“Stories of Our Lives” shares the unheard stories of being queer in Kenya

AE: Was there any personal narrative attached to the surreal short “Each Night I Dream”?

JC: There’s the narrative about the tree, which is a very old myth that we’ve heard over and over again. That fig tree being a kind of weird tree that if you go around it several times backwards you change your gender. While we were talking about this film someone reminded us about that story. And we’d never–I’d never really thought about that story from a queer perspective. So it was interesting to explore an old, old story and look at it from this lens.

In there, there’s a little question about this whole idea about being homosexual is un-African, which is also dealt with in the film. And yet you have all these stories where gender was fluid. That film was very much about also thinking about if homosexuality is un-African then who are these homosexuals and where do they come from?


AE: Over what period of time did you gather these stories?

JC: It’s taken two years. We just finished the last couple of interviews early this year. So we started in 2013.


AE: Given the subject matter, was it hard to find actors to agree to work on this project?

JC: Not really. Surprisingly we had a whole bunch of actors who were very well-known and have been acting for a long time in the Kenyan industry, and they were still kind of very psyched to be in this film. We had newcomers who had never acted before, especially in the last short. They had never acted before. So we had a mixture of experiences.


AE: Any backlash for the actors and crew?

JC: Other than the criminal charges that they pressed against the executive producer…


AE: Oh really? The Kenyan authorities?

JC: Yeah. After the premiere of the film in Toronto. It premiered in 2014 at the TIFF, and then we came back to Kenya and then there was all this press from Toronto about the film.

To screen the film publicly in Kenya you have to get a license from the Film Classification Board. You have to get a rating. And so when we presented the film to them they banned it. And then they pressed criminal charges against an executive producer, who’s a member of the collective, for shooting without a license.


AE: Where do things stand right now?

JC: It’s a criminal charge and the penalties are 150,000 shillings [about $1,500 USD] and/or seven years in prison. So that was in October last year and then they dropped the case this year.


AE: So has your film been publicly shown in Kenya at all?

JC: No, it hasn’t. In a way, the fact that the film hasn’t really been seen in Kenya has somehow protected the cast from any kind of craziness. Except that one actress of ours says that after Toronto she got an eviction notice from her landlord.

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