By Nathaniel Gondo
When African Hippie released a self-titled short film (viewed ‘manifesto’) in May, it was clear that the collective was intent on using film as a medium of expression. Barely six months later, they have come through with their second offering called Paradhiso (Paradise) which plays around the themes of oblivion and dark fashion.
The film features a talented cast, some part of African Hippie, some friends of African Hippie – Kundai Ruwizhi, Decide ‘Drip Psycho’ Mupesani, Ronald ‘Bluesmoke’ Nyauma, Elvis Jawala, Dylan ‘Saint Danger’ Ngoshi and Devine Farahin. African Hippie teamed up with the usual suspects; Blu Modercai (cinematography)and Samutisi (colorist), to deliver a 3-minute film that is surely ahead of its time.
Paradhiso contrasts a state of perfect harmony and balance, where all things are as they were intended to with a ‘lingering hell’ brought about by ‘devils’. African Hippie founder and creative director, Leeroy Jawala, explains, “Paradhiso is about how we blur the lines between darkness and the light. I believe life was meant to be beautiful that’s what God intended it to be. However, because the devil is at play things are not all rosy.”
He went on to say that concepts like religion and love were intended to make for a better life experience, but they have been since corrupted either by imagined anxieties or the abuse of trust by the powers that be. “There are elements in are life that are supposed to make life more beautiful, things like religion and love. However, these things are now corrupt and they leave us feeling uneasy. We fall in love or are loved but the feeling of an impeding doom never leaves us. Religion offers us a place but somehow we feel like we are in a cult and our religious leaders are being haunted by the same demons haunting us,” expounds Jawala.
Ultimately, it is this corruption that has taken away and instead left people feeling empty and chasing highs. “Our demons stop us from realising that beauty. things like trauma, depression and addiction all suck away the beauty from life. So in the film the protagonist is moving in a setting that is scenic but she fails to enjoy it because of her demons,” says Jawala. Protagonist Kundai Ruwizhi does a splendid job at bringing out the concept behind the film.
Paradhiso is Jawala’s first dance with Afro Surrealism, a genre of art and literature that combines elements of Surrealism and Black culture. It is often characterised by the use of dreamlike imagery, symbolism, and magical realism to explore themes of race, identity, and social justice.
Jawala draws inspiration from the masters of surrealism – Jordan Peele (in Get Out)and Donald Glover (in Atlanta). In making Paradhiso, he combined their genre of storytelling and his personal experiences to create a pattern from the randomness. “These artists bring out the supernatural black experiences that I’m inspired by as also my everyday day struggles and demons. If you watch the film, it can seem random but that’s how our thoughts work. I wanted to bring that out,” he indulges.
The dark aesthetic that prominently features in Paradhiso may be misinterpreted as cultism by some. Jawala however, flatly dismisses this idea and proffers an even better reasoning behind the looks featured in the film. “The wardrobe in the film was done by the incredible cast and each outfit represents their unique personalities and tastes. Fashion is a form of expression so it shouldn’t be caged. So, there is a place for dark fashion because as people we have dark emotions so, we like to embrace those dark emotions because they are part of our beauty,” he explains.
Ultimately, Jawala leaves the interpretation of the film to the audience. Paradhiso is a work of art, with infinite meanings that are dependent on people’s unique perspectives. He adds, “Ultimately I want everyone to derive their own meaning from the film. Someone can watch the film and have a whole different interpretation and that’s beautiful. I wanna make more films like this. Films that are like abstract paintings or art.”
Elvis Jawala, who also featured in the film, shares his older brother’s sentiments on leaving the film to the audience’s interpretation. This is the main reason why Paradhiso was made without spoken dialogue. “Describing something using words usually makes it one dimensional so with the visuals we let the fashion speak to you, get to experience unspoken dimensions where words would significantly reduce their depth,” he says.
Jawala showered his gratitude to the cast and crew for their contribution to Paradhiso. Regardless of budget constraints, the team worked together to create a polished production. Jawala alludes’ “I believe unity and having a good work ethic is the foundation of creating a proper fashion and film industry. If we are able to work and show discipline without the big budgets, we will be able to handle the big leagues when the investments start coming in. So, I believe we are laying good groundwork for the growth of an industry we want to see.”
Paradhiso is a testament of the power of collaboration in fashion. The film in itself is the spillover effect of the unity amongst fashion aficionados transcending different styles and perspectives to tell authentic Zimbabwean stories in a new age. Blue Smoke, one of the creative minds behind the film, says, “The power of collaboration in film is the most important aspect in fashion because we get to understand the next person’s perspective on how much they understand art. That way we’re able to share different ideas, creating a unique fusion of fashion taste, because we all come from different sides of art; be it street wear, modern vintage or avant-garde”
Drip Psycho, who was also part of the cast, weighed in on the importance of using film to better explain fashion concepts that might not be easily understood at first glance. “It is very important because we get to showcase some hidden abstract art meanings on themes like avant-garde. That way, it is more clearly explained to the audience compared to pictures only,” says Drip Psycho.
Avant-garde maestro Saint Danger also featured in Paradhiso, and he feels honoured to have contributed towards the foundation of a new genre of Zimbabwean filmmaking. “I was honoured when Hippie (Jawala) called me to be part of something that was bigger than all of us and we delivered . I had an amazing experience being featured on the film,” beams Saint Danger.
Watch the short film below: