This year’s Experimenta strand at the LFF includes several films that propel new aesthetic spaces for the non-conforming and the non-binary, and it’s no coincidence that their creators are interdisciplinary geniuses blowing apart gender, genre and traditional forms of narrative.
One half of the duo behind the dazzling Neptune Frost, Saul Williams is known equally as a musician, poet, actor, filmmaker and activist. He first appeared on screens in Marc Levin’s Slam (1998), which he co-wrote with the other stars, pioneering a form of visual autofiction. Across multiple albums, books, films and collaborations, Williams’ practice uses the form or forms that feels the most appropriate at the time, creating avant-garde worlds that inspire, influence and always hold a message beyond the medium.
Ten years in the making, co-directed by actor and playwright Anisia Uzeyman, and entirely filmed in Rwanda, this feature-length experience is barely contained by the cinematic frame, and was originally envisaged as a stage musical and graphic novel. Neptune Frost’s multiple threads include the post-colonial and mining exploitation in eastern Africa, the growth of hacker collectivism, and the countering of anti-LGBTQI movements. The film is dedicated to finding new uncompromised artistic languages that do not dilute or ‘Hollywoodise’ the composite politics.
Lauren John Joseph’s world premiere Child of Polycritus is a powerful yet playful film about trans experiences that showcases an animated baby alongside their relatively new alias of 2D Joan, the scouse icon now having acquired her own nail salon.
A previous alter ego, the Anglo-German queer electro-star Alexander Geist, retired at the end of 2019 leaving almost a decade long legacy of incredibly catchy pop tunes, YouTube videos and live gigs. Geist’s last multimedia tour included a documentary film that adeptly deconstructed the performance art meets genuine fan phenomena.
Lauren (fka La John Joseph) is as much a writer of social commentary and future visionary as performer and filmmaker, which is borne out both through the sharp, satirical and well-researched script of this genre-defying new short film and in their Bloomsbury-published debut novel At Certain Points We Touch, launching early 2022.
Also inhabiting this intelligent shape-shifting space is Sin Wai Kin, whose work includes moving image, performance and the written word, drawing attention to our routine constructions across race and sexuality. Formerly known as Victoria Sin, the Canadian-born artist came of age in London’s drag and queer club scene, garnering the attention of the international contemporary art world through performance art pieces A View from Elsewhere and If I had the words to tell you we wouldn’t be here now, both staged at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.
Their new film showing at the festival, A Dream of Wholeness in Parts, consciously celebrates its influences, including female science fiction writers Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler, Taoist philosophy and a heavy dose of Cantonese opera. The last of these is itself a travelling hybrid of artistic forms, including music, magic, heavy make-up and gender-blurring performance. It’s tied to folk traditions and diasporic heritage, and is intricately connected to a region currently seeing further restrictions on its own freedoms of identity. The two great women stars of Cantonese opera, Yam Kim-fai and Bak Sheut-sin, often played the two romantic leads, for many seen as a significant queering of the form.
These three artists use strategies of speculative fiction to visualise their desire of how the world can be. While the aesthetic vehicle is clearly one from the future, its fuel is firmly blazing from the injustices of the past. Fantasies on screen, from the Afrofuturist musical to a CGI baby to a drag martial arts warrior, bring the intersectional to the forefront of this desire, refusing single-issue box-ticking to instead seduce us into new fluid forms that invite our cerebral juices to see and think anew.
These films articulate what might happen if you could capture on screen the process of melting away the pain of today’s political apathy, anger and activism to reach new heights of shared understanding.
Child of Polycritus and A Dream of Wholeness in Parts are both in the Experimenta shorts programme, What Are You Looking At?
Neptune Frost UK premieres at the ICA on Saturday 16 October