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Space is the Place, Anyplace



“The music is different here, the vibrations are different, not like planet earth”, as Sun Ra, donning an outfit reminiscient of King Tut, describes the planet he teleported himself and his fellow black men to in Space is the Place, released in 1974. This movie, released three years before the first installment of the Star Wars series, shows how science fiction has never been the exclusive territory of the white nerdy male.

Jazz musician, poet and ‘cosmic philosopher Sun Ra is one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism, a cultural aesthetic defined by Mark Dery in his 1995 essay Black to the Future as; “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture —and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future”. In Space is the Place for example, Sun Ra and his Arkestra set up a colony for black people, to enable them to “drink in the beauty of the planet” without any white people there to repress them.
Where Afrofuturism mainly concerns futuristic African-American culture, a wide variety of science fiction exists in which futurism is closely linked to local religion and mythology. Fuelled by recent technological developments, since despite what we may like to tell ourselves in the West, the access to advanced technology has long ceased to be the exclusive privilege of Western countries. Upcoming economies in the Southern hemisphere develop their own nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence and space programs. Set to a backdrop of local mythologies and the same fascination for the future as every other person on this planet, this makes for some very interesting non-Western science fiction. The screening Global South Futurism provides an introduction to what might be called Turko-, Gholly-, or Bollyfuturism.

The Turkish feature film Dunyay Kurtaran Adam takes us to a place where the music is not quite different, since the soundtrack is completely taken from American blockbusters. Blatantly using the epic themes from Indiana Jones, Ben Hur and Battlestar Galactica, among others, makes for a familiar experience even without understanding a word anybody says. Also known as ‘The Turkish Star Wars’, because of the unauthorized use of footage from the famous space opera, the familiarity does not stop at the soundtrack, even though the story has nothing to do with any of the original Star Wars movies. Nevertheless, this movie about two spaceship pilots stranded on a planet only inhabited by women is a wonderful example of literally combining Western and non-Western cultural codes.

Something that can be said of all of the fragments, trailers and documentaries shown during this screening, even though they differ significantly from each other, is that they sure make for an entertaining experience on many levels. Enjoying or even following the actual storylines might be hard, since none of the movies is in English or even subtitled. Surrendering to the visual spectacle during this anthology of Global South Futurism seems to be your only option. The Pakistani Starfleet: dOvestar Chronicles by Kenny “Hassan” Irwin for example, does not even contain any actual film footage. And though it may lack production value according to Hollywood standards (one could call it a slideshow), Irwin’s account of the Pakistani Starfleet and their battle against a group of diabolic space-pigeons is a mesmerizing piece which forces you to focus on the visual spectacle instead of bothering with overrated matters like acting or dialogue.

As mentioned before, the videos in this screening do not necessarily stand out when it comes to slick production or high-class visuals. The special effects in the trailers for Ghallywood productions 2016 and Man Kumfo, for example, look like something from a videogame from the early nineties. But what remains after watching these movies from such different origins is the shared fascination for whatever is out there in the universe. When it comes to inspiration for science fiction, space still is the place, anyplace.

Global South Futurism, 27 October 2012, Theater Kikker