By Peter Knegt | Indiewire June 13, 2013 at 1:59PM
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: "Call Me Kuchu" tells the story of the last year in the life of David Kato, Uganda’s first openly gay man, up until his brutal murder in early 2011. We followed David over the course of a year as he worked to combat both an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposed a death penalty for gay men, and a gay-bashing tabloid newspaper that was outing members of the LGBT community with vicious fervor.
Of course, David’s brutal murder changed our motivations for working on the film to some extent. While we had always been keen to get the story of Kampala’s kuchus out into the world, that sentiment became far more urgent and personal when David died. We had essentially documented the entire last year of his life, and since his life was cut short, we had been filming during a time when he was at the pinnacle of his activism, when his philosophies and oration were most concrete and well-formulated, and when his voice and understanding of the complexity of the scenario was strongest. Therefore, both of us felt the responsibility to honor his life by making the best film we could, and ensuring that it has as broad of a reach as possible.
Katherine Fairfax Wright: Since his murder, David has been mythologized as a courageous and passionate human rights activist -- which is exactly what he was. However, over the time that we spent filming with him, we also got to know a man who was charismatic yet vulnerable, sharp witted, and often afraid to sleep alone. As is true of the heroes of any movement, some of these character and situational subtleties have been overshadowed by the broad strokes of his accomplishments. Our hope is that "Call Me Kuchu," as a long-format character study, will help supplement the canonized David Kato, and ensure that people understand that he was a normal man who went to astounding lengths to liberate Uganda’s LGBT community.
We also hope our audiences will take away a fresh understanding of Kampala’s kuchus and what they’ve achieved as a community. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill has received plenty of coverage from the international news media, however, in most cases the dominant narrative is that of victimization. While the LGBT community certainly suffers under Uganda’s harsh state-sanctioned homophobia, many of the kuchus we met were not only victims. David and his fellow activists worked hard to change their own fate through every means possible: the Ugandan courts, the United Nations, the international news media. There is a reason why everyone is talking about this issue, and it’s because the kuchus have worked relentlessly to push their movement forward. As a result, "Call Me Kuchu" is a nuanced story of empowerment as much as of persecution.
The access you got for the film is quite remarkable? How did you manage that?
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: As we said, David was among the first people we were in contact with when we started researching the film in 2009, and it was he who introduced us to the kuchu community, a gesture that proved to be a crucial step towards gaining the community’s trust. From there, we took careful measures to approach everyone respectfully, and explained exactly what we were trying to do. We also tried to make clear to them that we wanted to document their stories well beyond the sound bites they were accustomed to providing to journalists. We really had to convince them we were in it for the long run, that we wanted to be around for hours on end as they moved house, had meetings, watched TV, ate dinner, etc. There were definitely people who chose not to be filmed, and we respected their wishes of course. But those who decided to let us into their lives did so because they wanted to be involved in a project that would get their stories out, and we were surprised at the intimacy that engendered. In many cases, it seemed that those members of the LGBT community were looking for an outlet through which to share their individual experiences.
What were some other challenges? This must have been an emotionally stirring process, to say the least.
Katherine Fairfax Wright: Most definitely, and by far the hardest moments for us were in the weeks immediately after David was killed. One of the most difficult moments to film came when we visited David’s mother with Naome, David’s close friend and fellow activist, and Bishop Senyonjo, a retired bishop and staunch supporter of the LGBT community. We had spent time with David’s mother before so she was comfortable with us filming, but it was nonetheless a very tough experience. The pain of her loss was so raw, and our memories of David so fresh, that we were both sobbing as we tried to operate the cameras and sound equipment. It was moments like these that forced us more than ever to ask ourselves what exactly we wanted to achieve with the film and how we should go about it.
For more information on how to see "Call Me Kuchu," click here.