Imagine a version of Kenya in an alternative present (or a not so distant future) that has regressed to a state of dictatorial control mirroring the Moi era at its peak, probably worse. A Kenya in which government surveillance of all forms of communication is the norm. A return to the bad old days whereby spreading unmonitored ideas was as criminal as a violent act of treason and subversion. Back to the days of the Mwakenya – secret documents of dissent in low circulation but still highly volatile. Ideas put down on pen and paper with ink that instantly and indelibly brands those who come into contact with it as enemies of the state.
This is the dystopian world that has been created by filmmaker Abstract Omega in his latest Swahili language (English subbed) short film project called Monsoons Over The Moon released in two installments between August and November. He goes further and adds some mystical and mythical elements to the storyline, in effect setting the film slightly apart from the standard cookie-cutter 1984 style films that we have already seen countless times over.
Monsoons Over The Moon revolves around Shiro (Anita Kavuu-Ng’ang’a), a young woman on the run from a couple of violent goons linked to the government (Blessing Lungahon, Renson Michael). They’ve given her 3 days to lure her equally violent boyfriend out of hiding or they’ll soon be wiping her guts off the floor. Her friend Ras (Samuel Charles Mwangi) hands her some contraband to sell for cash to skip town and go underground.
Among the contraband is a Mwakenya, one of many books written by a mysterious gang called The Monsoons that has been breaking out those imprisoned by the dictatorial government. These books are rumored to enable believing readers unlock all sorts of superhuman abilities including being able to communicate in dreams. A heavy crackdown on The Monsoons by the government has made such books rare commodities.
Shiro’s reading and believing in the content of her Mwakenya transports her into the “other world”. This place has a Matrix-like vibe where reality and dreams intertwine, where up could actually be down, and perception is controlled by one’s own willpower. Her experiences in and out of this surreal place set up the stage for her final conclusive confrontation with the two government goons in a dark and lonely Nairobi alley. Will she overcome them? Well, watch the film and decide.
The beauty of this film is that within its very short 15 minute duration, it manages to tackle quite a number of heavy themes and to pose so many interesting questions. It constantly communicates through each and every method at its disposal as efficiently as possible. Every device, prop and filming decision is useful in one way or the other. The accompanying soundtrack from the likes of Trabolee, Qina and Mars Maasai further complements the sweet ride that lingers long after the 15 minutes fly by.
The film’s internet-purged setting not only calls into question our general perception of the internet as the omnipresent portal of communication and repository of information that we will always have access to (sometimes as a human right) but also the new digital era characterized by shoving all of our memories, ideas and random thoughts into “the cloud”.
Monsoons also questions how easily we entrust for-profit corporations with terabytes upon terabytes of our information and culture. We never pause to think that one day an e-shredder somewhere will be obliterating our Instagram filtered dog pics and Twitter monologues before moving on to destroying the more important stuff. We assume the internet never forgets but don’t consider how much the internet makes us forget.
In its nuances, the film also tries to hint how the country sunk to terrible depths in the first place. Those who control the infrastructure for the storage and transmission of information eventually determine the content of the information itself, leading to an Orwellian world. “History” is then shaped according to convenience and the truth/reality becomes gradually unrecognizable. Abstract Omega depicts this by portraying the dream sequences in colour and waking reality in black and white, a complete opposite of the norm.
Those who know and have witnessed the hard cold truth either develop self-induced amnesia or have it threatened, forced or beaten into them. Meanwhile, actual history keeps repeating itself until we learn to force ourselves to see the truth and block out the lies we tell ourselves everyday.
In essence, Monsoons mirrors the situation in Kenya today and its population with many peculiar habits. A population of perpetual amnesiacs willing to absorb blatant disinformation and unable to learn from the past because we are unwilling to retell our history free of the white lies and half-truths.
We don’t really want to look into the roots of inequality of land ownership, politics fuelled by tribalism, the ever expanding wealth gap, corruption, domestic terrorism etc. etc. Abstract Omega describes it as the “unwillingness to confront your own bullshit”. Blogger and historical researcher Owaahh wonders how we have arrived at this traumatized state of mind yet we’ve known little war compared to the rest of post-independence Africa.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Monsoons is a simple yet beautifully executed film, with lots to think about and unpack. It may seem simple at first sight but it achieves the objective films as a visual medium are meant to, that is to trigger emotions and ideas without necessarily having a clearly mapped out story.