What exactly are dreams? Are they ethereal manifestations of our heart's inner desires? Or are they merely glimpses of ourselves in a different universe? In the East African musical sci-film Neptune Frost, dreams can be both.
The film itself was a dream project for its co-directors, Rwandan playwright/filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman and American musician and poet Saul Williams (who also wrote the screenplay.)
"The dream space is something that interests us a lot," Uzeyman tells A.frame "In its connection and ability to send us messages and help connect things that maybe, in a state of weakness, and everyday life, we wouldn't be able to see or feel. It's also where you source your power. [When] researching how to [create] that feeling of being in a dream while telling a story, [we asked ourselves] 'How do you enter and exit a dream?' What color does it have?' We found that space very interesting to explore in terms of narration. It was liberating."
Neptune Frost centers on a romance between an intersex hacker named Neptune (played intermittently by Elvis Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja) and Matalusam (Bertrand Ninteretse), a coltan miner who, after witnessing the death of his brother at the hand of the capitalistic overseers, plans revenge in a place called Digitaria.
The Afrofuturisic space of Digitaria is part ethereal landscape and part dystopian electronic wasteland of deconstructed keyboards, frayed copper wiring, and recycled computers. At once magical and oppressive, its citizens often communicate to each other through songs about freedom from oppression, following their dreams, love, and ambition. The film's ability to use music to create a rebellious paradise was conceptualized by Williams.
"Before we wrote the script [we wrote] the music," Williams recalled. "That was very much a fun part for me on my end. We were trying to create the soundscape of Digitaria, that village made of recycled computer parts, and that alternative world that you have to walk through a vortex in order to enter. [We asked ourselves] 'What does that sound like?' We were living with the music as it was being created and piecing together ideas [throughout writing]."
Neptune Frost was eight years in the making. Originally conceived as a stage play and graphic novel, Uzeyman and Williams kept those ideas in mind during production. The result is an environment as vibrant and bombastic as a graphic novel, and as immersive as a stage play.
"I wanted to be part of that discussion around how we film ourselves and what helps [create touching moments] and deeper emotions and a deeper understanding of what's happening in the story," Uzeyman explained.
Because Digitaria takes place in a dreamlike world, Uzeyman wanted to reinvent the ordinary, even down to the way that the moonlight wouldn’t be the same shimmering white on Black skin. Instead, fluorescent shades of purples, oranges, and blues are used to convey things like grief, sensuality, and innocence. "[I asked myself] how do I convey the choice of colors and build a complementary between what was said, the emotion that we had to convey? How do you convey the supernatural, the science fiction side of it?"
For a global filmgoing audience, it was important to create a different type of sensory experience, according to Williams. "It's really important if we’re going to invest all this time in watching and streaming stuff to have [movies] that hit you in ways that you’re not used to be hit," he said. "And yes, we do have that question of how do you make people go into the theater and let go of their preconceived expectations. But we just have to let this thing be an immersive experience, right?"
Neptune Frost hits theaters in all its colorful glory on June 3.
Reporting by Destiny Jackson