Two weeks ago, Addis Ababa witnessed the premiere of a post-apocalyptic science fiction film entitled “Crumbs”. Written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Miguel Llansó, the film travels into an unexpected wilderness. The film depicts the earth ravaged and only filled with pop-cultural “deities”. This fragmented post-apocalyptic world idolizes the popular sport idol, Michael Jordan who becomes a god in this future. Memories of popular films construct a place where the renowned character, Superman, becomes a mystical and superior figure. With its shrewd humor, the director gives a constructive criticism of our consumeristic culture. A big fan of experimental punk music and films, Llansó studied philosophy and cinema. Inspired by German film director, Werner Herzog, he created and distributed the film “Where is My Dog?” in 2010 with Yohannes Feleke. It was screened at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam and other international film festivals. After its release, “Crumbs” got good reviews, including in the New York Times, and also got critical acclaim and awards in different film festivals. In an email interview with Tibebeselassie Tigabu of The Reporter Miguel Llansó talkd about his film and inspirations. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Can you tell us the creative process in the making of “Crumbs”?
Miguel Llansó: The inspiration for the film concept came during an interview with the first Ethiopian graduate in nuclear engineering, the veteran Professor Seifu Yohannes, now emeritus physics professor.
He said, “All your dreams of wealth and unlimited power, all your dreams of disproportionate ambition; the satisfaction of feeling analogous to the gods; all your sexual impulses, which you deem infinite; all these pharaonic dreams will be reduced to a series of cheap plastic figurines floating in the stratosphere once everything finally explodes. ‘The American Dream’ will end up devastating you soon enough. Then you will return to your village with your tail between your legs. And you will wish that your old boyfriend or girlfriend, whose breath always reeked of garlic, would once again cover you in kisses and eternally care for your welfare.”
After finishing transcribing these words, “Crumbs” was born. We also made a comedy film called “Chigger Ale” in 2012. Chigger Ale depicts the life of a clone of Adolf Hitler in Addis Ababa, who listens to Beyoncé, who is a fan of Cristiano Ronaldo and sells pirated DVDs in the streets. “Crumbs” also emanates from Chigger Ale. Like in Chigger Ale, this film is a critical satire on the processes of globalization.
It is critique of the production of machinery, of fashion, and of merchandise, and how this production process is affecting people and the environment. We wanted to exaggerate this process by writing a science-fiction story. Scriptwriting, filming and post-production lasted one year.
Do you think sci-fi, as a genre, is a flexible platform for using imagination and other elements?
Through science fiction and imagining the future, we can isolate elements and processes of the world we are living in and exaggerate them. Through this, one can think better and can criticize. I like writers like George Orwell, Phillip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut, who use literature to think about the future, using it as a base for the exaggerations of the present time in a dystopian and utopian way.
When you think of an apocalyptic world, is this how you imagine it. Or is it a critique of a hypothetical effect of global capitalism?
I think we live in a very apocalyptic world. Globalization doesn’t bring more harmony to the world nor mutual understanding, but it does create the rather cruel economic system based exploitation of people and the marketing of their dreams. I don’t think globalization is heading towards a deep philosophy and humanism.
How did you choose places, such as the bowling alley? Does it represent any concepts?
The abandoned places we see in “Crumbs” represent futures that were amputated. The bowling alley was a beautiful place that was accessible to the public. This way of life was buried by the boom of huge malls and shopping centers, which don’t have the same goals. Behind abandoned places, there is a reflection of a world that might produce a different future that we are living in. There are abandoned roads that could lead us to undiscovered fascinating places.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Jackson record, Coca-Cola, a Superman shirt, a Nazi uniform, and the worship of Michael Jordan are used in this film. What do they represent? Is it a deliberate choice and if it is, why?
In “Crumbs”, all these objects have acquired a different meaning to what we see today. Michael Jordan is a god, the Ninja Turtles are a lucky charm, and a Michael Jackson vinyl is a coin. The change of meaning in the objects makes us laugh and think about what these objects mean today and the value that we give to them in our daily lives.
The lead actress, Candy, is inspired by Justin Bieber and other celebrities who are foreigners. Is it a criticism of how Ethiopians are always looking abroad for an answer?
No, of course not. There is no specific criticism of Ethiopian culture in the film. We have put and showed some international symbols representing globalization. The female protagonist of the film (Selam Tesfaye) is exposed to these symbols as if they were gods. Is it not scary how Paris Hilton, Cristiano Ronaldo or Beyoncé are somehow gods and goddesses in this new international culture? What do they represent? What kind of society do we want to build by taking them as models?
We understand the influence of pop culture in the urban community. But these symbols do not make sense if you take it into rural Ethiopia. Which Ethiopia does the film represent?
The film doesn’t speak specifically of Ethiopia nor of any specific place in the world. Of course, the actors are Ethiopians and landscapes are in Ethiopia, but the film doesn’t talk about Ethiopian culture, but about the process of globalization, which is common to all cultures. The more we move away from the cities and go into rural areas, the less people are exposed to the world of globalization. Therefore, people who leave in remote areas may not understand the film. There are still some fortunate ones that live far away from the culture of globalization. Although globalization can open doors to real cosmopolitan and respectful societies, the actual process is very far away.
What makes this an Ethiopian sci-fi?
The dystopian character of “Crumbs” and the fact that it takes place in the future make it belong to the literary and cinematic tradition of XX century science fiction stories.
Which films influence you? Or ideas or attitudes such as skepticism?
I have been influenced by many tragicomic films where you can find simple and weak people who have to survive and understand who they are. They aren’t military heroes, but everyday heroes. I like the Spanish and Italian neorealist cinema by Vittorio de Sica, Rossellini or the first Fellini. I also like the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, or the absurd movies by the Marx Brothers or Buster Keaton, because the random relationships between people and objects make us laugh and show several truths that can’t be grasped by logic.
How is the feedback abroad and also in Ethiopia?
“Crumbs” has been well received by audiences who enjoy independent films that make us think about our lives and reflect in a critical way on the society in which we live. There are many people in the world who like these types of films, which are very different from Hollywood or mainstream storytelling. There are people who love fantasy films, ones that make you dream about other worlds and other futures. In Ethiopia, the same thing happened; there are people who think and dream, and watch sci-fi movies and people who prefer to enjoy more conventional stories. “Crumbs” is made for dreamers.
Do you have any plan to show it in Ethiopia?
We made the film premiere at Leul Cinema. Will there be enough dreamers out there to incite commercial release in other theaters? I really don’t know.