At a time when ever-greater numbers of people are bilingual (or trilingual), it’s often the case that the language someone most regularly talks in isn’t the same as the language they think in. A mother tongue precedes any other tongue—the umbilical idiom an individual instinctively falls back on, and the one they feel most at home in. The title of Kondo Heller’s video MU/T/T/ER plays on the word for ‘mother’ in German—a language, like English, with which she is intimately familiar without it always feeling unconditionally, authentically familial. In this video and audio collage, compiled where Heller was living during lockdown, snatches of English and German share the space with remembered or re-discovered Swahili. As a background murmur to all these, a subliminal but ubiquitous resident voice surfaces in the spluttered mutterings and stuttered utterances that are the common parlance of someone living alone. These fragments of inner monologue, mumbled under one’s breath or spoken out loud, are matched to different rooms in the house, as if to echo different facets of the self. A poetic reminder of the patterns and habits of introspection, and the quiet tumult of everyday personal thoughts that reverberate within. (Steven Bode)
by Esther Kondo Heller
with Esther Kondo Heller, Shenece Oretha, Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, M. NourbeSe Phillip, May Ayim, Audre Lorde, Joel
United Kingdom 2021 English, Swahili, German, Kitharaka 18’ Colour


  • Esther Kondo Heller
  • Shenece Oretha
  • Nikki Giovanni (voice)
  • Lucille Clifton (voice)
  • M. NourbeSe Phillip (voice)
  • May Ayim (voice)
  • Audre Lorde (voice)
  • Joel (voice)


Written and Directed by Esther Kondo Heller
Cinematography Esther Kondo Heller
Editing Esther Kondo Heller
Music Esther Kondo Heller
Sound Esther Kondo Heller
Production Design Esther Kondo Heller
Executive Producer Esther Kondo Heller
Producers Steven Bode, Katie Byford

Produced by

Film Video Umbrella

Esther Kondo Heller

Esther Kondo Heller is a Kenyan-German poet, writer, and experimental filmmaker. They are a Barbican Young Poet 2018/19, an Obsidian Foundation fellow, and Ledbury Critic. They approach the filmmaking process as a poet and are focused on layering and unfurling to articulate memory, resonance, and language. Their film Bodies (2020) was produced as part of the Visible Poetry Project, New York and their film hooded violets was screened at the 2019 Zebra Poetry Film Festival, Berlin. They are currently doing an MFA in Poetry at Cornell University.


2019 hooded violets; 7 min. 2020 Bodies; 5 min. 2021 MU/T/T/ER

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2022