This feature film from recording artist Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman is undeniably ambitious, boasting an enticing amalgamation of Afrofuturist sci-fi, multi-language musical, and anti-colonialism diatribe. There’s almost too much going on, with side forays into topics as disparate as tech addiction, New Age philosophy, e-waste pollution, and clergy sex abuse, but the film is eminently watchable and searingly original.
While the plot is so loosely defined that it’s open to some interpretation, it initially follows an enslaved mine worker in Burundi who escapes his job in the wake of the senseless murder of his brother by the mine’s overseers. He eventually joins up with other escaped miners turned computer hackers as they attempt to dismantle the regime exploiting Burundi’s natural resources and people. He also meets a beautiful intersex runaway named Neptune, and their immediate deep connection serves as the spark that truly ignites the revolution.
At one point, Neptune’s voiceover narration addresses the audience, saying: “maybe you’re asking yourself, WTF is this?”, a statement that garnered my full agreement. Part of the fun though comes from trying to figure out just where the film is going, while continuously enjoying the eye-popping visuals and impassioned musical performances along the way. The mash-up of thematic styles extends to the film’s languages as well, with characters shifting between Kinyarwanda, English, Swahili, and French, often within the same sentence, with English subs providing unity for viewers.
Williams first garnered indie film cred as the poetry-spitting star of Slam way back in 1998, and has continued his unconventional career path through scattered acting appearances and multiple albums of his own, as well as key guest spots for other recording artists. This film marks his first credited directing gig of any kind, making it all the more remarkable that his first big swing along with Uzeyman (his co-director and wife) is much more hit than miss. It doesn’t hurt that he also provided the screenplay and music, partially inspired by or adapted from his 2016 album, MartyrLoserKing.
Bonus features include a few inconsequential deleted scenes and a trailer, as well as an audio commentary track by Williams and Uzeyman. The film is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio, leaving some bars on the sides of widescreen TVs. In spite of its small budget, the film boasts impressive image quality thanks to expert cinematography and production design, including an intriguing blacklight scene and elaborate props made out of e-waste. Sound is also a high point, boasting a 7.1.2 DTS:X object-based surround track superior to most mainstream studio releases.
While the overall results suffer a bit from lack of a clearly defined narrative to fully unify his disparate themes, this passion project by writer/composer/co-director Williams is a kinetic, thought-provoking work that represents his strongest artistic statement to date.