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A headshot of Anisia Uzeyman, she is a Black woman. She is wearing a linen shirt, her hair is wrapped.

Observed Online Essays

3rd EYE Cinema Praxis

This text was originally delivered as the keynote address at BlackStar's 2024 William and Louise Greaves Filmmaker Seminar

by Anisia Uzeyman

Photo of Anisia Uzeyman by Hervé Cohen

A prayer for the oppressed to not become the oppressor.

I was born in a little village, in the south of a place made famous by the violence of its genocide. If you type “Rwanda” you will still hardly see any advert for its bounty or beauty. In November 2019, we were coming back to the home office in Kigali (capital of Rwanda) from the first pre-production scouting trip for the film Neptune Frost and our assistant warned us that there was a person that insisted on waiting for us on the patio. There we found a young person, nervous but determined and adamant with an absolute sense of being where they were supposed to be. She told us that she needed a job as she had recently been publicly outed and feared for her life.“Can you imagine” she said, ‘that a country… people who went through the atrocities we went through, would again vehemently turn against yet another group of people, this time because of their LGTBQ identity, with the same words, intent and threat of violence?” I was struck by the intersections and connections she made. It was never so easy to find a place for a person to be in our film, where she ended up playing one of the main characters… I allow myself to tell this story firstly because she asked for this story to be told but also to contextualize the dilemma I found myself in while thinking of this moment as I too find the present rallying on a revisitation of a practice of violence aimed at the resistance of yet another genocide. The times would make you think that it is chants of resistance and supplications that threaten safety, but I would like to offer a genuine and honest take on my place as an artist today – as the anxiety we are living through is real.

A still from Neptune Frost directed by Saul Williams. A crowd of dark skinned people raising their fists in resistance in a sandy pit.
From Neptune Frost (2021), dir. Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Map of ourselves.

I got myself into talking to you today about resistance in film, because it is what came instinctively when a few months ago BlackStar, which is to me a stronghold in the web of resistance, invited me to speak today in the constellation of the work of William and Louise Greaves. I wanted to link ‘small‘ acts of resistance and articulate their intersection. I wanted to provoke a dimension where woven together they would demonstrate how refusals birth resourcefulness, how non-negotiable principles rooted in ancestral download gives rise to new cinematic visions, how defying institutionalized language of death and debt is in essence a third world feminist praxis. A fitting subject for International Women’s Day and in the tradition of one of the world’s decolonial feminist trailblazers, bell hooks, who coined the concept of black feminism— I thought it would be about time that we bring back home the titles of 3rd world, Global South (Global Majority) and Decolonial feminism as we lay stones to draw the practical map to ourselves, traveling through the dimensions of a 3rd world cinema toward a 3rd eye cinema. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the film critic Jourdain Searle’s twitter thread where she argues in relation to “Barbie, lol” that there is no such thing as a feminist film. I immediately thought of Sarah Maldoror’s radical work as a clear counter example, foreseeing here the layers of a 3rd world approach to film and the dimensions of a 3rd world filmmaking as being decolonial feminist filmmaking – as well as one of my great inspirations for the image framing in Neptune Frost.

I play a cultural role as a filmmaker. What interests me is to research films about African history, because our history has been written by others, not by us.”

– Sarah Maldoror

One of the first films directed by a woman in Africa, Sarah Maldoror’s masterpiece about colonial violence. Sambizanga honors women in the fight for liberation in Angola.

To be born in a small African village in the mid 70’s means that I was born between curses and the first automobile. We were banned from running barefoot for fear of being poisoned by a jealous neighbor. The colonizers had metamorphosed into NGOs and religious proselytes into real estate agents. At the very tip of the so-called “decolonization”era and in the heights of an all western deities grab over what was left of ancestral knowledge, cultural wisdom was passed down through the unsaid or whispered for fear of being left behind among the uncivilized. We were entering a time of modernity designed by ex-colonizers for the newly “independent” infant.

