“I Want to Be a Pilot” is a 10 minute short film from Spanish director Diego Quemada-Diez, set in Kenya. It has garnered at least eleven awards at various film festivals around the world, including for best film in its class at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
We watch a forlorn young boy named Omondi drift along in the squalor of Nairobi. The voiceover – him or someone speaking for him – is done in a sort of half prose/half poetry style. The impression given is that we are watching the nonfiction story of an actual person, but in fact Omondi is a character played by Collins Otieno. The story is a composite of many stories, with Omondi being a sort of “everyman” version of the all too numerous street orphans who live this sort of life.
The voiceover goes back and forth between straightforward descriptions of extreme poverty (his neighborhood (Kibera) is “East Africa’s largest slum,” he hasn’t eaten in several days, when he has to sleep he finds what shelter he can in a garbage dump, etc.) and his hopes and dreams (he wants to be a pilot, to fly away, to go where he won’t have to suffer like this, to have parents, to be loved, to not be HIV-positive, etc.).
It’s hard not to be moved by something like this, but I don’t know that it hit me as hard as it could have.
Maybe the subject matter is too close to the charitable appeals on late night TV that, like most people, I’ve learned to completely tune out. (“Compassion fatigue” is the term for this, I believe.) Maybe the more poetic narration gives it a sense of unreality, where the extra step of having to translate from art to reality made me feel even more removed from that reality.
Or maybe it’s just the enormity of it. There are millions of people in the world who live just this kind of (usually brief) life of undeserved misery. Perhaps I sensed watching this that letting myself feel too much about that right now would more likely result in a debilitating despair than some kind of empowering inspiration to change the world.
There are probably times this film would have reached me at a deeper level, but as it is I’ll just say it’s a reasonably well done, depressing little film.