Berlinale Blog Living queer in Kenya

“Stories of our Lives” by Jim Chuchu
“Stories of our Lives” by Jim Chuchu | Photo (detail): © Dan Muchina

“Stories of our Lives” from director Jim Chuchu features five individual true stories, which are entangled around the common struggle of living queer in Kenya - a marginalized community in Kenya.

The 62 minutes black and white film is directed by Jim Chuchu and co-written by Njoki Ngumi from the NEST collective in Nairobi. It is a great combination of an exceptional cast, world class cinematography and great editing.

“Ongea na Mimi Poa”

The film opens with a story called Ongea na mimi poa (Talk to me nicely). It is the story of Kate, who is a highschool student. Kate is in dilemma over her sexual orientation and desires versus what the authorities and the world around her expect. Struggling between the two divergent forces, the movie seeks to show Kate's journey to self-determination.

“The Run”

The Run is about two good friends, Kama and Pato. Kama is a city know-it-all. Pato deals with DVDs and is new in Nairobi and the world of back-street deals. Out of curiosity Pato, attends a gay club in Westlands, a district in Nairobi, and gets attracted to the queer world. The Run brings to surface the reality of brutalizing and shaming against members of the queer community, which is spurring from intolerance. Once close friends, one ends up running for his life while the other one is hunting him down. Through bringing the typical Nairobi back-street deals, casual urban fashion, sweaty smoky as well as sexy dancehalls juxtaposed by brutality and the eventual run to the screen this story gives insights into living in Nairobi.

“Athman”

In the previously called White Highlands, in the elaborate Tea plantations, the story of two long-time friends, Athman and Ray unfolds. Athman and Ray both work at a tea farm. Athman who is straight knows about Ray's queer sexual orientation, but they both keep it a secret. Things take a bad turn once Fiona, a woman who Athman likes gets into the mix. She finds out about Ray's secret and confronts him. Ray has to make a difficult decision: will he keep on living on the farm or move away?

“Duet”

Set in a hotel room somewhere in the UK, Duet is the story of the Kenyan researcher Jeff, who is seeking to quench his thirst for experiencing new things, by having sex with a white man. Duet is the story of a gay African elite, hiring a European escort, which even in film is a rare story told. The mutual understanding of Jeff and Roman, though strangers is outstanding. Duet is the climax of the movie, its making-out scenes can easily make one blush.

“Each night I dream”

Liz fears about what would happen to her and Archi, her partner, if society knew that they are lovers. Each night she dreams about the brutality that could befall them and imagines changing her sex, which could be a possible solution for their predicament: “There is a belief that if somebody walks around a fig tree seven times backwards, they would change their sex,” Liz fantasizes. The slow motion walks and the thoughts of a free world, out there somewhere as well as the sound track which seemingly follows the motions in a romantic chase beautifully combine to give arguably the best shots in this film.