Jean-Pierre Bekolo

Naked Future

Whenever we talk about the future in Africa, it has always been about a gloomy, dystopian future of an Africa that in the year 2000 will collapse under the weight of this or that disease. The last futuristic prediction was that of Bill Gates’ wife, who predicted that with Covid-19, the African streets will be littered with corpses that will be picked up from the pavements. When we look at the future of this place, at first glance, it does not exist—we live in the moment, we do not anticipate. . . What good is it if death has become the future? My film Naked Reality projects us into an Africa where bad luck would be the pandemic of the future: a disease that would have for treatment the past, the ancestors, the DNA that we pass from generation to generation and the ability to connect with them in the distant past. This future in our past is also mentioned in my film Les Saignantes, which tells of a dystopian Africa under the influence of corruption, but which is saved by the women of ‘Mevungu’. A future in our past is also in space; my return to the forest to shoot a historical television series has allowed me to see my ignorance of this natural space of our origins and our knowledge of tens of thousands of years inscribed in our DNA and which is today supplanted by two centuries of the existence of urban centers since the arrival of the white man. This nature, which offers us an ecological design but which also undergoes a dystopia with my neighbors who are the pineapple planters of the destruction of the environment and the climate change this does not escape. Would the past, present and future be our future? Like this television show that puts the use of machines and technology at the heart of our existence as Africans—the presenter asks a rapist to replay his rape scenes under the gaze of millions of viewers who by identification live these past scenes in their flesh as a present to the point where the court will condemn these actors of the African small screen for a fiction to prevent this past scene from happening in the future—putting the actors out of action. The court, by condemning this fiction, makes it real, lifting the barriers between the past, the present and the future which becomes a ‘Reatual’ space (Real-virTual, at the same time real and virtual) when we know that virtual means false. By deciphering this space, past-present-future, it could be similar to a big book and therefore to an object loaded with meaning in which nothing is written forever with its interactive dimension, as with the Internet, making us pass from spectators who are no longer content as in the cinema to dream, but rather to actors who are one click away from realizing their dreams—I mean their future.

Science fiction, playful tales, thrillers, fake (and true!) documentaries, the work of the avant-garde filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo explores all film genres with a view to deconstructing stereotypes about Africa and its cinema. His work operates at several levels with a biting humor and dramatic aesthetics while refusing categorisation—whether thematic, formal or ideological—and thinking of the future in the present in order to analyse and (re)question the dominant narratives born of the political and economic violence of our societies. Techno-scientific imaginaries and speculative gestures, deployed for critical purposes and as a force for proposal, are at the heart of his work. In the face of the changes that the planet and African worlds are undergoing, particularly at the beginning of the third millennium, using imagination and speculation to bring about change seems more relevant than ever, even urgent, and makes it possible to lay the foundations for a rewriting of the very concept of utopia. Fiction/action/miraculous weapon, the cinema or, better yet, Bekolo’s act of making cinema, becomes here an ‘afropocenic’ modus operandi. 

Jean-Pierre Bekolo studied physics at the University of Yaoundé, then trained in editing at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel – INA in Paris, where he discovered semiotics, which he studied with Christian Metz. His first film, Quartier Mozart (1992), which he directed at age 25, won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Locarno, Montreal, among others. Released in 1995, Aristotle’s Plot was commissioned by the British Film Institute to represent Africa in a series of films commemorating the centenary of cinema. It is also the first African film selected for the Sundance Festival. It was followed by Les Saignantes (2005), considered by the MOMA to be the first African science fiction film and ranked by MOMA among the 70 science fiction classics. Naked Reality (2016) is his second science fiction film. Other films include The President (2013), a fake documentary censored in Cameroon, and the four-hour documentary The Things and Words of Mudimbe (2013). Our Wishes (2020) is a series he initiated on German colonial history for the TV5 channel broadcast, and Nous Les Noirs (2021) is a fake ethnology film on Africolombians. Jean-Pierre Bekolo has been a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Duke University.

Links to selected works

Les Saignantes
password: naked saignantes

Miraculous Weapons
password: MW4019

Naked Reality

Quartier Mozart 
password: QM2017

Le President

Our Wishes tv series on colonial history

Aristotle’s Plot