I've done a whole bunch of projects up to now, but nothing has been as emotionally draining, exciting and terrifying at the same time as this project has been. I'm very proud of the result, I'm very proud of all the other nine members of the collective who I regard as my close family, and I'm very grateful to all the cast, partners, friends and supporters who made this film possible.
I made this film because these stories are important to me, because I've always believed that having the power to define your own beliefs, to make work out of things you love doing, and to surround yourself with people you love and who love you back is the greatest privilege ever.
I made this film in protest at the fit-everyone-in-a-box crusades that are so loud, insistent and omnipresent in Kenya and all over Africa - as if we must all believe in one God and all wear uniforms and all have the same opinions.
I made this film in protest at the bullshit that allows someone like President Museveni to attack art students for "having no solutions to the country's challenges" - as if the only careers fit for Africans are in the army, construction and finance. Who will sing our songs if everyone is working in a bank? When did our women's bodies become so ugly that we're now making laws to police the length of mini-skirts? And when did forming angry mobs to evict and kill gay people become a nation-building activity?
Films and music and art and color and song and dance have never been more important in Africa than they are now - when we're trying to define who we are and who we're not, and when everyone's jetting in with money and agendas and opinions about who we should aspire to be.
Stories of our Lives premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, and will screen in Nairobi at the end of this month.
"Dinka Translation" - one of the short fashion films I directed from last year's Chico Leco Presents project, featuring the work of designer Katungulu Mwendwa - has been selected to screen at the 2014 Mercedes Benz Bokeh South African Fashion Film Festival, which is Africa's first fashion film festival! Hooray! Stay tuned for screening venue and dates, and see it here.
Peep some of my work at the upcoming "Future Reflexions: Five Positions of Contemporary African Art" exhibition, which showcases photographic and video work from five leading contemporary artists. The pieces by Jelili Atiku, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Dennis Feser and Jim Chuchu use various forms to explore the images, stereotypes and visions of Africa today.
The exhibition runs from the 6th of March - 2nd May 2014 at the Behaviour Festival 2014 in Glasgow and is curated by Martin Baasch. Full details here.
Two short dance films from the "Libation" series. Created in collaboration with dancer Patrick Nyangena - who combines a graceful athleticism with an emotive performance style. Filmed at the NEST in Nairobi.
"We Must Free Our Imaginations" is a six-part interview/lecture series in which Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina speaks (mostly) on the fear of imagination. Binyavanga asked me to help him put together some sort of video thing that would allow him to talk about this ever more constricted space for imagination in Kenya. It was shot on Monday night with the help of the wonderful crew at the NEST, edited on Tuesday and released on Wednesday. Part history lesson, part lecture, part conversation about ourselves.
The subject of the boundaries of Kenyan imagination has always been of interest to me as I have always existed in spaces that were hard to define. I have always been called 'weird', and it's taken years to become comfortable with the tag and - these days - enjoy the freedom that comes with being outside of the Kenyan mainstream consciousness.
In high school, I was one of those kids who was labelled "weird" because I listened to 'strange' music and read 'strange' books (like Seal and C. S. Lewis, respectively) and because I opted to study French. Students who chose to study 'weird' things like Art and French and Music were regarded with some suspicion in my school - presumably because we weren't playing rugby or studying brave, lionhearted subjects like Power Mechanics.
To date, I never know what to say when asked "what do you do?" - in that layman-anthropological way that Kenyans do for purposes of placing one another socially and economically. To make things easier, I sometimes say "computer things"; an answer that allows the person asking to imagine that I do something 'serious' with computers, say programming important apps that will save Africa.
Even fellow creative types suffer from this self-imprisonment. I once had a meeting with a very talented illustrator in the hopes of collaborating with him on a story I'd been working on that was set in the future. He told me he'd be up for it "as long as it was a Kenyan story". Upon probing the idea of what a Kenyan story is, I learned that future and sci-fi were definitely out. Stories set in the future are not Kenyan. Sci-fi is a white thing.
Kenya is a strange place to be weird. Weirdness is discouraged by our education system, Christian-guilt, and the money-above-all philosophy that seems to guide our priorities as Kenyans. It's not cool to be outside the mainstream, it's not cool to have different opinions or read books that are not self-help guides to get rich, or The Secret.
We must free our imaginations. Hopefully, this is the start of a conversation.
All six of the African Metropolis films (including Homecoming) get their European premiere at the 43rd edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR 2014). Screening dates and times here.
Homecoming will screen at the CinemAfrica Film Festival in Sweden (19 - 23 March). Screening dates and times to be announced.
All six of the African Metropolis films get their US premiere at the 29th Santa Barbara Film Festival. Screening dates and times to be announced.