South remembers: Returning to The Villages

by Erik Blinderman and Lisa Rave

Colonialist exclusion or imprisonment?
A film compares two communities premised on segregation in Namibia and Florida

The Villages by Erik Blinderman and Lisa Rave, 2011

Each episode of the British science-fiction TV series The Prisoner follows a fairly consistent arc. The show’s protagonist, a former government agent, is incarcerated
in “The Village” in an undisclosed time and place without knowing the reason for his imprisonment. In each episode he attempts a novel escape from this idyllic village, fails and returns to his home away from home, itself a replica of the residence he had as a free man. In the face of his defeat, a smiling neighbour says in passing, “Be seeing you” – the Village’s colloquial goodbye – followed by a gestural salute of encircling the eye between the thumb and forefinger. As the credits roll to the militaristic drum beat of the show’s theme song, the agent is resigned to the fact that all of his movements are monitored and controlled: all resistance is futile. He is Number Six, without a name and denied any sense of self-determination.

An American broadcast company has recently remade The Prisoner, using as a backdrop the idiosyncratic colonial architecture of Swakopmund set against the warm hues of the Namibian desert. Swakopmund, a former port colony of Germany’s short-lived colonial empire, has retained much of its original architecture as a direct result of the continuing influx of German investors capitalising on
the nature tourism that has been expanding in the region since the mid twentieth century. Surrounded by walls and electric fences, inhabitants are secured inside the town, forcing the others to reside in shanty towns off the grid. These marginalised communities make their living inside Swakopmund as day labourers, hotel porters and security guards, maintaining a racial divide and its architectural fantasy, brooming the streets clean of the swirling clouds of dust brought in from the impending desert’s edge.

The Villages by Erik Blinderman and Lisa Rave, 2011

Our film, The Villages, attempts to reconcile two foreign landscapes as they merge into one imagined dystopian space. Operating primarily through what could be considered observation, the film moves between the coastal town of Swakopmund and a retirement community named The Villages, situated in Central Florida, United States. The latter is a sprawling suburban age-segregated community with its own boundaries continually expanding to accommodate the growing retirement of the baby-boomer populations. The Villages has created its own form of fantasy colonialism through its decor and a type of architectural mimicry. Through the privatisation of all facets of its economy, through isolation, open segregation and a cultural homogeneity in all its glorious excesses, The Villages brings south thousands of homeowners who give up their native states, families and jobs, to live and die amongst the aged. Given the community’s ultimate promises of everyday life as tourism, its novelty golf cars, social-isolation and age-exclusion policies, a private newspaper, popular music and conservative radio talk shows broadcast round the clock through every lamppost in the town square, its gates and security checkpoints, it did not feel far-fetched to draw parallels with “The Village” of The Prisoner series.

Both locations have the capacity to hermetically seal themselves off from the outside world and reproduce the construct of a community by openly suppressing other narratives and native histories. Our film moves between both colonies, allowing the fantasies that are inherent in each location to act as a parable for the other. Through the structural analogies of the space, through the synchronisation of image and sound, and between what could be considered acting and editing, one space is formed that can only be nameless, called simply The Villages.

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