Preview: Neptune Frost

An early look at the collaboration between director Saul Williams and co-director/cinematographer Anisia Uzeyman on their Afrofuturist fantasy.

At top, escaped miner Matalusa (Bertrand “Kaya Free” Nintereste), dreams of another world. (Kino Lorber)

In the expressive and experimental feature Neptune Frost, a group of escaped coltan miners form an anti-colonialist computer hacker collective. From their camp in an e-waste dump, they plot a takeover of the authoritarian regime that exploits the region’s natural resources and people. When Neptune, an intersex runaway, and miner-turned-revolutionary Matalusa find each other, their connection sparks a new way of thinking about the world. 

Co-directors Anisia Uzeyman (who also served as cinematographer) and Saul Williams (also screenwriter and composer) on set in Rwanda. (Photo by Chris Schwagga)

“We wanted to tell a story in a way that reflects what we want to see on the screen,” says co-director Saul Williams. "One of they ways we distinguish ourselves is in our color palette."

Cheryl Isheja as the shape-shifting Neptune, the character co-performed by Elvis Ngabo. (Kino Lorber)
Cheryl Isheja as the shape-shifting Neptune, the character co-performed by Elvis Ngabo. (Kino Lorber)

“The film’s narrative revolves around the precious minerals that are mined on the continent — particularly coltan, which one can find in any tech device — and that inspired our approach to color,” explains Anisia Uzeyman, who co-directed the film and served as its cinematographer. “From there, we tried to figure out which colors would emotionally express the organic, the technological, the epic, the intimate, the fantastical, and the musical."

The anti-colonialist hacker collective sends a clear message to the powers that be. (Kino Lorber)
The anti-colonialist hacker collective sends a clear message to the powers that be. (Kino Lorber)

Where the cast — a who’s who of up-and-coming singers, dancers, and actors from the Rwandan-Burundian diasporic scene, including leads Elvis Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja as the shape-shifting Neptune, and Bertrand “Kaya Free” Nintereste as the escaped miner Matalusa — is concerned, Uzeyman and Williams paid careful attention to the role light plays in telling their story.

“We wanted to create a mood in which the characters emit a certain quality of light,” says Uzeyman. “We talked a lot about how to film dark skin tones with a kind of luminescence. It became less a matter of projecting something onto the characters than bringing it out of them, so that they appeared to glow."

Actors Cheryl Isheja and Bertrand “Kaya Free” Nintereste. (Kino Lorber)
Actors Cheryl Isheja and Bertrand “Kaya Free” Nintereste. (Kino Lorber)

You can read our full coverage on Neptune Frost in the September 2022 print and digital editions of American Cinematographer.

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