The Black Atlantis

The negative effects of tourism, globalization, and commercialization in Zanzibar.

From the poster art for Kibwe Tavares' "Jonah."

The Future Weird is a monthly series focused on films by directors from Africa and the global south.The series foregrounds films which imagine the future from a non-Western perspective.  I have been trying to attend as many of The Future Weird’s screenings as possible in recent months.  It is organized by Okayafrica’s Derica Shields and Africa is a Country’s Megan Eardley. The most recent installment was entitled “Black Atlantis” and featured a number of shorts that were linked by the common theme of water. The short that stood out the most for me was British architect-turned-filmmaker, Kibwe Tavares’ Jonah.

“Jonah” explores the effects of tourism, globalization, and commercialization in Zanzibar. Here’s the synopsis:

Mbwana and his best friend Juma are two young men with big dreams. These dreams become reality when they photograph a gigantic fish leaping out of the sea and their small town blossoms into a tourist hot-spot as a result. But for Mbwana, the reality isn’t what he dreamed – and when he meets the fish again, both of them forgotten, ruined and old, he decides only one of them can survive. Jonah is a big fish story about the old and the new, and the links and the distances between them.

Here’s the film:

With solid cinematography, dazzling visual effects, and intermittent humor, “Jonah” shows us a Zanzibar of the near-future that has become a “seedy, capitalist tourist trap.” The short was in part inspired by Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” as well as a trip Tavares took to East Africa (the film was originally supposed to be set in Lamu, Kenya). The filmmaker’s previous short, “Robots of Brixton,” was about a similarly dystopic future and acts as a kind of re-contextualization of the 1981 Brixton Riots. The short film took home the Special Jury Award for Animation Direction from Sundance in 2012 and is certainly worth watching. Kibwe Tavares is one of the leaders of the UK-based film and animation studio, Factory Fifteen.

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.