Short Film: ‘Jonah’ Is a Chaotic, Gorgeous Fish Story

Why Watch? Fish stories are great, and giant fish stories are even better. Set on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, Jonah (featured last week on Shadow and Act) is a tale of ambition and arrogance in the world of international tourism. Mbwana and Juma have dreams for their underdeveloped home town, which isn’t the tourist destination they’d like it to be. Suddenly, they strike gold – or, rather, fish. An enormous sea monster jumps from the water as they walk along the beach and they miraculously capture it on camera. Such a discovery turns out to be a perfect gimmick for bringing in tourist dollars, and Mbwana leads the charge.

Yet, as seems to often happen when enormous aquatic beasts are involved, the moral quickly becomes “be careful what you wish for.” Director Kibwe Tavares uses the lushest of effects to transform Zanzibar before our eyes, morphing the city into a chaotic, seething wall of neon advertisements. The images are impeccably crafted, containing plenty of subtle commentaries on the role of tourism in East African society, politics and culture. The monstrous fish in question is also beautifully rendered, ornately bedecked with strange, undersea appendages that further the film’s fantastical bent. Jonah expertly matches the bombastic vigor of its protagonist with an elaborate visual prowess, Hemingway through the lens of Life of Pi.

What Will It Cost? About 17 minutes.

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