Gerald Langiri
September 16 / 2011

Kenyan LGBTI(Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual Ignored) group Gay Kenya made history on September 8 and 9 by staging the country‘s first public gay film festival dubbed “The Out Film Festival.” The event was organised by Gay Kenya, hosted and publicised by the Goethe Institute and supported by the Embassy of Switzerland. The two-day free event saw the screening of over 10 LGBTI theme movies.

The audience turn out was impressive throughout the event and some of the featured films created quite a stir. Me Only a Kenyan gay-themed movie, the first full feature of its kind in Kenya, was perhaps the most stirring movie. It touched on a variety of societal issues from the challenges of being gay in Kenya, to violence and homophobia, religion and its conflicts and African traditional and the presence of hetero-normative stereotypes in society.

The movie is an effort from students of the Kenya Institute of Mass and Communication. The producer, Catherine Mumbi, is a third year student and the movie was her first attempt. Asked by the audience about her motivation for coming up with a gay-themed movie she responded, “We have gays in Kenya. They exist and we cannot ignore them. The aim of this movie is to give some exposure to this part of our society.”

The movie‘s director Kevin Kiboma, also a student at the institute said, “Most of the actors are professional actors, it was hard to get them to come up for the role. They feared a backlash. We had to really motivate the actors to get into their roles, it was quite challenging because we were dealing with issues that were not entirely comfortable for everyone but with time they overcame this. My job was to keep the cast focused on their roles.”

According to Catherine Mumbi, Me Only was disqualified from the Kalasha Awards 2011, a Kenyan movie film awards ceremony that recognizes film talent in Kenya. “Unfortunately the movie was not liked at all. We were disqualified at nominations because the response was that a gay-themed movie is taboo in Kenya.”

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Other movies that were screened included, award winning documentary by Swedish director Mathilda Piehl, The Kuchus of Uganda, a documentary featuring Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) members. Coming Out was set in East Berlin and it revealed the life of Phillip, a high school teacher struggling with his sexuality and who is caught in a love triangle as he dates a fellow teacher Tanja who is expecting their child and attempts to fight his increasing feelings for Phillip who he met in a gay bar. This movie was released in 1989 after the Berlin Wall came down. It was the first of its kind completely set and shot in East Berlin.

After the movie, the audience heard from Brian, an LGBTI activist from an organization called Icebreakers in Uganda. The audience also heard about Brian‘s personal journey in coming out and how homophobia affected him and his mother. The festival also featured Lionel Baier‘s documentary La Parade, the journey of a group of six women and a man led by Marianne Bruchez and their daring attempt to plan a Gay Pride march in a small conservative and predominantly Catholic Swiss town called Sion. In the movie, Lionel Baier also highlighted his own personal struggles in coming out and took the opportunity to find peace in doing so within the documentary.

After the screening, Lionel fielded questions from the audience regarding the situation in Sion and in Switzerland in general after the movie and its reception at the theatres. “When the movie was released at the theatres no one went to see it however when it was televised, the statistics showed that very many viewers were from Sion. At least this proved that we exist and that people were watching even though not openly.

Sion has not had another Gay Pride. I think the situation is harder today in Switzerland as there is a stronger conservative presence.” Jihad for Love was a powerful movie that took the audience through a gruelling journey weaving in and out the lives of Muslim LGBTI across various parts of the world like South Africa, Egypt, Iran, India and Turkey. Through the movie, the audience witnessed the challenges Muslim LGBTI and their families face in seeking room and tolerance in Islam. It showed an endearing account of those who faced death threats, jail time, abuse and intolerance for their choices.

Fire is a film from India loosely based on Ismat Chugtai‘s 1941 story Lihaf. Fire was one of the first mainstream films in India to explicitly show homosexual relations and after its release in 1998 in India, it sparked several protests and set off discussions around homosexuality and freedom of speech. Another film show was Fluorescent Sin, a short film that featured a drag queen having a nervous breakdown at a railway station in Nairobi. The movie was written and directed by Amirah Tajdin.

Telly Savallas Otieno, a well-known Kenyan actor spoke about his experience acting the lead role Stella a trans drag queen. “My character Stella represents the troubling plight of those who find themselves out of sync because of who they are. They have to suffer blows from a myopic state of affairs, but despite this, choose to stand their ground or take a train.”

The actor believes he is the first Kenyan actor to play the part of a drag queen in a movie. When asked what motivated him to taking the part he replied, “The theme of ‘otherness‘ and the courage to face my own inbuilt hypocrisies as a man and as an artist and going a step further to take on the larger systems and society at large that cannibalizes anyone who challenges the status quo. I think that while this process causes a lot of suffering, it gives an opportunity for one to redeem one‘s own sense of humanity. This is the lesson I have taken with me after the film festival.”


Pic Source: alaqueer

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