INSIDE OUT ’15: ‘Stories of Our Lives’ gives a voice to LGBT people of Kenya

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STORIES OF OUR LIVES premiered at the Inside Out Film Festival on May 23, 2015. For more information about the film, click here.

In a country like Kenya, the voices of queer individuals are rarely heard due to a homophobic government and individuals scared for their lives and the lives of those close to them. Discussion around global gay rights has become commonplace recently and a large portion of this discussion is around countries where homosexuality is a crime. Many of these conversations, however, come from the outside looking in, with those who the oppression does not directly effect dominating the discourse. Stories of Our Lives, made by The NEST collective based in Nairobi, looks to remedy this imbalance by providing a platform for LGBT individuals in Kenya to add their own voices and experiences to the conversation.

The film consists of five short stories, each one focusing on a gay or lesbian protagonist. The stories feature first loves, unrequited love and casual hookups, as well as pressures and prejudices queer Kenyans face on a daily basis. The stories range from charming and lighthearted to dark and depressing, but all carry a thread of optimism. And each story is both highly personal, while also presenting something universal.

The first story, “Ask Me Nicely,” is a sweet and slightly cheeky love story about Kate and Faith. The two girls fall for one another at school and spend all their free time together until it’s determined by the administration that their close relationship is unhealthy. The teenage attitude and the butterflies that come with the excitement of a new relationship are felt strongly throughout the piece, taking focus over the institutionalized homophobia that proves to be the biggest hurdle to the two girls.

This is how most of the stories included in this anthology feel. This film is not an attempt to draw attention to the discrimination that LGBT people face on a daily basis in Kenya, as that is already common knowledge. Instead, Stories of Our Lives looks to present individual voices from the community. The stories are about personal setbacks and triumphs that transcend the teller’s sexuality. And these short vignettes give greater scope and depth than most feature length films can manage.

The black and white photography lends a dream-like, almost surrealist feel to the whole piece, aided by the sound design which makes great use of off-screen sound and music that often overpowers the visuals onscreen. Even the darkest of the stories (one features a man coming to terms with his sexuality surrounded by extremely homophobic friends, while another is about a woman worrying about what will happen to her and her partner if the authorities ever discover their relationship) contain a sense of humour and an air of hope. Overall, the film leaves you with feeling that even in the darkest moments, there is something worth striving for.

The final words of the film are “Everyone deserves to love and be loved.” Stories of Our Lives not only reinforces this belief, it also posits that a world where the elimination of prejudice and discrimination is a possibility, even if that world only exists in our dreams.

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Amanda is covering the 2015 Inside Out Festival live from Toronto. For more coverage of the festival, click here.

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