DZATA: A Technological Odyssey Through African History

"DZATA: The Institute of Technological Consciousness" is a captivating cinematic journey that transports us back in time while reimagining Africa's technological history.

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dzata movie

Source: Dzata (Rock production still) 2022 - ongoing. Courtesy of Knoetze, Wilson and Hlongwane

Spearheaded by South African artists Francois Knoetze, Amy Louise Wilson, and cultural producer Russel Hlongwane, this project, funded by the Mozilla Foundation, offers a fresh perspective on Africa’s historical contributions to technology and knowledge by seamlessly blending the past with the future. 

Tech behind the movie 

“DZATA” unfolds in a visually stunning and immersive video work, showcasing intricate costumes, breathtaking landscapes, and intriguing AI imagery. This unique endeavor introduces us to a fictional universe deeply rooted in Africa’s historical and contemporary technopolitical landscapes, while shedding light on the multifaceted roles of scientists within the fictitious “DZATA” Institute, supposedly founded in 1553. 

Wilson and Knoetze’s project is inspired by the concept of a mobile laboratory, championed by Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, which embodies the tradition of African transcendentalists, known as ‘isanusi’ in isiZulu. 

These historical figures roamed across various kingdoms, amassing diverse knowledge and methods. “We took inspiration from this tradition of nomadic practitioners who move with their labs,” explains Hlongwane. 

Wilson elaborates, “We wanted to expand this idea to create a fictional institute of African scientists and technologists that has moved across the continent for hundreds of years. They have been working with the technologies, materials, and practices of each locale, forming a growing, mutating, migrating archive that incorporates socio-technical assemblages from different parts of the continent.” 

The use of AI in DZATA 

What sets “DZATA” apart is its strategic use of AI imagery, which plays a pivotal role in bringing this fictional world to life. The AI technologies employed in the film add depth and complexity to the narrative, creating a compelling blend of historical context and cutting-edge innovation. This harmonious fusion of tradition and technology allows the audience to explore Africa’s rich technological heritage through a new lens. 

At its core, “DZATA” aims to shift the global perception of Africa’s role in the technological landscape. 


Instead of viewing the continent as a mere recipient of innovation, the project paints a vivid picture of Africa as a fertile ground for scientific exploration, creative problem-solving, and pioneering invention.

By emphasizing these narratives and incorporating AI elements, “DZATA” invites viewers to ponder Africa’s significant contributions to technological progress throughout history. 

In “DZATA: The Institute of Technological Consciousness,” the use of AI, paired with imaginative storytelling, not only pays homage to Africa’s technological legacy but also opens up fresh dialogues about the continent’s enduring impact on the global technological stage. 

Using tech for costumes 

In DZATA, technology takes on a unique form by harnessing the transformative potential of discarded and often overlooked materials. 

The film’s costumes stand as a testament to this innovative approach, as they are meticulously crafted from a diverse array of repurposed items such as old tape cassettes, perlemoen shells, rags, and CDs. 

These materials, which might have otherwise faded into obscurity, are reborn as intricate garments that the scientists of the ‘DZATA’ Institute wear. This innovative use of discarded objects challenges traditional notions of creativity and progress, underscoring the idea that innovation isn’t solely about creating something entirely new but rather involves the imaginative reinterpretation of existing elements. 

The film’s costumes breathe new life into these discarded objects, each carrying its own unique history and narrative. Tape cassettes, once a medium for sound and memory, now weave into the fabric of the scientists’ attire, resonating with echoes of the past. 

Perlemoen shells, once elements of the natural world, become integral fragments of the characters’ clothing, bridging the digital realm with the tactile realities of the physical world. This innovative approach not only showcases the filmmakers’ commitment to sustainability and resourcefulness but also aligns perfectly with the movie’s overarching vision of celebrating the overlooked and the discarded as agents of transformation and progress. 

In the coming months, “Dzata” will transcend the screen and enter live performances. A screening of the film will be accompanied by a live-scored performance-lecture, led by the institute’s “Head Scientist,” Russel Hlongwane. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.


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