In the years since authoring the memoir The Girl Who Fell to Earth (2012) and co-coining the term "Gulf Futurism," Sophia Al Maria has directed gallery films and worked on numerous feature projects which came to no, or partial, fruition. The exhibition Virgin With A Memory (2014) was a response to Beretta, an unfinished film meant to be Al Maria's directorial debut.
Divided by the color-coding of script revisions and constantly returning to the asterisk (deployed by screenwriters to denote revised lines), Al Maria’s featurette Beast Type Song (2019) is both a post-colonial science-fiction epic about a “solar war” and a response to the inability to make such an epic through more conventional means. In the film, Al Maria speaks about turning down a science-fiction book adaptation gig, partially because she doesn't want to will the horrors of its speculative future onto the present. Performances of Shakespeare and Michelle Cliff are presented on a TV beshat by a white dove in Al Maria's studio, or "writer's room."
Al Maria, who provides voice-over and appears on screen in familiar conversation and occupying space with actors Yumna Marwan and Elizabeth Peace, speaks about "revisions to my visions," including a never-named work that may be her script for the 2020 Sky series Little Birds. (I interviewed Al Maria about the show’s development and production for Filmmaker Magazine in 2021). As innumerable industry tell-alls testify, the ire of the thwarted screenwriter has always been with us. However, when Al Maria relates that her screenplay’s line of description, "The boys smile at one another," was changed to "Two Moroccan youths pull their lips back over their teeth and grin at one another like chimpanzees," it is clear that this is not only a case of creative frustration within a commercial system but also a racist violation of text and authorial intent.
Beast Type opens and closes with the artist boychild locked in an intricate, ambiguous series of movements with a drone. It is hard to tell how much is dance, how much is improvisation, how much is the act of stalking, how much is the act of being stalked. Al Maria's Black Friday (2016) features an early use of drone footage for purposes beyond faux-helicopter-eye on the cheap. In the science-fiction stories of Al Maria’s youth, drones were just one more trope of a hyper-technological future. That relationship changed decisively in what she refers to, in Beast Type’s voice-over, as her "red pill/blue pill" moment: Friends of hers were involved in a "siege situation" in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (presumably during this incident from 2002). Al Maria reports watching live as a Palestinian was sniped by a drone, his death almost immediately recast by news services as having resulted from the "crossfire."
This a hang-out film with a slow, deliberate anger. One of Al Maria's last lines is, "I've learned your language. Now I'm gonna fucking curse you with it."
Beast Type Song screens this afternoon, February 19, at BAM, alongside Larry Achiampong’s Wayfinder (2022). The program is part of the series “True to Life.”