Wanuri Kahiu’s science fiction short film Pumzi takes its title from the Swahili word for “breath.” Set 35 years after a Third World War – a water war – it tells a story of belief and sacrifice.
“The vegetation is completely destroyed,” says Kahiu, outlining the plot. “Everyone outside is dead. Asha is alive and works as a curator for the Plant Museum in a shielded community. When she receives an anonymous box filled with earth, she plants an old seed in it, which begins to germinate immediately. Full of hope, she applies for an exit visa in order to explore the possibilities of new life in the dead zone. However, the authorities turn down her application. She loses her job and is degraded to a low-ranking worker. She then ventures into the deathly desert on her own, where she plants the growing seedling into the barren earth with her last ounce of strength.” In what is Kenya’s first science fiction film, Kahiu addresses the already contemporary battle over scarce resources, developing the theme into a post-apocalyptical nightmare scenario, but not without leaving a glimmer of hope for the viewer. The set design for the elaborately staged opus was inspired by both 1950s film classics and traditional African art.