Laughter and Tears: Stories of Our Lives at New York African Film Festival

Jim Chuchu’s “Stories of Our Lives” spurred both laughter and tears as it screened at the New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) last night. The film, which comprises five short segments about LGTBQ-life in Kenya, has met both praise and controversy worldwide, telling stories that some people refuse to acknowledge.

“I get so angry when I see them,” says Kama, one of two main characters in the film’s second segment, about a group of homosexuals standing outside a gay bar. “I don’t roll with fags.”

Kama from the film's second segment, "Run."

Kama from the film’s second segment, “Run.”

Kama’s friend, Patrick, whom Kama is speaking to above, feels estranged by his friend’s remarks. Turning curious, Patrick returns to the gay bar by himself later that week. When Kama finds out, he threatens to kill Patrick, at which point Patrick flees the city.

“If I saw [Kama] today, I wouldn’t run,” Patrick says by the end of the segment. “I’m done running.”

The film’s five segments are all based on true stories, brief explanations to which you can find here. They portray the external and internal suffering that homosexuals endure living in a place where homosexuality is frowned upon. While the film’s running time barely hits 60 minutes, its plotline manages to reflect anything from the innocence of young lovers to the internal self-suppression that homophobic societies inflict upon homosexual citizens. An entirely black and white production nuances the film’s heavy mood, bringing out the inherit melancholia of its depth.

Fiona and Raymond from the film's third segment, "Athman."

Fiona and Raymond from the film’s third segment, “Athman.”

Nevertheless, despite grave topic matters, the film occasionally emphasizes comical aspects, bringing last night’s NYAFF audience to laughter. A particularly memorable scene is when one of the fourth segment’s main characters, Jeff, explains to a British person that being from Kenya is not the same as being from Africa.

Brooklyn-native George Holifield, who came to the Lincoln Center especially for Chuchu’s film, was particularly intrigued by the way “Stories of Our Lives” manages to speak to a global audience.

“The last segment, [Each Night I Dream], definitely had the most resonance,” he said after the screening. “It had a very global perspective and emphasized the fact that as bad as it is for homosexuals in Kenya, neighboring countries have it even worse.”

Liz from the film's fifth segment, "Each Night I Dream."

Liz from the film’s fifth segment, “Each Night I Dream.”

And “Stories of Our Lives” has certainly not been an easy journey for either Chuchu or the NEST Collective. With a motivation that the film promotes “homosexuality which is contrary to our national norms and values,” the Kenyan Film Classification Board barred the film from all sale and distribution within Kenya on Oct. 2, 2014. While this restriction has yet to be lifted, the NEST collective did recently win a case over the film’s location rights, which the Kenyan Department of Film Services claimed that the collective did not have.

“It’s strange when they say we’re not African. For if we’re not, then what are we?” asks one of the last segment’s two main characters, Liz. “All of us are different; all seven billion of us. But all of us need love.”

Originally from Sweden, Chris is a journalist with an extensive interest for African culture and the arts.