DERICA SHIELDS: The Future Weird was born in July 2013 and there have been five programs: Visions of Excess; In Search of a Black Atlantis; Supra-planetary Sovereigns collaboration with Spectacle Theater); Remote Control; and Non-Resident Aliens.
The Future Weird emerged from a number of desires. I’d been wanting to do a screening series for a really long time. There were so many films by black and brown directors which I’d heard about but couldn’t find anywhere, or which I had seen and thought were interesting but they had not secured distribution. So one aim was just to screen these films because they weren’t readily available online or in theatres.
When I thinking about the screenings, I was keen to get away from a tendency I’d noticed to treat African film as though it’s a genre. I’m increasingly compelled by the move to theorise from the global south, rather than the north/West and wanted to have a space where we could privilege the conversations among black and brown people, without the constant reference to whiteness that emerges as a norm in white dominated spaces. So the screenings are organised thematically, and in that way, they tend to follow certain trains of thought or circle around ideas. “In Search of a Black Atlantis” came out of thinking I’d been doing while at grad school and before, since I’ve long been obsessed with water as a site of black cultural memory, loss, forgetting and rebirth. The films look at water as a cleansing force, what returns to us in the water as detritus, and as a site of myth too - black mermaids, mami water, drexciya/atlantis.
Another reason was that I’d moved to New York and it was lonely. I wanted to find people I could talk with about the things I was thinking about. In some part I also wanted to watch these films with other people rather than have this atomized YouTube viewing experience.
BGT: How do you select your films?
SHIELDS: I usually have one or two films that are in my head at any given time, and then I’ll tease out threads from it and try and find points of connection with other films that I’ve seen or read about. Sometimes it involves lots of casting about - writing to people asking them to send you screeners of their films. I also keep a notebook with a list of films I want to screen and I’ll look over that looking for the nexus of interrelations.
BGT: What is your definition of weird?
SHIELDS: Weird means unruly, uncontained, and situated outside of the mainstream, or at an awkward angle to it. Weird is the creative invention of the marginalised majority. It’s like, people from populations who are exposed to destitution and premature death and organised abandonment are making things. I’m not trying to say that every black, brown, woman or queer filmmaker is from an abject social position, but currently our systems of recognition still fail to register black, brown, queer, trans work as work, or art as art, or thinking as thinking. With The Future Weird I want people to get in a room and talk about the work itself, not just to “celebrate” it in this liberal way which is like a pat on the head, but to say “hey we recognise your art/work/thinking and we are here to talk and think about it.”
The word weird also invites invention and reimagination rather than acceptance of the terms already on offer. Weird means an end to bargaining for inclusion on other people’s terms, and in turn, struggling towards your own terms for art, thought, politics, prosperity…. As a younger person I was definitely weird, but I as I got older I increasingly caved to the discipline of fancy universities, I stopped being weird, which meant that I stopped demanding what seemed impossible. But imagining and then demanding what seems impossible is so powerful, especially when our world is so inadequate and deadly.
BGT: This title is open to interpretation. The future is weird or the future of weird?
SHIELDS: Both/And. The name is compelling because its meaning isn’t totally settled. I hope it’s evocative in a way that invites people to slow down and ponder.
BGT: Why do you focus more on sci-fi than any other genre? What’s so particularly radical about it?
SHIELDS: I’m interested in the ways that black/brown/trans/queer people imagine the future. We’re interested in sci-fi, but not only sci-fi or any genre. Experiments and films that break with genres or straddle them are what I’m interested in. Any film in which filmmakers are trying to be uninhibited, to exercise unbridled imagination is exciting to me.
BGT: In one of your statements you quoted Samuel R. Delaney. For him sci-fi is about “what the world might be.” From the films you screen, the future seems doomed, which goes against most mainstream sci-fi narratives, especially in movies, where someone has to save the future/world. Are you pessimistic about the future?
SHIELDS: Yes, that quote comes from this brilliant interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for the Paris Review. We got into this discussion at the March screening of “Remote Control” held at Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn with the likes of Lara Weibgen, Frances Bodomo, Ja’Tovia Gary, Maryam Kazeem, Wendy James Palacios, Shola Amoo and more amazing people. As part of the screening, we show a set of curated clips, and one of the clips was from a fantasy scene in “I’m a Cyborg but That’s Okay” by Park Chan Wook. We talked about why in mainstream sci-fi there was always a white guy trying to save the world, whereas in “I’m a Cyborg” the main character fantasises about shooting up the entire place, just destroying the whole structure.
Through discussion, we came towards this idea that white men in mainstream films save the world as it is because this world actually serves them quite well: they have power, or the means of accessing power, so the end of the world registers as catastrophic for them. Who knows who might replace them in the ruling class? But for those of us who have nothing to lose by abandoning the structures that exist now which actually legislate against our existence, the impulse is not to save this world but to destroy it: radical change is not just desired but vital.
BGT: What is/are your favorite short (s) from all of the films you’ve shown thus far and why?
SHIELDS: That’s impossible to say - I really feel strongly about all the films we screen and we’ve been so fortunate and grateful to screen work by artists including Akosua Adoma Owusu, Elaine Castillo, Wangechi Mutu, Kibwe Tavares, Zina Saro Wiwa, Shola Amoo, John Akomfrah. Some of these people I’ve been following their work from afar for years and years and so it’s really amazing to be able to present their work and I take the programming and presentation of their work really seriously.
I can say that I was really pleased to screen Les Saignantes by Jean Pierre Bekolo which is not a short but a feature film. We screened Saignantes or Bloodettes at the very first “The Future Weird”, in a program called “Visions of Excess”. It really is a bold, daring film, and I feel really excited about life when I watch it. But until The Future Weird, I’d only watched it in 12 parts on YouTube so I was really thrilled to be able to screen it and watch it in a cinema with others.
The next Future Weird screenings are:
The Future Weird x The New Inquiry — 8PM, Saturday 30th August at Museum of Morbid Anatomy
To know more about upcoming events: @thefutureweird / facebook.com/thefutureweird.
You can find her on Tumblr @ derica.tumblr.com / Twitter @dericashields