Kenya is a front-runner with this festival
© Julian Manjahi
Wieland Speck is a German filmmaker, who directed the "Panorama" programme at the Berlin International Film Festival Berlinale from 1992 to 2017. “Panorama” showcases new films by established directors as well as debut works by up-coming talents. Speck also founded the Teddy Award, the first international film award for films addressing LGBT topics at a major festival, in 1987. The Teddy is presented by an independent jury as an official award of the Berlinale.
During the annual Out Film Festival, which was organized by the Goethe-Institut Nairobi for the 8th time in 2018, Wieland Speck was invited to be part of one of a series of panel discussions that deliberated on issues around the LGBT community. The Out Film Festival celebrates queer cinema through the screening of selected films and documentaries that focus on LGBTQIA+ community.
Interviewer: Wieland Speck, it has been great having you here as part of the team that has been travelling through the city and attending our festival this week. I think everyone could learn a lot, you probably too? As it has been your first time in Kenya, I would like to know what your experience has been like. What surprised you and what will you take back home?
Wieland Speck: It is indeed my first experience between South Africa and the Maghreb countries on the African continent. But of course, I have seen many films and we also had many guests from African filmmaking communities during the Berlinale, where we show their films to our audience consisting not only of politically interested Berliners but also of the international community of film enthusiasts and professionals. This enhances the impact of these films on the world market, which is usually quite difficult to achieve. And the films from here really made an impact. The Teddy Award in Berlin, which focuses on queer films, has for example, already gone to a Kenyan film called Stories of Our Lives and we had people from Kenya and Uganda in the Teddy Award jury. So, I was already involved in prior exchanges. This is why I am now very happy to actually experience this subculture. It is great that the Goethe-Institut supports this scene with the queer film festival you hold here, in a country where being queer is not yet normal. That being said, being queer is not normal yet anywhere in the world really. Seen from an African perspective, Kenya might be pretty much ahead regarding queer emancipation. From a European perspective, there is of course still a long way to go but also in Europe we are still not where we want to be. Such emancipation is a continuous process, which was also reflected strongly for example during the panel discussions. There are connotations about a sort of exclusiveness of the subculture, which should be free from the influence from the west but also from other influences that are suppressing queer life. However, the exclusiveness of subculture is a global phenomenon. Subculture needs to develop into a format where culture starts to profit from it and becomes culture. Thanks to the Goethe-Institut which opened that space for the queer community and also invited for example people from Uganda, this development was very visible in the four days I was here. Astonishingly, they were all women, and it feels to me like it is going to be the century of women in a way, which is also a global trend. So, I found an image of what is happening globally and which is happening in a very pointed way here in Kenya, which I found remarkable.
Interviewer: In comparison to other film festivals in the world, the Out Film Festival is still very small. However, it grew remarkably over the last few years. Where do you think lies its potential and what makes it special in this region?
Wieland Speck: It is obviously extremely special in the region. We have festivals in South Africa and there is one in Uganda, where it is even more difficult to live a queer life than in Kenya. Kenya is a front runner in that aspect–and
Goethe-Institut is a big part of that–and it makes me proud to be part of this festival. The main questions, that came up not only on the panel but that were also asked by the audience, are mostly focused on the aspect of developing political force so society will change, which is necessary in order to ensure the security of its gay, lesbian and trans children. A second, very important aspect is to have fun. I have the impression that the love of life is a very strong motor here in Kenya. And the third aspect is of course to strengthen the vulnerable subcultural scene. This is also happening during the festival: By watching movies from all over the globe, you realize that you are not alone in the world and that many of the problems you perceive as local and momentary are actually global problems. Seeing all these elements united, I hope that the festival continues. Especially, because it also has a great audience. To me, the audience was a big surprise in terms of how vivid and diverse it is, and how numerous! Every screening and every panel during the festival was full.
Interviewer: You have also met the festival’s local curators. What were your expectations from curators from such diverse backgrounds? Were they fulfilled? And which recommendations do you have for this festival?
Wieland Speck: As we say in German, everything stands and falls with the knowledge of your audience. As it was my first experience in Kenya, so I do not know which films I would have chosen, as I would need to get to know the audience better than I had the chance to in those four days. I guess that the selection was made with that in mind. But what I do know is that there are many other films that I would have loved to also be here. I mentioned these three main-levels: subculture, queer culture and mainstream culture. And all three should basically be addressed during such a festival, and there are sufficient films out there to cover all of them. And this happened during the Out Film Festival. You showed a Hollywood film that was shot in New York about a trans kid that basically addresses the whole world, there is no limited audience for a film like this. And at the same time, you showed documentaries that spoke more to the subcultural audience. All elements were there, and I think this is a thought that should also prevail in the future.
Interviewer:You are currently experiencing some changes in your life, as you are not going to be part of the Berlinale anymore. What is currently inspiring you and what is your next big project? Will you be coming back to Kenya?
Wieland Speck: Now I do not do the “twice-around-the-world” travelling that I used to do for 25 years to places that produce a lot of films/for the Berlinale anymore. So, now I can visit festivals that come to the Berlinale and pick their programme in my selection, which is basically paying respect to my former customers one could say. I was in Latvia this year and in Georgia, in Armenia, in smaller places in the US, in Kenya and Taipei. I look at the effects of my work from an angle that I do not know yet. Most of the time I am on a jury, or I show my own films. And this is a wonderful inspiration because it is down to the practical which was always the part that interested me the most. I am an actor, a cinema person that ran a theatre and so on. So, bringing film to people and having reflections about it is very much driving me and of course even more in a queer context. So, I travelled this year as much as ever, but to different places. But I am also looking forward to reducing the travelling, as it is very exhausting and we now have the digital means to see films, even though it will be terrible not to understand a bit of the cultures from where the films are coming from. Of course, sometimes I only know the place from looking out of a taxi window, but nevertheless the understanding deepens immensely when you travel. It is difficult to find the right balance as flying is also an ecological problem.
Interviewer: Finally, I hope you enjoyed your stay in Kenya and will remember the Out Film Festival in a good way.
Wieland Speck: I will for sure, and I will also stay in touch with the people I met and already knew. This is going to be part of my life now.