Stories of Our Lives: On George's Arrest

On 15th October 2014, the Kenya Police accompanied by representatives from the Department of Film Services, officials from the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts (famous for their mission to contribute to overall national development through promotion and exploitation of Kenya’s diverse culture for peaceful co-existence) visited the NEST to effect an arrest for our alleged contravention of Cap 222 - The Film and Stage Plays Act - by shooting the Stories Of Our Lives Film without acquiring a licence to do so from the Department.

George Gachara - Executive Producer of the film - was arrested and taken to the Kilimani Police Station. He was later released on a cash bail of KES 10,000 and scheduled to appear in Kibera Law Courts on 17th October.

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THE ISSUES

Films shot in Kenya require a licence from the Department of Film Services. This licence is obtained by presenting a copy of the entire script in question to the Department, who then review it and subsequently make the decision to grant or deny the licence to shoot such script. To quote from the Act:

“Every application for a filming licence shall be made to the licensing officer in writing and shall be accompanied by a full description of the scenes in, and the full text of the spoken parts (if any) of, the entire film which is to be made, notwithstanding that part of the film is made or to be made outside Kenya.

Provided that the licensing officer may in his discretion in any particular case accept an application notwithstanding that it is not accompanied by such description and text if he has been given such other information as he requires for the determination of the application.”
— The Kenya Film and Stage Plays Act (2010)

What is at stake for us? To quote from the Act:

Any person who is guilty of an offence under this Act shall be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
— The Kenya Film and Stage Plays Act

We’re unable to comment further on the details of this case at this time, because this is a matter that is still under legal deliberation and any opinions can be read as prejudicial.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The most common question we are getting from Kenyans in Kenya on our phones, inboxes and in conversations is “can we watch the film privately/at night/via BitTorrent/on YouTube/with the lights down low/under the bed/on mute etc.?” or, “Can you guys give us the film on a flash drive or leave it on the street, in a bar, at my church, somewhere for us to find”?

There are no secret, underground, extralegal, extraterritorial or online screenings of Stories of Our Lives happening anywhere in Kenya, and we are not giving out the film, selling it or otherwise distributing it in Kenya in any way, shape or form. There are serious legal ramifications for violating the restriction by the Kenya Film Classifications Board on Stories of Our Lives. Right now, our primary focus is on getting past the legal issues safely.

The other question we’re getting is “how do we help”? The honest answer is, we don’t know yet. We are juggling many factors, many opinions and a lot of wise counsel from different quarters. We will soon figure out exactly what help we need and communicate that widely the moment we do.

THANK YOU

Thank you to everyone who’s called, emailed, shared, retweeted, called lawyers and given us hugs and cookies. You are a welcome and much-needed break from the madness and fuckery.

Posted on October 16, 2014 and filed under News.

Stories Of Our Lives: Not In Kenya

On 30th September 2014, we applied for a classification of Stories Of Our Lives from the Kenya Film Classification Board in line with legislation regarding the public screening of films in Kenya.

On 3rd October, we received communication that the Kenya Film Classification Board has restricted the distribution and exhibition of Stories of Our Lives to the public in line with section 16(c) of the Film and Stage Plays Act (download as PDF). This, because the film “has obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities and it promotes homosexuality which is contrary to our national norms and values”.

This means that there will be NO further screenings, sale and/or distribution of Stories Of Our Lives in Kenya.

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Does the film include obscenity? Yes. In one scene, an angry young man hurls insults at his best friend who he saw visiting a gay bar. Does the film include explicit scenes of sexual activities? That depends on your definition of “explicit”. Let’s just say the average viewer of Kenyan music videos would find the one depiction of sex in Stories Of Our Lives, very, very not explicit.

Facebook post regarding the restriction (via KFCB Facebook Page).

Facebook post regarding the restriction (via KFCB Facebook Page).

Does the film promote homosexuality? How exactly does one “promote homosexuality”? Pink leaflets handed out to unsuspecting passers-by? Is homosexuality some kind of fad, or like a cold you can catch from greeting someone in the bus? It is clear that the board thinks that Kenyan adults are unable to safely watch this film without turning into a horde of virulent, flaming homosexuals (one hopes members of the Board were not afflicted by “gayism” after watching the film).

Does the film transgress “national norms and values”? Stories Of Our Lives is a film about people, it’s about co-existence, it’s about finding love and belonging. We made this film to open dialogue about identities, what it means to be Kenyan, and what it means to be different. By placing a restriction on this film, the Board has chosen to delay this inevitable conversation.

We hope Kenyans will get to see this film one day, because we made it for Kenyans.

For those Kenyans who happen to be abroad, stay up to date with our international film screenings here. For Kenyans at home, you can listen to the soundtrack here or download it here. Hopefully, you won’t “catch gayism” from listening to it. :)

Posted on October 4, 2014 and filed under News.

