'Call Me Kuchu'

A fierce, homegrown anti-gay movement and a vastly outnumbered LGBT community confront each other in Uganda to uncertain and unsettling results in "Call Me Kuchu."

A fierce, homegrown anti-gay movement and a vastly outnumbered LGBT community confront each other in Uganda to uncertain and unsettling results in “Call Me Kuchu.” As much an activist wake-up call as a piece of reportage, this report from the frontlines by co-directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall offers an outsider’s view; while a local filmmaker’s perspective may have brought more dimensions, the coverage of events here is impressive and on the mark. Fest tour has been sensational.

The hero of Wright and Zouhali-Worrall’s docu is David Kato, the first openly gay man in Uganda, the No. 1 target of the country’s highly organized anti-gay front, and a longtime advocate of expanded rights for “kuchus,” Uganda’s local term for LGBT people. Before he was slain on Jan. 26, 2011, Kato fought against many nemeses including the press (Gilles Muame, editor at Kampala’s weekly tabloid Rolling Stone, speaks frankly of his sensationalist rag’s blistering attacks and unfounded outings of individuals), the clergy and Parliament, repped most vocally by David Bahati, who authored a bill authorizing execution of anyone committing homosexual acts.

Uganda’s anti-gay sentiment has been widely reported, but “Call Me Kuchu” is the first fairly comprehensive overview of the forces and people involved; the docu includes footage showing how the country’s hate groups have received support from American Christian fundamentalist organizations. Kato’s isn’t exactly a one-man crusade, as he has support from friends such as Naome, LGBT advocate Anglican Bishop Senyonjo (who receives his own rebukes from his church hierarchy) and fellow activist Longjones.

The filmmakers happened to be in Kampala when, after a laborious legal battle against Rolling Stone in court, Kato was murdered; his funeral becomes a shocking nexus of polarized emotions, pitting his allies and enemies against each other in a terrible shouting match. Pic’s final note of hope is, under the circumstances, a feel-good pill for audiences.

HD lensing is mediocre, but the editing has a solid flow, blending with the gentle undertone of Jon Mandabach’s score. Pic took the Berlin fest’s Teddy prize for documentary.

Call Me Kuchu

Production

Directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright, Malika Zouhali-Worrall. (International sales: Cat & Docs, Paris.) Produced by Malika Zouhali-Worrall.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Wright; editor, Wright; music, Jon Mandabach; sound (stereo), Wright, Zouhali-Worrall; supervising sound editor, Justin Dzuban; re-recording mixers, Joe Dzuban; associate producer, Sarah Tabet. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, June 1, 2012. (In Los Angeles Film Festival -- competing; Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama; Hot Docs, SilverDocs, Sheffield Documentary, Frameline, Human Rights Watch film festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

David Kato, Naome, Bishop Senyono, Stosh, Longjones, Gilles Muame, David Bahati. (English, Swahili dialogue)

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