Stories of Our Lives (2014)
In 2013, I collaborated with the Nest Collective to bring to life Stories of Our Lives, an anthology film capturing the queer experience in Kenya. This project, inspired by real-life stories from the LGBTQ+ community, faced both covert and overt challenges, from clandestine filmmaking sessions to an outright ban by the Kenyan government. While it has never publicly screened in Kenya, the film has screened globally, winning accolades and sparking crucial conversations about identity, belonging, and the transformative power of storytelling.
In 2013, I embarked on a life-changing journey alongside the Nest Collective. Motivated by a desire to spotlight the narratives that paint the queer experience in Kenya (under siege at the time due to deliberations in nearby Uganda, who were debating the first edition of their “Kill the Gays” bill, a version of which has since passed), we travelled across the country to collect and archive stories from Kenya’s LGBTQ+ community. We named this project, Stories of Our Lives.

That year—and in a follow-up set of visits in 2018—we had conversations with LGBTQ+ folk across the country, uncovering stories that were illuminating, sensual, heartrending and everything in between. It soon became clear to us that these narratives could come alive in another medium that was as vivid as the stories we’d been told. Thus, the idea of transforming selected stories into a collection of short films was born. With the team, we wrote scripts that were true to the experiences shared with us and began the process of filmmaking with the support of UHAI-EASHRI, Africa's first indigenous activist fund for sex workers and sexual and gender minorities.

The journey wasn't without its challenges—we had to keep the subject matter of the films private as we worked, and generally worried that we were doing something that we could get in all kinds of trouble for. We filmed over eight months with a tight-knit crew formed of the collective members, often wearing multiple hats, and a cast who took to the material with gusto and sensitivity. The outcome? An anthology film of five stories: a mosaic that provides an intimate glimpse into some aspects of queer life in Kenya. Stories of Our Lives was selected to have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014, thanks to the support of Big World Cinema and Rasha Salti, to whom I am eternally grateful.
In the wake of a warm and teary premiere at TIFF, news of the film reached home, and a pressing responsibility lingered—to present Stories of Our Lives primarily to the LGBTQ+ community from whom the stories came, and to a wider Kenyan audience. We approached the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB)—a government body without whose classification a film cannot be exhibited in public in Kenya—with cautious optimism, but were met with a stark reality: on 3rd October 2014, our film was banned from public exhibition in Kenya. The reasons cited for the ban ranged from alleged "obscenity" to the film's supposed promotion of homosexuality, deemed "contrary to Kenya’s national norms and values."

The state followed up the ban by arresting the film’s producer—George Gachara—on the charge of producing the film without a licence. He was released shortly after, but the case continued in the Kenya courts for two years before being dropped in 2016 under conditions that he and the collective would abide by the terms of the ban on the film.

Letter from the Kenya Film Classification Board, informing us of the ban on the film
In the years since, the KFCB went on to ban other LGBT-related films, such as Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki (2018) and Peter Murimi’s I Am Samuel (2020). These bans underscore a troubling trend that isn’t restricted to Kenya: a resistance to acknowledging and understanding diverse narratives, and using bans to sideline the very existence of real people. It's not just about films; it's about silencing voices, curbing creativity, and stifling dialogues that challenge societal norms.

To date, Stories of Our Lives has never screened publicly in Kenya.

Notwithstanding the ban in Kenya, the film has gone on to screen in venues across the world, and won a lovely collection of awards along the way—for which I am super grateful! Creating "Stories of Our Lives" was a transformative experience for me, both as an artist and as a queer person. Engaging with such personal narratives helped widen my understanding of my country, and where our queer bodies sit in society and history. The drama that followed the release of the film, the private and public losses that have come with being ‘out, and the State’s response to unequivocally ban the film and others like it reinforced my interest in and commitment to using the practice of narrative, image and sound making to highlight both the injustices and freedoms that exist in this world.

The broader LGBTQ+ landscape in Kenya and East Africa remains challenging. While there are pockets of resistance, acceptance and support, challenges persist. Anti-LGBTQ attitudes both on the continent and across the globe have hardened in recent years, in part due to campaigning by Western evangelical church groups, right-wing think tanks and private foundations. As well as religious campaigning, Africa's anti-LGBTQ attitudes also have strong roots in the colonial era, including an anti-sodomy section of Britain's penal code.

