Pumzi is a Kenyan science-fiction short film written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu. It was screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival as part of its New African Cinema program. The project was funded with grants from the Changamoto arts fund, as well as from the Goethe Institut and Focus Features’ Africa First short film program which are also to distribute the work. Kahiu hopes to expand the short into a full-length feature. The film is in English, but the title is Swahili for “Breath”.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which water scarcity has extinguished life above ground, the short follows one scientist’s quest to investigate the possibility of germinating seeds beyond the confines of her repressive subterranean Nairobi culture.
Pumzi falls squarely within the genre of afrofuturism. It depicts a future state of civilization (located on the African continent) that is predominantly populated by Black people. Additionally, it is produced by a South African studio composed of a group of creators who are creating and popularizing innovative forms of cultural content from within African nations.
Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan film director.
Born in Nairobi, the young filmmaker moved to the UK to study. After graduating from the University of Warwick in 2001 with a BSc degree in Management Science, she enrolled for a Master’s Degree at the ‘Masters of Fine Arts’ programme in directing at the School of Film and Television at the University of California, Los Angeles. After working on movies like “The Italian Job” and “Catch A Fire,” Kahiu decided to return to Kenya to chase her filmmaking dream, even though she knew it was not going to be an easy ride.
Wanuri Kahiu directed Kenyan drama film From a Whisper in 2008 and science-fiction short film Pumzi in 2009.
She has received several awards and nominations for the films which she directed, including the awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009.
Kahiu has engaged with Afrofuturism both in her artistic creation and in the inspiration for her work, calling for a specifically African flavor in her approach to the subculture. Drawing on the depth, power, and histories of African mythologies, spiritualities, and naturalisms, Kahiu has made the argument that African peoples and cultures have been engaging in Afrofuturistic thought for centuries, if not longer. Primarily, she locates Africa as relatively close to the spirit world, allowing for a blending of spirituality and reality both in story and in lived reality. She positions Africa as an inherently futuristic space, one that disrupts and does away with Western binaries surrounding technology, nature, and linear time. Africa’s futurity is one far older, deeper, and richer than anything that the West has come up with. Contemporarily, Kahiu has identified an African Afrofuturism as one that undergoes a postcolonial reclamation of its own timelines, narratives, and spaces. This becomes apparent in Pumzi, in which reclamation and reuse are shown to be authentically, inherently African practices.
Kahiu has critiqued the ways in which Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) control the popular imagination of Africa. She has expressed that how you get money to be able to be a filmmaker in Kenya is through making films about whatever NGOs are funding- films that are about AIDS or female genital mutilation. These images, Kahiu says, reconstitute Africa as the Other.
Kahiu situates her work as a filmmaker making films about Africa to combat these images. She says her films are for the next generation: “Because we have children that we are bearing, and because there are people already here now who exist (my daughter exists now), that we are that we are telling stories to: we need to be very clear about the messages we’re putting out.”