Within the busy urban sprawl on the edges of Nairobi, Kenya (in an area known as ‘The Slopes’), Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) cruises on her skateboard through candy-coloured streets as children play on bikes, street-side cafés serve soda to local clientele and the bustling neighbourhood bristles with an energy of possibility, where anything could happen at any time.
A tomboy with no female friends, Kena whiles away her days playing soccer and cruising the streets with the affable Blacksta (Neville Masati) who sees Kena as ‘one of the boys’ and never seems to clock that she really isn’t into guys. Kena’s mother Mercy (Nini Wacera) is divorced from her father John (Jimmy Gathu), who is a shopkeeper in ‘The Slopes’ and is currently campaigning in upcoming local elections. Mercy is initially pleased by the fact that Kena has started spending time with Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), hoping that her tomboy daughter is positively affected by the exposure to the upper-class, day-glo dread-locked girl who also just happens to be the daughter of John’s election campaign rival.
Director Wanuri Kahiu and co-writer Jenna Bass adapted a short story by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko, and the film never shies away from depicting the rampant homophobia that’s endemic in Africa. So, the stakes are definitely high for the couple, though their relationship might just as well be enclosed in a bubble of giddy elation; while there’s a danger in their secret being discovered, we’re also swept up in their romance. It’s on this hinge that the film hangs, and the two co-leads are really effective and engaging.
The storytelling itself is fairly perfunctory but the message is vital and Kahiu’s artistic flourishes are vibrant and at times, visually fabulous, such as the Do The Right Thing inspired depictions of the colourful characters within ‘The Slopes’ as well as an almost bio-luminescent, black-light disco sequence.
Homosexuality is still a criminal offence in Kenya and accordingly, Rafiki was banned for its positive depiction of being gay, which is ultimately something that lends the film an added sense of glorious defiance, as it sticks its middle finger up at the government.
Born in Lithuania, raised in Sweden by a Syrian father, rapper Silvana Imam has a lot to say about her roots, her gender and her sex. She’s a queer voice trying to be heard in a genre more likely to lean towards misogyny and violence, and when we first meet her in Silvana, it looks like Sweden is ready to listen.
Directed by Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, and Christina Tsiobanelis, the documentary follows Imam over three years as she copes with fame and finds love. Dropping in on her in 2013, Imam’s new single has hit number one on the charts and she’s practically bouncing off the walls. The rapper appears to relish the opportunity to get her message out there and is unafraid to admit that she enjoys the recognition. To be fair, it’s not like she initially hides herself from the adulation; stalking around Sweden in an oversized black hoodie and clutching a megaphone, both emblazoned with her name and logo.
This, we soon realise, is just surface level Imam; the documentary’s directors quickly cracking through this layer to show us what runs underneath the posturing, and a large part of it sees Imam utterly head over heels in love with fellow musician, Beatrice Eli. Imam doesn’t hide her affection for the singer, whose music tackles the same themes with a pop music coating, and the filmmakers capture gorgeous glimpses of Imam watching her from a far. These moments will resonate with anyone who has been in love and it makes it all the more heart-warming to watch their fledgling romance become Europe’s answer to Jay Z and Beyoncé. Eli cuts through Imam’s pretence, and gleefully shows off her partner’s softer side for the camera.
Mixed into the music and romance are flashes of Imam’s life growing up with conservative parents. Knowing she liked girls from a very young age, Imam experimented with wanting to be a boy called Eric. Something which the rest of the family went with for some time. The documentary follows Imam on a trip to Lithuania to visit her mum, where the performer must hide her sexuality and relationship for fear of some kind of retaliation on her mother. The most sobering moment comes when Imam meets a priest who, following a long diatribe about why women are basically just necks for men (no, we don’t get it either), reprimands her for her musical themes.
It’s all fascinating to watch unfold, but there’s so much going on in Silvana that, at times, the documentary picks up threads only to forget about them later on. For example, Imam’s burnout from her sudden rise to fame is only touched upon in a montage that doesn’t really add anything to the discussion on mental health, even though that appears to be the aim.
However, with so many different facets to Imam it could be argued that focusing too closely on one or two would do a disservice to the artistic talent as a whole. With that in mind, think of Silvana as more of a living, breathing portrait than a documentary.
An Australian short film has been selected to play at the Slamdance Film Festival, an event that is 'a showcase for raw and innovative filmmaking self governed by filmmakers for filmmakers'. We spoke with said filmmaker to find out where he's come from, where he's going and what makes him tick.
Xmas and New Year mean one thing, the best short film festival in the best location in the world. We spoke to Flickerfest Festival Director Bronwyn Kidd and asked what festival goers can expect to see at the 28th Flickerfest International Short Film Festival.