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Wanuri Kahiu uncovers the making of Pumzi

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Wanuri Kahiu is a passionate woman; passionate about her craft, about storytelling and about this earth.

Pumzi, her most recent film explores futuristic Africa after World War III – ‘The Water War.’ The film has been warmly received at Sundance and already bagged a few awards including The Golden Dhow at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and

picking up Best Short Film at the Cannes Independent Film Festival. It continues to provoke discussion in film circles and everyday life on the future of the continent, given our planet’s challenges. African Digital Art met Wanuri to find out the process behind Pumzi & her perspective on the film.

What’s the most interesting response you’ve had to Pumzi since it premiered?

It premiered at the Kenya International Film Festival in October, but it’s official World Premiere took place at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010. It must have been in Zanzibar, where we screened it to an audience of mainly children, with men and women. At the end a a young man came up to me and said “If you ask everyone what your film was about, not everyone would be able to
answer. But if you ask everyone what did you take away from the film then they would all be able to answer that.”

Of the whole process with the film, start to finish, what was your greatest challenge?

The budget. The film took 2 years to write, 6 days to film and 2 months in post-production. Working with a small budget can be incredibly stressful especially when you see how committed your cast and crew are to the project and they don’t get the financial compensation they deserve it became a labor of love and a labor for art.

Technically, when it came to the execution of your screenplay what stood out as the most difficult part of the film?

The museum scene was the most challenging because of all the elements involved. We had to keep in mind the things we would be doing in post production like where the hologram screens would fit, how to arrange props and set design so that they seem they were more than we had. We actually shot in one side of the room on a locked camera then moved all the props to the other side of the road and shot again.

And what did you shoot Pumzi on?

The SI-2K. Simon Hansen of Inspired Minority Pictures (Producer on Pumzi) was one of the people who helped create the prototype camera of the SI-2K. The SI-2K’s also been used by Danny Boyle to make Slumdog Millionaire.

How was it overcoming Budget vs. Idea vs. Time for you?

It would not have been possible to make the film on the budget we had without Inspired Minority Pictures. Simon and his team were amazing to work with.It was great to work with someone who is so honed in their craft. He is simply a genius. He has the ability to look at locations and see possibilities of other worlds. It was great that he understood the story and the themes in it as well. He was able to present ideas from a story point of view, keeping in mind the limitations of the budget.

How would you describe your directing style on Pumzi?

With Pumzi, we had the storyboard and the shots drawn up before hand to a large extent that allowed me to spend more time with the actors. And when it came to the more technical shots (with VFX) I would collaborate with Simon Hansen about how to best achieve the shot. I love being an actor’s director as I feel that the performance is everything.

And how was it working with your lead actress Kudzani as she took to the role of Asha even though she had no prior acting experience?

I was completely in awe of the raw talent that Kudzani had she became Asha. It was simple directing her because she was so curious and loving and giving. She has been one of the best actresses I have worked with so far. I think my style as a director may change depending on the genre of the film  I find however, that I am drawn to films with strong female characters in them.

Pumzi paints a picture about our planet and the challenges facing it. You’ve been vocal for a few causes in particular. Tell me about Lake Turkana and your passion for it.

Not only is it the only desert lake in the world but it’s also where some of the 1st human remains were ever found. but it also provides water to communities of people. Now it is under threat of being killed. I’m pushing for a petition to the governments to be signed to put them to task about it.

So, what can you tell us about a Pumzi feature film?

It’s early days yet. We are still trying to promote the short as is and then see if there is a feature to be made…

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