In Ghanaian director Frances Bodomo’s Boneshaker, an African family journeys through rural Louisiana on a quest to rid a rebellious 7-year-old of the perceived evil spirits that have made her something of a problem child.
Shot before the release of Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, the 12-minute short opens on the precociously expressive face of Quvenzhané Wallis, screaming and frantically kicking her feet as her grandmother tries to calm her down in the backseat of the car. From this frenetic jumping off point, the film is a soulful visual meditation on the in-between-ness of the African immigrant experience.
It’s hard to say much about the film without ruining its magic, but in the pivotal “exorcism” scene young Quvenzhané proves that her Oscar-nominated performance in Beasts wasn’t just a fluke - the girl’s got talent.
While brief in length, Boneshaker is dense, a complex tapestry of overlapping visuals and sound that join to create a sumptuous, almost other-worldly atmosphere.
Bodomo shot it on Super 16 film and the grainy, saturated images have given the narrative a sense of melancholy and nostalgia that seems altogether fitting for a film that seems at least partly about a longing for the past.
“I wanted to capture the feeling of not being able to go back,” Bodomo explained after a screening of the film at the recent New York African Film Festival at Lincoln Center. But more importantly, Bodomo added, she wanted it to be a “universal story in an African context.”
She most definitely succeeded.
Next up for Bodomo is Afronauts, a new short currently seeking funding on Kickstarter that is set to star Yolonda Ross and model Diandra Forrest. It will tell an alternative story of the 1960s space race, from the point-of-view of exiled Zambians attempting to beat America to the moon.
If Boneshaker is anything to go by, it will be a refreshingly new and thought-provoking exploration of African identity.
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory, and co-hosts the podcast Two Brown Girls. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.