dances naked, she sits next to a man who is either taking blood or juice from two little boys standing next to him, and rubbing both himself and her along the palm and arm. A jittery cut to a plane landing, with our view that of a person sitting in the emergency seat—a final credit calls this film “Track #1: stay tuned.”

All is not compelling with this collection, however. There are a couple videos, one from Egypt–The A77A Project (On Presidents and Superheroes)–the other from Cameroon (The Voice on the Moon), in which the action is little more than some slightly animated still photos: a man dances his way onto a picture of the moon landing and blends into Neil Armstrong; a trio of Egyptian gods walk through scenes of Middle East warfare and street life, all accompanied by cheesy 80s music. The message is equally obvious in The Real People (Angola), a short that features an Arab woman dancing in the streets and in front of businesses as a hip-hop song plays; the deceptively poppy song is quite angry, being about a search for “the real people,” people with hopes and fears, who are not trying to win the game and be somebody; a list of ethnicities and a short list of what few opportunities are available to them in most cities: restaurants, pubs, anywhere other people can go to get drunk and expect foreigners to serve them. In all three films there is a message of confrontation with the modern world, one dominated by an exploitative culture that trivializes other ethnicities, yet the films are too ham-fisted to have an impact. Much better is South Africa’s God’s Land, which depicts, over disembodied chatter and argument, a camera which follows the cameraman’s footsteps along a grassy but well-travelled area; the grounds are a restricted area (a fallen sign the cameraman walks over says “No Gatherings:” is the cameraman sheepishly keeping a low profile?) Suddenly the camera points up, to an erect sign. The sign is in the middle of a dirt patch surrounded by the fading grassy areas. The sign says “God’s Land.” Here of course, the message is also unmistakable, but director Ismail Farouk draws one with an intimacy, a focus on the random symbolism one can find even from a head-down walk through a public park.

The real prize of this collection is I Love You Jet Li. Also from South Africa and directed by Stacy Hardy and Jaco Bouwer, this is a haunting first-person narrative by a young woman with a congenital heart defect that she claims does not allow her to love anyone; even those she is attracted to lose their allure if they return the affection: a rebel in her school, a tutor, a writer, a musician, each of whom treat her with growing disrespect and violence. She becomes obsessed with her psychotherapist , a woman who finds her attentions absurd. Soon she does as well. She sits alone in her apartment watching all the movies in her local store, one by one in each genre, finally masturbating to fight scenes in the Lethal Weapon movies and developing an obsession for Jet Li. Initially attracted by the fight scenes in his films, she also is drawn in by Li’s more nuanced roles; maybe he will understand her. Now the visuals of this piece become clear: a random string of mundane airport scenes, a point of departure: literally, in the narrator’s flight to China to meet Jet Li, and figuratively, she finally becomes the lover whose object cannot possibly return love: a stalker.

IN/FLUX: Mediatrips from the African World is an often brilliant, sometimes lazy, but never less than thought provoking. Happily more often than not, it is also confrontational, showcasing the strong voice of artists from an area of the world that the planet’s more insular and privileged see only in times of war or catastrophe. The tension revealed in these films is a tension in this region to make sense of its own identity after centuries of exploitation or use as geopolitical chess pieces; for its individuals to either stay and help with that process or leave and pursue their own dreams in another country, one that may or may not have participated in their homeland’s decline. A stark, wrenching choice, one viscerally explored in this powerful collection.

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