Daniel Chein

Daniel Chein

The hybrid documentary Time Hunter will present creative technologist Mark Mushiva in two complementary contexts, and a striking 15-minute work sample provides a sense of how the strands will interweave. In the first, Mushiva is documented in his daily life, including his delivery of a presentation on his theory of Afro-acceleration. “Because Black people were seen as nonhuman and whiteness was seen as human, maybe the role of Blackness is to accelerate away from what is human,” he explains. That means actively embracing technology: “Get the chips, cyberonify, whatever it is.” The second strand envisions how Mushiva’s theory might look in practice, rendering what director Daniel Chein describes as “the origin story of his alter-ego, this bionic spy trying to start a revolution through hip-hop.” Atmospherically rich nighttime scenes find that persona riding down a futuristic street illuminated by Blade Runner–esque holograms and sitting in a dimly lit room, grafting a working synthesizer—one Mushiva built himself and uses in his musical performances—onto his arm for use as a weapon. 

Time Hunter is being co-directed by Chein with his subject, which is in line with his collaborative creative practice to date. Films weren’t the first passion of Chein, whose Taiwanese emigrant parents raised him in Carpinteria, California. “Growing up in a place so close to LA”—90 minutes away by car—“you are around a lot of people whose parents work in the entertainment industry. People want to be a writer or director; they walk around going like this”—he makes a framing gesture. “I was never one of those people. I say that filmmaking found me.” Chein studied anthropology as an undergraduate, and that field’s concept of “participant observation” informs his work as a filmmaker. “Historically, anthropology is a colonialist trade,” he says. “The idea behind participant observation is that to understand the way of thinking and being and existing of someone that’s different from you, there’s a certain methodology that you can employ, trying to maintain this balance of having some critical distance but also immersing yourself within another culture or environment.” 

Chein got his BA in Anthropology at San Francisco State University; he also completed his MFA in cinema there. His graduate thesis project was the medium-length In Four Movements, which follows the fictionalized experience of dancer Çağdaş Ermiş, who joins the Pina Bausch Tanztheater as they develop a new piece. Chein notes that because Bausch “incorporated the life stories of her performers into the pieces themselves, it was very easy for me to say, ‘What I want to do with this film is what Pina would do with dance.’” Chein describes his preference for collaboration as manifesting in “a co-creation between the participants of the film and myself, where the story and aesthetics are shaped by a conversation, a certain dynamic we have that’s grounded in our relationship. It’s always hard articulating what is mine—my aesthetic and signature—because I feel like it always exists somewhere in-between. For Time Hunter, it’s not like I said, ‘I want to make a genre-bending film. I’m going to find a sci-fi documentary to tell.’ It came from the protagonist and I serendipitously meeting on a plane.”

That initial encounter with Mushiva took place in 2016, with production still ongoing. A creative retreat this year included a rewatching of Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, an early favorite for Chein that proved helpful in thinking through Time Hunter’s split relationship between text and action. Forest Whitaker’s assassin character lives his life in line with the Hagakure, a Japanese samurai text, excerpts of which structure the film. Those quotes, Chein notes, are “informing his daily life and rituals and the way he moves through the world,” creating a useful model for “a way in which Mushiva’s writing can drive the film in an essayistic tradition.” But there’s also the verité aspect of the film, documenting the still-ongoing saga of whether the Namibian-born Mushiva will be successful in obtaining German citizenship. Along the way, Time Hunter has secured support from organizations including the Points North Fellowship, Princess Grace Foundation and Catapult Film Fund. The film is tentatively scheduled to be done in 2025. As Chein says, “Life takes time to live, right?”—Vadim Rizov/Image: Mollie Ophelia

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