Upon its world premiere at the Berlinale last year, the film won the Teddy Award
for best LGBT documentary. It followed that win with prizes for best international feature at Hot Docs, the audience award at Frameline, and the Amnesty International human rights award at Durban.
Specifically focused around LGBT people and activists in Uganda, "Call
Me Kuchu" (gay and transgendered citizens are called "kuchus") centers
around the life and tragic death of David Kato, a veteran activist who
spent years fighting against his country’s insanely homophobic society.
Among other terrifying things, an anti-homosexuality bill proposing
death for HIV-positive gay men is introduced and Kato is one of the few
brave enough to try and stop it. Unfortunately, after courageously
changing the face of LGBT rights in the country, Kato was brutually
murdered in 2011.
Canonizing Kato's life and shedding light on
the remarkable efforts of people like him, Zouhali-Worral and Fairfax Wright's first film as feature
directors is a powerful and important one that should not be missed, putting into perspective how horrifying the situation is for LGBT people in parts of our world (and works very well as as double feature to "God Loves Uganda," which is playing at both Outfest and Frameline this summer).
Indiewire talked with both filmmakers about the film and what they hope people take from it.
How did each of you get into filmmaking?
Katherine Fairfax Wright: In college, I studied anthropology and film, so for me documentary is a natural intersection of the two. I was the type of student who was really keen to think about a lot of things from a lot of angles, but perhaps not to the degree that would require one to hyper-focus on a single discipline or vocational niche. So filmmaking allows to me to pursue my myriad interests concurrently, to consider complex geo-political issues, questions of logic and of humanity, but with a creative mindset and output. A character-driven documentary such as "Call Me Kuchu" also enables me to explore a situation on a nuanced individual level from the point of view of a select few, but then to share that intimacy on a macro level with countless viewers and points of view—and I find that a really fascinating dynamic to take part in.
In terms of developing a skill set, my undergraduate studies were
mostly film theory not practice, so as a supplement to that I began
interning on a couple of film productions, then associate producing,
then producing, set photography, and various other roles. But this is my
first film in this capacity—as co-director, director of photography,
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: Before "Call Me Kuchu," I was working as a print and video journalist, reporting from the U.S., China and India for CNN.com and other publications. After a couple of years of freelancing, I started to feel creatively stifled by short-form journalism and having worked for a couple of production companies as a documentary researcher, I soon realized that the intimate, creative and in-depth nature of storytelling in documentary film was what I was yearning for. That was around the same time that I first heard about Victor Mukasa, a Ugandan transgender man who, in 2008, had won a landmark case against the country’s Attorney General in Uganda’s High Court. It was too late to make a film about Victor’s case alone, but it seemed that there was still a film to be made about the East African LGBT community, so I started speaking with activists in the region, and shared my research with Katy, who had also been closely following the situation there. From there we decided to make a film.
Katherine Fairfax Wright: We had both read about the tabling of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in October 2009, and we were increasingly disturbed by its implications. But Victor Mukasa’s case had also intrigued us, because it showed that while the country’s sodomy laws were still routinely enforced, and even harsher laws were being considered, the country’s judicial system was independent enough to allow LGBT people, or “kuchus,” to reclaim their constitutional rights. We also soon learned that there was an increasingly organized LGBT community in Uganda that was fighting state-sanctioned homophobia through the courts and other means. Within just a couple of weeks, we found ourselves on a plane bound for Kampala.
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: David was the first person we met up with after we arrived in Uganda. We had to find him in the restaurant of a specific hotel -- the only place he felt safe in the city center. He reeled off names and numbers and introduced us to various people in the kuchu community, so initially he was somewhat of a fixer to us. But as we spent more time with him, we were increasingly intrigued by his fierce intelligence and passion, and realized that he was one of the most outspoken activists in the community. It soon became clear that he was the protagonist of "Call Me Kuchu."