The future. 35 years after World War III, nicknamed “the Water War”. The surface of the Earth is but a radioactive desert. Flora and fauna are long dead. The remnants of humanity survive in small indoor communities scattered across the globe.
Asha is a scientist living in the Maitu, a complex located somewhere under the barren desert that once was East Africa. In this self-sufficient society, electricity is produced by hard labour and everything, up to body fluids, is recycled. Everything is rationed, especially water.
One day, Asha’s daily routine is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious parcel on her desk at the Virtual Natural History Museum. No delivery note, no sender name, no instruction. Just some topographic coordinates handwritten on the box. Inside, Asha finds a sample of soil. Assuming it is sent by her superiors of the Museum, she analyses the sample. Surprise: the analysis returns unusually high water content and no trace of radioactivity. On a hunch, Asha plants a seed in the soil. It instantly germinates! This does not make sense. The coordinates on the box locate the area of origin on the surface, but everyone knows that the surface is not fit for life, be it human, animal or vegetal. The outside is dead.
Asha requests an exit visa to go investigate. The Council denies it. Not only that but Asha is ordered to drop any further investigation and to surrender the sample to the Maitu security.
Bad move. Any African husband will tell you that African women do not like to be told what they should do. Quite expectedly, Asha disobeys. Thus she triggers a chain of events which will force her to leave the Maitu and begin her journey on the surface.
Pumzi is a short film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu. It was released in 2009 and features Kudzani Moswela in the role of Asha. It won several awards, including the Best Short Film award at the Cannes Independent Film Festival in 2010 and the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Zanzibar International Film Festival. It is considered one of the first african Science-Fiction movies.
There are a lot of reasons why I love this movie so much. The efficiency and sobriety of Wanuri Kahiu’s story-telling, to begin with. In less than 21 minutes (the length of the movie), and with little exposition, she makes us care for the heroine. We feel immediately unsettled by the sanitized, secluded Maitu whose totalitarian functioning is subtly hinted. Then, as Asha reaches the surface, we are overwhelmed by the scorched, barren desolation which engulfs her…
Kudzani Moswela is the second reason why I love Pumzi. She mesmerized me the whole 21 minutes: slender and graceful, dark-skinned and just plain beautiful. She looks too fragile for this harsh world, yet she has that determination that keeps her going…
Pumzi is a great movie. Its writing, direction and acting make it worthy of the attention of any cinema enthusiast. However I will especially recommend it to the African SciFi lovers like me, who too rarely have the occasion to appreciate heroes and heroines who look like us, and who can’t get enough of hearing them speak their lines with an African accent.