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Dit is Dilman Dila

Tijdens festival Other Futures in februari dit jaar raakten we aan de praat met Dilman Dila. Hij stond geprogrammeerd op de zondag waar hij zou spreken over zijn nog te verschijnen debuutroman Dreams of a Yellow Balloon. Ondertussen was zijn verhalenbundel A Killing in the Sun op zaterdag al uitverkocht bij de ABC boekenstand. We hadden het met Dilman over sciencefiction - what else - en het belang ervan voor de wereld. Speciaal voor De Futurist schreef hij het korte verhaal Dreams of a Happy Marriage. En daarom presenteren wij hier met trots: Dilman Dila. 


Dilman Dila is een Ugandese schrijver en filmmakers. Zijn korte film What Happened in Room 13 (2007) heeft meer dan 7,5 miljoen views op YouTube. Zijn film The Felistas Fable (2013) was in 2014 genomineerd voor 'Best First Feature at Africa Movie Academy Awards' en won datzelfde jaar vier awards bij Uganda Film Festival. Zijn tweede speelfilm, Her Broken Shadow, is een scifi dat zich afspeelt in een futuristisch Afrika. De film zal dit jaar vertoond worden op onder andere Durban International Film Festival.


Ook voor zijn verhalen won Dilman verschillende prijzen, zoals de BBC International Playwriting Competition in 2014, de Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2013 en de Short Story Day Africaprize in 2013 en 2014. Kortom: hij heeft wel het een en ander te vertellen. 

Can you tell us something about African of Ugandan science fiction movies and / or books?


'Science fiction is a rather vague term and I like to define it as stories that feature otherworldly technology of some sort, and possibly life forms as well. Stories about our lives and our societies that differ from the generally, and logically, accepted rules of our universe. In Uganda, these stories flourish in a genre we might call 'urban legend', which some people might dismiss as mambo jambo, but which has helped to shape the psyche of whole communities. I grew up on these stories, and they sparked my interest in telling otherworldly stories. Those that I enjoyed the most are about abasezi, a kind of wizard who can resurrect a corpse either to work in his garden, or to feast upon. About five years ago, I read in the news about a corpse that refused to be eaten unless the musezi gave it a mobile phone so it could first talk to its relatives.'


'Some people want to make a distinction between fantasy and science fiction, though to me it all comes down to the same thing, because rules that govern the universe vary from culture to culture, and there is no absolute truth about the universe, its origins, or its destination. What a European considers to be the absolute truth about our world is very different from what an African thinks of it, and a Christian worldview differs from a Hindu and from a scientists. Take the example of rain makers. Today people influence the weather through cloud seeding, and yet pre-modern communities had rainmakers. Their histories have sadly been passed down to us through a twisted Christian-colonialist-scientist perspective, so we may never know exactly what kind of technology they used. I believe they clothed their technology as supernatural, or possibly they believed their technology came from ancestral spirits, hence the association of the practice with traditional healers and shamans. When I look at the footnotes in many historical text, I see evidence that indeed spirit worship was mixed with scientific and technological achievements in pre-colonial communities of Uganda. A famous example is from Felkin, a European missionary who observed traditional healers in Uganda successfully carrying out a caesarean operation at least a decade before European doctors could do it.'


'Another example is of traditional healers in Bunyoro who was researching for cures of sleeping sickness. The keyword is research, which denotes a scientific approach. 

This merging of technology and spiritualism is prevalent in many stories of African science fiction. Some call it genre 'juju tech', a genre that makes sense in a continent where strong attachment to spirits (Christian, Muslim, or ancestral) still drives the day-to-day lives of ordinary folk just as mobile phones and TVs do. In Uganda for example, it is common to see in headlines 'Demons Attack School' in the national newspapers. Recently, a man was photographed covered in bees; he had stolen a woofer. A few years back, another person in Lira town stole a mobile phone, but he experienced a strange haunting in the night (demons attacked him) and the next day, just like the woofer thief, he went looking for the owner of the mobile phone to return it. These are real life stories, stranger than fiction, and they influence the science fiction that comes out of the continent.'


