Afronauts

I look everywhere for ideas to lie about… to write fiction about. One of the worst, but most tempting, sources is this internet thing.

Surfing around a few weeks ago I stumbled across a series of photographs that referred to the Zambian Space Program of the 1960’s. Further research revealed that it was for real. This guy, Edward Makuka Nkoloso, from 1960 to ’69 claimed to have a program that would send a seventeen year old girl to the moon before the Americans or the Russians.

He called the members of his program “Afronauts.”

This story seemed to be a fertile source for a fictional story. I moved the location to Latin America and the Zambians became descendants of escaped Jamaican slaves – the voyagers became “RastaNauts.”

But my momentum stalled about a third of the way through and the little pile of text sits in its file unused, waiting, about as fertile and useful as the Zambian space program itself.

Meanwhile, Candy and I bought tickets to a new film that is premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival about the heady days of the Starck Club here in Dallas… and looking through the festival catalog, I saw a showing of a short, experimental film called, Afronauts.

Maybe this could give me a kick in the pants… I was there.

I bought my ticket online and discovered the film was showing at 10:45 PM on a Sunday at the Angelika as part of a collection of five odd works in a “Late Night Shorts” exhibition.

Even Better.

I showed up at the festival box office with my receipt in plenty of time and talked with the people behind the counter.

“I’m looking forward to this, I have always liked short films, but it’s hard to see them now,” I said.

“Back in the day,” I said, showing my age, “When HBO first came out, they would show short films between the feature movies. Sometimes I would enjoy the shorts more that the full-length fare.”

“You know, they have a Short Film Channel on cable now,” one of the guys said.

“Yeah, I saw that once tuning around. But it isn’t in our package. I’d probably have to pay for the volleyball channel or something like that to get it.”

“What’s wrong with volleyball?” asked one girl working there. She obviously didn’t get the point.

After waiting around, I traipsed upstairs to wait in line. I was one of only a couple folks that had a ticket, everyone else had a big film festival badge draped around their neck. It was a film nerd-fest. One guy beside me in line was espousing on the subject of proper punk attire – criticizing one guy with a leather jacket and bright red Mohawk because he, “was trying too hard.”

“How can you be showing off your uniqueness when you are wearing something that has become, in essence, a carefully regulated uniform. I’ve seen that exact jacket a half dozen times.”

He had a point.

The conversation then turned to rude animation. To illustrate his point, “I don’t know how they were ever able to get this stuff on the air,” he showed everyone a particularly obscene clip from Ren & Stimpy that he happened to have saved onto his phone.

For educational purposes only – this was the clip. NSFW – Not safe for anything… really. You were forewarned.

At this point, the doors opened and we went in. The films we saw were:

Flesh Computer
USA, 2013, 14 min., Color
Director: Ethan Shaftel
When his cybernetic pet project is put in jeopardy, the handyman of a decaying apartment building is forced to take a stand, blurring the lines between human and machine.

Effed!
USA, 2013, 19 min., Color
Director: Renny Maslow
Two friends pedal across a post-apocalyptic landscape on a tandem beach cruiser and face the question: when oil runs out, where exactly is the line that society can cross before it ceases to be a society at all?

Beasts in the Real World
Canada, 2013, 8 min., Color
Director: Sol Friedman
An experimental mixed-media short exploring the tenuous connections between a naturalist, a rare land-mammal, some ghosts and a pair of sushi chefs.

Afronauts
USA, 2014, 14 min., B/W
Director: Frances Bodomo
On 16 July 1969, America prepares to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon. Inspired by true events.

Mr. Lamb
USA, 2013, 15 min., Color
Director: Jean Pesce
A dark comedy about a lonely waitress who is in love with her pen pal — the convicted murderer, Charles Lamb.

Flesh Computer was really good – probably the best of the lot. It successfully tread the fine line between weirdness and a comprehensive plot with characters you cared about. Fantastic use of special effects.

Effed! Was a fun romp through a dystopian future with some surprisingly recognizable actors. Especially notable was the ultimate bad-ass road warrior vehicle – a solar powered Segway carrying a helmeted rider armed with a baseball bat.

Beasts in the Real World was my least favorite. It had a good premise – some laughing hipsters place a small camera on the conveyor belt of a fast food sushi restaurant. The entertainment comes from the camera as it winds around and ends up back in the kitchen. There are a couple amazing scenes, but the story falls a little flat – especially when the most compelling character is a blobfish about to be sliced.

Afronauts was the most serious of the selections. A stylized look at the Zambian astronauts. An unforgettable vision, especially the mesmerizing Diandra Forrest as the young pilot, Matha. The drama is played out as the Apollo eleven landing bursts from a transistor radio. What happens? I’m not sure. But it is haunting.

Finally a hilarious, scary, and ultimately uplifting portrait of a woman infatuated with a jailed serial killer, Mr. Lamb. This was especially enjoyable because the director, Jean Pesce, was in attendance and enthusiastically answered questions about New York theater actors, heavy cameras, and shooting in extreme cold.

Then it was time to bundle my way home and get some sleep so I could show up at work early the next morning.

I’m not sure if I found any inspiration for my story but I did have a good time. Maybe next year I’ll buy a pass, take some time off work, and see a whole boatload of movies.

I don’t get to the theater as much as I would like any more.

Now, of course, I realize that I can find more short films that I could ever possibly watch on the internet. Even beyond youtube and vimeo – past hulu and netflix – there are sites and sites dedicated to collections of them, from the prosaic to the sublime.

Another rabbit hole to fall down into.

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2 responses to “Afronauts

  1. Bill, really glad you enjoyed FLESH COMPUTER when it played in Dallas. We’re launching the movie online for every to watch on October 20th and I’ll shoot you a link if your readers would care to take a look as well. 🙂

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