None of these programs had my ancestors’ desires nor expertise at heart, to the contrary — all cultural attachment to times pre dating their intervention was considered as contrary to what the savior’s new contract had to offer. We gradually lost hundreds of years of stories, medicinal practices, poems, chants and lastly any sense of history that would have pre existed their tools of recording history. I come from a place where subjugation and self control is so deeply planted that I even feel sometimes that it is a rooted culture. A very few literary fictions and poems and a few marvelous singers are all that was culturally produced for decades, and no Rwandan film was ever made before the year 2000. That is in itself a field of reflection, on time/traces/and survival. Erasure and omission are one of the scariest tools of oppression to me.

How are we to signal our existence in the afterlife if there are no traces? I started to recreate memories for extraterrestrial beings to find traces of me in a thousand years, just as I was gifted the traces of life and most of all artists’ lives from thousands of years, kingdoms and places ago.

A still from Neptune Frost directed by Saul Williams. A dark skinned person in front of stacks of blue screened computers.
From Neptune Frost (2021), dir. Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The metrics and geographies that design our ability to take part in the audiovisual global landscape under special financial constraints are marked by moral, institutional and freedom frictions. Creating visual space where people that are usually assigned to be the launch pad or backdrop of the tale of the western empire is challenged by not only a fight of principals, like the idea that a 3rd world cinema should be less expensive to make, if not free, as BIPOC should feel grateful to be included in that world; a little bit like the immigrant should always be grateful to be alive, or women are paid less because they should be happy to work, but also as images have political power, institutions feel that they should control the message in ways that don’t challenge their status and that reinforces their rules, be it of the image ratio or lighting: this is too dark! exclaim the public at a night scene — after years of overexposed commercials.

Let me tell you two stories about ‘public policing’ people of color in films: We presented Neptune Frost’s world premiere at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes, and the first question to arise from the public was “We know that there is daylight in Rwanda so why would you film Black people at night” he shouted “We can’t see them”. It wasn’t a real question, rather it was a question of power — it was the first expression of the western discontent that we had made a film outside of their institution, thus we had no lights!

But what I really thought of was that these cries were coming from a deeper place, a place of frustration. From a distorted need for something that they could hardly articulate as we had intentionally subtracted any images of carnage and death of black bodies, even the tools of violence were subliminal and somehow what Aime Césaire pinned by ‘Black body surrogates: colonial addiction and civilizational motifs’ came to me. Black body surrogates. In our daily intake of imagery there is the haunting western desire not only to be seen as equal but to be the victim of a ‘segregated’ violence; ‘the powers that be want me to inhabit the image they chose for me, but I resist’ [Jean Luc Godard’s Our Music, 2004].

We are used to see ourselves burned, dismembered, walked over, thrown, raped, tortured, shot execution style more often than not. We are used to see ourselves represented from Zombies to reality authentication and validation. It’s not edgy or real if there is no black or brown body sacrifice. A western fantasy. I’ll keep on what I think about how zombies are pictured for another talk, but you get the gist. Hell: which will be full of what resembles found footage of warfare (silence of the images), Heaven (controlled flow of images, desirable conflict, self conscious, romantic, unconvincing radicals, suicide) and Purgatory (actualization of hell 1, bucolic cannibalism, escapism).

The reason for the occidental mind to desire the violence they impose is the reason why they had to write their laws in stone as their God. I can’t help but think of that strange timeline: the first time humans substituted their veneration for nature to the obedience to the idea of a unique entity it was immediately paired with commandments. And so they can rule over the most intimate dimensions of our lives to the technicseasthetics defining the art of everything and the resistants became savages, wild, underdeveloped, dangerous, pagan, terrorist. You have to write a story, take an image, render a perspective, or place the moon on your canvas? There are rules, laws and holy mathematics: anything else is gibberish.

The provocation was to have questioned cinema’s entitlement to black and brown people’s misery and thus to their place in mainstream stories.

A still from Neptune Frost, directed by Saul Williams. Two dark skinned people facing each other in a a techno-fantastic teal lit space.
From Neptune Frost (2021), dir. Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, courtesy of Kino Lorber.

3rd World approach to film resistance.