'Colonialism, or anti-colonial themes, feature strongly in many works of science fiction. One of the few comics to come out of Uganda is The Guardian, by Brian Humura. It features superheroes drawn from the mythology of Bunyoro, which actively resisted British colonialists. The king, omukama Kabalega, is worshipped as a hero for waging a war against the British. In Humura's comics, demi-gods who have sworn to protect the kingdom help him, and they lose when (allegorically) the white man lures some of the demigods to his side.'


'The comic industry is fast growing, and if anyone is to look for science fiction on the continent, it is more strongly represented in comics than in books or films. I'm talking about works produced and consumed entirely on the continent. Humura's comics, which has three issues, has not sold online, or outside Kampala. He prints it by himself and sells it door to door. People are easily drawn into comics because there are many artists looking for new audiences, and it is easier and cheaper to draw epic tales of superheroes than to film them. Unfortunately, many are influenced by popular superheroes. One that I came across, Children of Fear, was an obvious rip of the X-Men, with a character called Charles Ngobi, a warlord who collects gifted mutant children to use them in a war against the government.'


What are your biggest inspirations for making your films or writing your stories?


'I'm not sure I have what people would call 'inspirations'. I think 'curse' is a better word. Whatever it is, there is something human about stories. It defines who we are. We need it. Life needs it. So evolution bestowed upon some people the urge to feed the rest with stories. I think of myself as one of those who got the storytelling bug. I can't help it. Every morning when I wake up, I think of a story. And I just have to tell it. Not sure if that is inspiration. Maybe I do it to keep alive, to give meaning to my life, a reason to persevere through another meaningless day and go to bed with a purpose and with something to look forward to the next day.' 


'Many of the stories I tell, inevitably, come from my own life. I never set out to say let me write about this or that. Often, I'll start to think about something, a character, a situation, an environment, a line, and somehow a storyline will form and only after it has matured will I put a finger on where it came from. Sometimes it's something epic like a breakup. Other times it's something mundane like eating a meal. A few years back, I was feasting on locusts, a delicacy in many parts of Uganda. They swarm the country toward the end of the year. No one knows where they come from, or why they come, and no one ever bothers to find out. Thinking about it gave me ideas for a story, a space-opera-like fantasy that is linked to many beliefs about our ancestors coming from the sky. No. Not another alien story. I'm wary to write about aliens. I don't think they exist. I believe in what the old people believed, that our ancestors came from the sky. Where they aliens? No, I think they were just that. Our ancestors. Human. We all have spirits. I think our spirits go to the sky when we die.' 


'This maybe is where then you might say my inspiration comes from, the world that I grew up in, which is very different from the world as portrayed in popular books and movies. Of course, saying ancestors came from the sky makes it very difficult to tell a story without invoking the word 'aliens'. Blame it on popular culture. My film, Her Broken Shadow, has a woman living on Earth and another in space. Someone made a comment that the one in space is an alien. I said, 'No, she's human,' and he said, 'She's alien because she doesn't come from Earth.' Also, in my novella, The Flying Man of Stone, there is an ancient species that has always lived on Earth, but one reviewer called them 'aliens' though I was thinking about ancestral spirits. It is a nightmare of sorts trying to write from such a point of view, or from such 'inspirations', because Western ideas have so flooded the world that anything new is distorted to fit a Western perspective. But I'll keep writing about the world as I grew up in it until people get it that it is possible for someone to come from another planet and not be an alien. Not sure if that answers the question.'

What do you want to reach with your movies and/or books?


'This is partly covered in the previous question. I tell stories because I have what some people might call an 'overactive imagination'. I daydream a lot. It's my favorite pastime. I love to just lie in bed with eyes wide open and dream and dream and live in these weird worlds far far away. Even as a child, I had this bug. I remember I would spend inexplicably long periods of time in the bathroom, whenever I went to bathe, that other people started to make fun of me. One brother suggested that whenever I was in the bathroom, I met an old Chinese man who trained me in kung-fu. I don't know where he got that idea. Maybe because I was obsessed with Chinese fantasy films. Our bathroom was a small room in the back of the courtyard, which we shared with four other families. It had a single window with plywood shutters (I think it was plywood), but often the shutters were old and worn-out and let in pools of light that fell in captivating designs on the wet floor. I remember staring into the water in the basin, sometimes marveling in the lights caught therein, or a long time. I think I enjoyed the bathroom for it was one of the few moments I could be all alone by myself, and daydream without interruption. But then, since the bathroom was used by many people, soon someone would come to chase me out.' 