LOOK! We Made A Film!

We’re very proud to announce that we made our first feature film as a collective!

On June 30, 2013, we began collecting and archiving the stories of persons identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex from Kenya. We called this project Stories of Our Lives - and we wanted to do this project for many reasons, but mostly because we wanted to tell stories that are not often heard, stories that characterize the queer experience in Kenya.

After several months of touring and collecting hundreds of vivid, compelling stories, we decided to turn some of these stories into short films. We wrote the scripts based on some of the stories we’d recorded, and we shot the films over the course of eight months using ourselves as the crew - and learned a lot as we went along (our accountant turned out to be a great boom operator, and our admin now doubles up as a bad-ass clapper-loader!).

We were very lucky to have the support and enthusiasm of a stellar cast who were excited about doing something different. Once the short films were finished, we had a chance meeting with Rasha Salti - international programmer at the Toronto Film Festival - who (to our surprise!) expressed interest in screening this film at the 2014 festival.

This was exciting, and a little scary at the same time. We never imagined our short films could get this kind of attention. This news also forced us to think more broadly about this project. First, what would Kenyans think of this film? Kenya - like many African societies - has strong cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws that make it difficult to live openly as a queer person - this makes it more difficult to find willing actors, locations and permissions to shoot and even screen such a film.

We had concerns about whether we’d get in trouble for making this film, and whether our cast would get in trouble for being in this film. We thought about presenting the film anonymously at TIFF, and the wonderful TIFF team were willing to let us do so to keep everyone safe. We then showed the film to our friends, families and supporters - and had many, many conversations about how to handle this. Our thoughts on the matter evolved and are still evolving as we go. After weeks of these conversations, we then decided to present the film at TIFF without the anonymity, for the following reasons:

1 - We’re damn proud of this film. We’re proud of the fact that we were able to pull this off ourselves as a team, we’re proud of all the cast and the wonderful performances they gave us, and we’re so grateful for all the lessons we’ve learned and all the support we’ve had in making this film.

2 -  We think these stories are important. For us, this film is about recognizing the narratives of communities that are ignored, pathologised and misunderstood by the Kenyan mainstream. Queer people exist in Kenya, and it’s fine. Everyone knows - or should know - that the anti-gay agenda in Uganda, Nigeria and other parts of Africa is the unhappy result of an explosive cocktail of crazy, right-wing American churches and radical Islamic groups coming together with power-hungry local religious and political leaders, and a complex history of dealing with difference of all kinds, be it tribal, religious, economic, gender and many other differences that cause conflict. The anti-gay battles are just one of many global culture-wars currently taking place on African bodies. The war against terror, the resources war, and the capitalist economy all use African bodies as collateral.

Sadly, the pervasive anti-gay agenda serves as a useful distraction from the real challenges affecting our country and many other African countries. Cheap politics. Killing gay people won’t solve the issues of healthcare and livelihoods for young people. Killing gay people won’t fix the problem of land distribution and economic inequalities.

3 - As the NEST Collective, we believe that Kenyans and Africans - like all human beings - have multiple, complex identities, histories and aspirations. We think it is important to represent these complexities to challenge the anti-intellectual, anti-minority, hyper-religious, simplistic, puritanical, revisionist and conformist movements that are sweeping our country and the continent:

Some Kenyans are gay, and it’s fine. Some Kenyans don’t go to church very often or at all - and it’s fine. Some Kenyans have tattoos, or smoke cigarettes or wear mini-skirts some days - it’s fine. Some Kenyans are Christians - it’s fine. Some Kenyans are Muslims - it’s fine. We don’t all look the same, think the same and want the same things. In the case of this film, we don’t all love the same way, either.

So - for us - this film is about fighting openly for the right of Africans to have different opinions, different worldviews, different identities and dreams - and for all these multiple identities to co-exist. We made this film because we believe strongly that the fight for the right to define one’s self, the right to be complex and different and unique, should be fought for proudly and openly.

One question we’ve been asked often about this film is - are we afraid of what will happen to us as individuals and as an institution now that we’ve made this film? No, we’re not. We believe strongly that Kenya is a place where people can disagree with one another’s points of view without resorting to violence.

We hope that this film will give expression to the hopes and aspirations of queer people in Uganda, Nigeria and everywhere in Africa, who are often misunderstood and victimized for being different.

Stories of Our Lives has its world premiere today at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Screening details and tickets available here.

The NEST Collective are (in alphabetical order): George Aloo, Jim Chuchu, Sunny Dolat, George Gachara, Noel Kasyoka, Dan Muchina, Wilfred Mwangi, Wangechi Ngugi, Njoki Ngumi and Wakiuru Njuguna.

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Production, Events.