In 2023, Uganda finally passed an updated version of the anti-LGBT legislation that had spurred us to begin this project back in 2013. The law is dubbed one of the world's toughest anti-LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", and bringing to 33 the number of African countries that have laws that criminalise same-sex sexual activity such as Nigeria and Ghana. The move has also encouraged lawmakers here in Kenya, neighbouring Tanzania and other countries to seek similar measures.

Societal norms, political interests, and religious beliefs intersect here in difficult ways, creating a dense web of opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. However, it's crucial to note the resilience of the community and its allies. Community movements, awareness campaigns, and brave individuals continue to fight for change. The hope is that time, love and empathy will pave the way for a more inclusive society.

I’m very proud of this film! I remain hopeful that, someday, our Kenyan audience will get to experience the stories we wove together with the team. Until then, I hope it continues to do the rounds elsewhere, to inspire and challenge viewers to think deeper about identity and belonging.

My forever-thanks go to, without whom this film wouldn’t exist:

Olwenya Maina (1988-2022), for the gift of a tender performance in Athman
Steven Markovitz and the Big World Cinema team
Rasha Salti and the TIFF14 team
The Nest Collective, and those beautiful Kenyan souls who shared such personal truths with us for the project, keep your head up.
The film comprises five vignettes, each a window into a world of love, longing, conflict, and resilience:
ASK ME NICELY Young love, societal expectations, and the chaos of adolescence collide. RUN Friendship, hidden truths, and a secret nightlife converge in unexpected ways. ATHMAN A tale of jealousy, heartbreak, and the choices we make.
DUET - A quest for fantasy and the stark realities that often accompany it.
EACH NIGHT I DREAM - Amidst a backdrop of rising tensions, two souls dream of liberation and love.
Production Credits
Director: Jim Chuchu
Screenplay: Jim Chuchu, Njoki Ngumi
Producer: Wangechi Ngugi
Starring: Tim King'oo, Maina Olwenya, Paul Ogola, Mugambi Nthiga, Kelly Gichohi, Rose Njenga, Janice Mugo, Allan Weku, Louis Brooke and Judy Gichohi
Executive Producers: George Gachara, Steven Markovitz
Cinematography and Edit: Jim Chuchu, Dan Muchina
Production Design and Wardrobe: Sunny Dolat
Sound: Mars Maasai and Noel Kasyoka
Score: Jim Chuchu

Production companies: The Nest Collective, Big World Cinema
Runtime: 61 minutes
Selected Screenings
Stories of Our Lives was honoured to be showcased at renowned festivals across the globe:

World premiere: Toronto International Film Festival, 2014
International premiere: Berlin International Film Festival, 2015

BFI Flare (London LGBT Film Festival)
MoMA Documentary Fortnight 2015 (New York City)
Movies That Matter 2015 (The Hague)
Roze Filmdagen (Amsterdam LGBTQ Film Festival)
Durban International Film Festival
Istanbul International Independent Film Festival
Rio International Film Festival
Frameline Film Festival (San Francisco)
Outfest (Los Angeles)
Seattle LGBT Film Festival
Queer Film Fest (Johannesburg)
Harlem International Film Festival
Seoul International Women's Film Festival
Stockholm International Film Festival
The New York African Film Festival
Helsinki African Film Festival
Hamburg Queer Film Festival
Taiwan Queer Film Festival
Film Africa (London)
International Film Festival of Kerala
Stories of Our Lives garnered numerous accolades, testament to the universal resonance of the stories in the film:

Winner - Teddy Special Jury Award, Berlin International Film Festival
Winner - Jury Award, Hamburg International Queer Film Festival
Winner - Special Programming Award for Freedom, Outfest LA
Winner - Audience Award for Best International Feature Film, MixBrazil Festival
Winner - Best Film as chosen by the Volunteer of the Year Award, Frameline Film Festival
Winner - Audience Award, GAZE Film Festival
Winner - African Union Foundation Audience Award (FilmAfrica)
2nd Place - Panorama Audience Award, Berlin International Film Festival
Honourable Mention - Best Narrative Feature, TLVFest
Honourable Mention - First Feature Jury Award, Frameline Film Festival
Nominee - Tulip Human Rights Award, Foreign Affairs Netherlands
  • Hollywood Reporter
    "A fresh, warm, visually ravishing look at queer life in East Africa."
  • Toronto International Film Festival
    "Stories of Our Lives is both a labour of love and a bold act of militancy, defying the enforced silence of intolerance with tales rooted in the soil of lived experience."
  • Indiewire
    "This is a beautiful little film about love, about humanity, about one of the many facets of what it means to be African."