'When I discovered writing, I found an outlet for all these fantasies that plagued me. I don't have any other motivation. I actually hate it when I'm applying for a grant and I find a question that says 'What does this story mean to you?' I never think of the meaning of a story, or what I want to achieve with it. I just think of the audience. I want people to enjoy the story, to be entertained, to feel something upon reading my books or watching a film I made. Whatever that something is, it differs from work to work.'


'At some point, I started calling myself a 'social activist', but I think that was to try and please the grant givers, because at that time it was really difficult to get attention unless you tied your work to some kind of social message. I think it was expected (and still is to some extent) of African writers and filmmakers to be some kind of anthropologists, to tell stories that speak about life on the continent. Like the book, Blackass, one of the blurbs says it captures contemporary life in Lagos, or something like that. It's a horrible book. Don't read it. Very disappointing. The first few chapters were about something, a story, but from the middle to the end, it seems like a documentary of life in Lagos.'


'I know, most of my stories do have something to say about the society we live in, whether it's the loneliness problem, as in the film Her Broken Shadow, or war and disability, as in the novel I'm currently working on, Dreams of a Yellow Balloon, but overall, I never have a message or an agenda. It's just this daydream or that fantasy that takes hold of me and I dive into it and I don’t get out until the story is finished. Only then, sometimes to make it more appealing to potential publishers or donors in the case of film, will I tie in this great personal motivation and how I want the film to do this or that to the audience, yet all I want is for them to be entertained'

What is your favorite science fiction film / book / show?


'I doubt that I have a favorite. It's often what I'm reading or watching at the moment. I liked the show Orphan Black and was happy-sad when it came to an end. Happy because often series can become trapped in a plot-less quagmire and sad because I loved Sarah and her sisters. I wanted to see more of their world. The Palm-wine Drinkard has to be one of my favorite books. In fact, anything by Amos Tutuola will fit in a list of my favorite books. The first of his that I read was The Feather Woman of the Jungle. This was way back in the late 90s when most of what I had read from Africa was stories like those of Chinua Achebe. I like Tutuola's works because they are the kind of stories that you could easily hear being told in the streets of any African town. I've wanted to tell such kind of stories, and I hate myself for failing.'

Do you have tips for African / Ugandan (scifi) films and books?


'I could give tips on my works, since I'm a writer and filmmaker at the same time, with a collection of short stories A Killing in the Sun, and two feature films, Her Broken Shadow (2017) and The Felistas Fable (2013), but that might be a little vanity :-0 The comic I mentioned above, The Guardian, is passably good I should say, and if someone is looking for something Ugandan to read it is worth it. There are a couples of books that have come out, but I've not gotten round to reading them yet, so I can't give it as a tip. Books that I've enjoyed in recent years include Taty Went West, by Nikhil Singh from South Africa. With film, I recommend Beti and Amare (2014), directed by Andy Siege, which is set in Ethiopia during the Italian invasion. It's a gripping film, beautifully told, with poetical photography and awesome performance.'

 How do you see the world fifty years from now?


'I think we shall become more rural. People predict that cities will flourish, that humans will migrate to the cities, but I think the reverse will happen. Advances in technology will make it very quick and easy to travel from a rural area to a city, say to work, making it possible for someone to live 300kms from his or her workplace, and get there in maybe thirty minutes. Today, the move towards the city is in search of better amenities, better services, and such, but think of a world where technology makes it possible for a doctor to attend to you online, and maybe a 3D printer to dispense any medicine you need. Why would you want to stay in a crowded and dirty city when you can live in a quiet and nice village somewhere and get the same services at the click of a button? '


Lees hier het korte verhaal Dreams of a Happy Marriage. Voor meer informatie over Dilman Dila kun je terecht op zijn website. Abonneer je op zijn YouTube-kanaal en steun zijn werk op Patreon


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