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Stories of our Lives - Film Africa 2015

Monday 9 November 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

Stories of our Lives is a sequence of five tales sourced from real life experiences of gay Kenyans. The film uses the same crisp, saturated black and white photography across its five sections. Even though this creates a flattening of visual tone, the films-within-the-film each have a different feel.

‘Ask me Nicely’ is briskly punctuated by a school bell but its scenes are also divided by images of clouds, in turn expressive of the absurd conventions and nebulous hopes that define possibilities for its central lesbian couple. Society’s disdain is embodied by an imperious head teacher but this is not a simple ‘us against the world’ tale. Here, a gay relationship is like any other friendship: sometimes we punish each other for no good reason.

The second story in the sequence, ‘Run’, uses slow motion and muffled sound to capture the tingly transgression of a first brush with gay culture. A plaid shirt (good for black and white footage) represents this ‘other’ life. In cinema, as in societies where LGBTI identities are repressed, the visual is all important.

Whereas in ‘Run’, monochrome adds a slick edge to urban scenes, in ‘Athman’ it lends itself well to beautiful, sunlit fields and branches against a clear sky. This pastoral setting is the backdrop to a very natural and sympathetic portrayal of a friendship between a gay man and the straight man he loves.

‘Duet’ has a fairly interesting premise: a Kenyan in London has saved up his money to have sex with a prostitute, eager to find out if white people are different in the sack. This sets up some nicely prickly dialogue: ‘We’re from Sudan and Ghana or wherever, not Africa. Africa is huge.’ But in the end, the truth of the encounter seems to have got lost in transition to screen. Still, there’s some pretty kissing.

In ‘Each Night I Dream’, Africa does seem like a constricting continuum: the central character knows that trying to escape Kenya in any direction either leads to another gay-hostile African nation or the Indian Ocean. So instead she imagines an island paradise. Or is she is an alien from a more enlightened planet? ‘Maybe we came here to find out what it’s like to be human,’ she wonders.

Stories of Our Lives is a welcome project from the Nest Collective. A quiet defiance runs through it, rather than outrage. Colours are shut out from the narrative as well as the photography, but there is clarity in the telling.

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