‘Smoke Jumpers’ by Art and Science Films Afrika
‘Smoke Jumpers’, Art & Science Films Afrika’s extraordinary new film of Kenyan women’s timeless fire rituals burning charcoal and the effects on climate change.
Art & Science Films Afrika’ new film ‘Smoke Jumpers’ commissioned for Forecast brings together ancestral knowledge of conserving the natural world with current research around charcoal burning and highlights the complex and contradictory issues of climate change faced in Kenya today.
‘Smoke Jumpers’ is directed by Daniel Muchina and produced by Wangechi Ngugi, Art & Science Films Afrika (ASFA), and has been created in collaboration with Rebecca Clube, Research Fellow, University College London, Institute for Sustainable Resources around charcoal use and production in Kenya.
Set in the forest landscapes near Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley region, Kenya, the film starts with an atmospheric shot of the forest itself giving a sense of the importance of the beautiful, majestic trees and biodiversity which are under threat by both climate change and the charcoal burning which destroys local woodland. We are presented with a Priestess, mysteriously clothed in white and silver who attempts to cross the threshold between mortal and immortal worlds in search of resources for her ailing world. She encounters two formidable warrior goddesses dressed in black with gold adornments, ‘the Smoke Jumpers’. The Smoke Jumpers are fictionalised deities, who practise ancient rituals of burning fires for healing and purification.
The Smoke Jumpers are custodians of ancestral knowledge; the two spiritual figures impart to her the secrets of their timeless fire rituals shown through coloured smoke and mythical dance movements. Finally the Priestess dances alone in the grey toxic smoke until she disappears with a warning of the environmental and social dangers of the practical use of burning charcoal in these rituals.
This film emerged from conversations with Rebecca Clube, Research Fellow, University College London Institute for Sustainable Resources around charcoal use and production in Kenya. Rebecca spoke about the multiple social and environmental concerns surrounding its widespread use and production. Especially concerning is “the pollutant exposure for its users, many of whom are women using it to cook.” Without viable and scaled alternatives, “charcoal continues to be the dominant household fuel and it is deeply embedded into social practices.”
In dialogue with Rebecca’s research at CCG, ASFA brings to light collective feelings around the toxic processes of producing and consuming charcoal as a source of energy. The artists highlight the lived experience of those who are at the centre of facilitating these processes and how this ties into the reality of socio-economic disparities in Kenya.
Daniel Muchina, Artistic Director of ASFA:
“Thanks to our enriching online discussions with Rebecca Clube, I was able to draw many parallels between her research on the dynamics that plague sustainability efforts in the charcoal production industry in Kenya, and my own cultural roots and lived experiences in the country.
The intersection of Art and Science offers tremendous potential for mitigating climate change. Art can relay the urgency of climate action, while science can provide evidence-based strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Together, these fields can inspire and catalyse a global movement towards a sustainable future.”
Mala Yamey, Associate Curator, Invisible Dust:
“‘Smoke Jumpers’ is a really evocative and spiritual film that brings to light the strong yet fragile experiences of those involved in charcoal production and use in Kenya. Bringing Art & Science Films Afrika together with social scientist Rebecca Clube UCl is what we do at Invisible Dust; enabling both disciplines to benefit from each other. There are many readings of the film, the climate problems of the charcoal industry but also the humanism of a woman’s desperation trying to find a solution for her community and her indigenous heritage in light of the consequences of the modern world.”
Rebecca Clube, Research Fellow at CCG:
“Charcoal is often portrayed as incompatible with sustainability due to environmental and social challenges. However, this fuel is a key energy source and represents an important income-generating activity for millions across Africa, so these social benefits cannot be overlooked. Transitioning to a renewable energy system must ensure those who work with and rely on charcoal are included.
I was impressed by Art & Science Films Afrika (ASFA)’s vision for interpreting the social and environmental challenges relating to charcoal through mythical storytelling. They were aware of the nuances of the charcoal industry and the energy transition, and were sensitive to these issues.
ASFA’s final piece is sympathetic to the challenges associated with charcoal livelihoods and the paradoxes charcoal communities face. CCG hopes that it induces reflection and questioning around the complex issue of charcoal production and its use.”
‘Smoke Jumpers’ is curated and produced by Invisible Dust in collaboration with University College London Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR) and funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office’s Climate Compatible Growth (CCG) programme.
‘Smoke Jumpers’ was premiered at Forecast 2023 on Friday 19th May with an introduction by Daniel Muchina.