Wanuri Kahiu
Wanuri Kahiu speaking

Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, renowned for the lesbian love story Rafiki, has signed with The Gotham Group, which has produced such projects as The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Maze Runner franchise.

“Wanuri Kahiu is a prodigiously talented and brilliant woman,” said Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, founder and CEO of The Gotham Group.

“As an advocate for Africans, especially young women, Wanuri has established herself as a major cultural force. That she refused to edit Rafiki in any way to avoid the Kenyan ban is a testament to Wanuri’s courage and commitment to her creative vision.”

Wanuri Kahiu

In an interview with Deadline.com, Wanuri said, “In our difficult times, and I say this despite the serious themes in much of my work, I also believe film — and television — needs images of joy and frivolity as well.

“My hope is that the whole dimension of the human spirit, in Africa and around the world, be reflected in my work.”

Besides Rafiki, Wanuri has shot other award-winning movies like her 2008 feature From a Whisper, which was based on the real events surrounding the bombings of the US Embassy in Nairobi, for which she wrote the screenplay.

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Check out the trailer here.

The movie went on to win multiple awards at the Africa Academy Awards, including best director and best picture.

Her short sci-fi film, Pumzi, which she wrote and produced, is a haunting parable about a world without water. It screened at Sundance in 2010, won the Venice Film Festival’s “Award of the City of Venice,” and was named best short film at Cannes in 2010.

Pumzi begins with a tele-type caption that places the film spatially in the Maitu community of the East African Territory and temporally thirty-five years after World War III—The Water War.

A placard marks a seedpod of the Mother Tree, contained in a glass jar. The Maitu community contains open spaces, windows with cast cityscapes, and hallways that are well maintained and lit. Although only a small portion of the Maitu community is ever shown, as

‘If they want they can arrest me…’ shouts filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu

Asha walks through the hallway, she stops to admire the scenery. Portions of the community are visible through the window, which gives the sense that the community is large, though not how large or how extensive it is.

Wanuri Kahiu’s short film, ‘Pumzi’ was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Because of the harsh conditions, the lack of resources, and concerns about radiation, all citizens are confined within the walls of the community.

The Maitu community is powered by manual energy production machines—treadmills and rowing machines—which produce no pollution. Each citizen is allotted a small amount of daily water, and they are meticulous in their conservation of water. For example, in the bathroom, urine and sweat are recycled and kept in a personal water bottle.

The curator of the Virtual Natural Museum, Asha, receives an anonymous package that contains a small soil sample.

She tests the soil and finds no radiation and a high level of moisture. Although she tests the sample with technological instruments, she also uses her own senses. When she takes a deep breath and inhales the smell of the soil, she is plunged into a vision, into a deep pool of water.

Based on both the mechanical, scientific tests, and her own, biological, visions, Asha believes that life may have returned to the environment outside the community.

Asha meets virtually with the Maitu Council—a body of three women. Because they live in a contained society, citizens are not free to leave. Anyone who wants to leave must ask for a permission from the Council.

She informs the Council members, but they deny that life is possible outside. To prove them wrong, Asha places her hand on a scanner, which projects her dream of the green tree and the pool of water on the screen.

They dismiss the visions as ‘dream’ and deny the visa, immediately sending in a security team to destroy all evidence. The authorities haul Asha from the lab and compel her to produce energy on one of the machines—the dark side of Maitu’s energy self-sufficiency.

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With the help of a bathroom attendant, Asha breaks out of the underground compound and emerges into the sunlight. Even though she has never seen the outside world, as if channelling an ancestral memory, Asha stops and makes coverings for her feet out of refuse and a head scarf to block the sun, and wind.

Tellingly, we see bags of garbage ejected from the city into the landfill, which suggests that the Maitu community may not have learned its lesson, after all. Asha struggles through the harsh elements toward the compass coordinates of the soil sample. She sees the tree of her dream, though it is only a mirage.

Finding nothing alive, Asha digs a hole in the sand and plants the Mother Tree. As she pours the last of her water and wrings out the last of her own sweat onto the small plant, she lies down to protect and nurture the bud.

In a reverse of the opening scene, the camera pulls up. As the shot widens, we see tree growing rapidly, apparently right out of Asha’s body

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