The other story is about colonial addiction and the fear of freedom as a collective good. We had not only made a film insulting the rules of the cinematic art but a film where the western presence was nowhere to be seen, as an angry distributor literally screamed over us, “How do you want me to sell an anti-colonial film !” He was seriously outraged by the fact that the film was talking from the ‘wronged’ perspective, the perspective of the ‘wronged.’ “How dare you make a film protected from our input.” These are the hijacking tools that one has to resist against as they hold tight to a world and dreams that revolve around us, our perception and expertise. Many people and especially from the global south (global majority) know the context of ‘colonialism’, ‘white supremacy’ ‘racism’, ‘gender violence’, ‘colonial feminism’, ‘oppression’ are non negotiable realities as they draw every aspect of our geography, not that I invoked them into my life — they are a condition of my life and the spectrum through which I see, feel and breathe in this dimension.

The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish talking about his poetry said, ‘I live in language’ as if to say here is my land, my birth certificate. I, for many reason found home in visions, movement, spaces, and dreams. It is the part of ourselves that we plant in our films that we leave as a trace of our afterlife that moves me the most. In my life I attend to the rites, rituals and dimensions of the sacred community that is called Artists. The other day I was listening to the brilliant poet Dionne Brand talking about writing AGAINST tyranny and TOWARD liberation ‘ As a poet,” she said, ‘I always paid attention to the cadence and resonance of the languages of power, then I try to RETRIEVE IN MY WORLD that which is CRUSHED INTO that language’ and it is such a perfect synthesis of what defines or if you wish constitutes the roots-talk of the spirituality and ethos, as the fabric of that very special community is a connectivity between a spectacular sense of the political to inner worlds and their shift into collapsed times and spaces. It is birthed by that resistance, against and toward, it lives through resistance retrieved in an outer world and crushed into. It is resistance.

This is the place I attend and where I recognize my familiars, my own siblings and parents for which I have a sense of transcendental love. They raise me, they feed me, they love me, and their presence moves me into the future. They live in the future and so do I so all I lay in the now are traces of my afterlife. I often attend their presence under the sacred tree called ERYTHRINA to recharge my batteries.

When our producers couldn’t fathom that we were serious about making a science fiction musical instead of a guerrilla documentary we had to reimagine our own line production, one that would allow us to work at the level we wanted to and flip the impossibles into extraordinary. We started by disrupting the usual hierarchy of the crews and had collaborators become heads of departments for the first time where in a foreign production they would have had 2nd, 3rd or even 4th assistant roles and salary. We built our own 18 kilo lights, our own LED panels with a local LED factory, we auditioned night club Pars and KinoFlo, we tailored bounce, muslin, flags. We went to the iron factory and manufactured our own rails, “travelings”, we built apple boxes and anything we could put our hands on at the furniture and construction market.

As Feminism is not as much gender related then a political stance revolving around the notion of systemic oppression and structural domination, the 3rd world cinema that refuses to be subjugated by the patriarchal and white domination of the image industry is a departure from the rules of the western order, and any departure from those rules can be understood as a resistance. Thus a 3rd world approach to film is resistance to colonial feminism and 3rd world filmmaking is resisting colonial filmmaking.

The first time I ever saw the Moon.

I hope you’ve made your own film of this moment, all the images that were generated ‘retrieved in your own world as in an imaginary space’ to the cadence and movement of the moment, inserted into what is in front of you. That reminiscence is what will remain of the stories I’ve told, of what I’ve just shared with you. The trace, the colors the close up. The superimpositions, the cuts, the out of frame … the editing, this is your 3rd eye film.

be the resistance, film resistance, be in solidarity with any resistance,

I hope this makes you desire forms of resistance, research ways of resistance, birth resistance, be part of resistance, find resistance glamorous, the resistance aesthetic sexy, (to) be inspired by even the most fragile expression of resistance (for) in (electricity) it is the friction that produces the strength of the flow, (in film)it is the question that produces the story.

It is that little stone that lays on our path, like the one that the lost relative repositioned every morning on the exact spot it had always been to signal the lost ones, in case they were to remember these paths that are the conductor of our sense of direction (and humanity).