A brave new film looks to shine light on the lives of millions who have been affected by the rising tide of anti-gay sentiment on the African continent. “Stories of Our Lives,” a collection of five vignettes about Kenya’s LGBT community, will have its world premiere Sept. 5 at the Toronto festival.
According to helmer Jim Chuchu, pic is an attempt to go beyond the headlines and explore a world that is often marginalized or ignored within Kenya.
“We’re really interested in telling stories that are different from the mainstream Kenyan culture, which denies a lot of things,” he says.
Chuchu is a co-founder of the Nest, a Nairobi art space where roughly a dozen members from different walks of life collaborate on multi-disciplinary projects. Last year the group decided to travel across Kenya, conducting hundreds of anonymous interviews with gay men and women as part of a multi-media project documenting LGBT lives in Kenya.
The stories they collected inspired them to rethink their initial project. With time, they started to see the potential to bring some of those stories to the screen.
The film was a collaborative, by-the-bootstraps effort. Though many of the cast and crew have worked on musicvideos and multi-media projects, none have formal film production training.
Pic was lensed on a $15,000 budget, using a Canon DSLR. Though passions ran high throughout the eight-month production process — when each of the scripts was written, developed, and shot — expectations were low when production wrapped.
“TIFF was a complete surprise to me and the whole team,” says Chuchu.
The helmer is making his second trip to Toronto after his first short, “Homecoming,” preemed last year as part of “African Metropolis,” a collection of six shorts filmed in six African cities.
South Africa’s Big World Cinema, which produced “Metropolis,” is a co-producer on “Stories.” Funding came from the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, while the Open Society
Initiative for Eastern Africa and Hivos East Africa provided support for the original documentation project.
Though “Stories” received generous support from Kenya’s vibrant activist community, there are still concerns about how the movie will be received back home, where homosexuality is punishable by law, though rarely prosecuted. The filmmakers remained anonymous during production, out of concerns that “Stories” would run afoul of Kenya’s anti-gay laws, only choosing to reveal their identities at Friday’s premiere.
“We’re not entirely sure what will happen to us as individuals, and us as an institution,” says Chuchu. “We’re still kind of in uncharted territory.”
Perhaps even more significant is the social stigma that remains in Kenya. But Chuchu — who is traveling to Toronto along with executive producer George Gachara and screenwriter Njoki Ngumi — says the film’s powerful message is worth the risk.
“It’s been very emotional,” he says. “It’s made us see that it was important to do this film.”