By Robin Steedman

On October 2nd, 2014 the Kenya Film Classification Board banned Stories of Our Lives from being distributed, exhibited, or broadcast within Kenya on the basis that it “has obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities and it promotes homosexuality which is contrary to our national norms and values.” The narrative surrounding this film was thus forever changed.

When we met in Nairobi the producer, Wangechi Ngugi, told me that producingStories of Our Lives was a “dream come true” because her goal as a filmmaker is to “tell stories that open up dialogue” on taboo subjects and “to get people to start talking.” The fact that this very conversation was banned from happening ironically shows just how necessary it is in contemporary Kenya. The beauty of the five shorts that make up the film is that they are explorations of themes as human and familiar as love, desire, and loss. In effect, the message is that queer Kenyans are not so different from other Kenyans. This may seem trite, but in a country where homosexuality is still illegal and its ‘spread’ is actively feared by some (as we see in the final short film) the point that understanding and tolerance is possible, is of fundamental importance.

The film conveys its message through a sequence of five short films shot in an almost over-exposed black and white. Ask Me Nicely depicts a teenage love affair between two girls. They face harassment because of their sexuality, but they also contend with commonplace teenage struggles about fitting in and finding yourself. This theme is echoed in the next short Run, as it is about a young man discovering Nairobi’s underground gay club scene and starting to explore his own desires whether or not they conform to what his friends see as socially acceptable. Athman is a heart-breaking piece on one-sided love. Here two young best friends must cope with the fact they love each other in different and irreconcilable ways.

The film has light-hearted moments as well as serious ones, and a particularly striking moment of levity occurs in Duet when Jeff (Mugambi Nthiga) corrects his hired lover that he is not just from Africa, but specifically from Kenya. The final short,Each Night I Dream, is the most political story of the film and it interweaves local mythology and contemporary religious politics into a powerful and poetic statement about belonging and what exactly it means to be African if homosexuality is ‘un-African.’ Each of the short films is a simple snap shot of one moment in time, but together they form a nuanced and multi-faceted portrait of lives in contemporary Kenya that so often remain unseen and unspoken about.

On October 1st, 2015 the Nest Collective released a book called Stories of Our Lives: Queer Narratives From Kenya that includes many of the 250 stories that they collected from across Kenya in 2013. I can only hope that this book, made from the same stories and with the same spirit of openness and inclusivity, can open the dialogue that the film has been prevented from starting in Kenya.

Stories of Our Lives is part of ‘From Africa, with Love’





By Sebastiana Etzo

According to recent data from UNHCR (2015) in Sudan there are more than 3 millions displaced people. Many of these are from the Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains, the southern regions of Sudan trapped in an endless and forgotten conflict.

Following South Sudan’s independence in 2011 the Nuba people in South Kordofan and some non-Arabic groups in Blue Nile asked to join the new state. Sudan has responded by launching a military offensive on insurgents and civilians on both sides of the border, which has caused many individuals to flee. 

Hajooj Kuka, journalist and filmmaker, narrates the stories of these people in his acclaimed documentary Beats of the Antonov.


The film follows a non-linear path, alternating performances to conversations on music, identity and war, as well as scenes that bring us back to the brutality of the conflict and how it affects and challenges these people.  Music is central in the film, as it has traditionally been part of the daily life of the people from the south, and has acquired a stronger and different role in a society threatened by war.

The rababa (traditional instrument), and all instruments in the refugee camps, are built from utensils and materials found in the communities, creating new sounds that accompany traditional and modern lyrics. The protagonists of the film use music as a way to forget the hardships and to overcome the suffering of the war. “Girls’ music”, usually associated to weddings, acquires in this context a new political and social meaning, giving women a central stage, while the whole community participate actively in the performances.

In the film we have the pleasure to see and to listen to famous Sudanese musicians, among them Alsarah, who talks about the reconfiguration of the public space where “the audience is part of the music and the musicians are part of the audience”. This absence of barriers is also emphasised by the director’s choice of not having a main voice in the film, but allowing everyone (musicians, community people, rebels) to be the protagonists.

Music, as it becomes soon clear in the film, is also a form of resistance to an imposed “fake” identity that does not represent Sudanese people. Kuka, through this film and its protagonists, reflects on the identity crisis of the country that is at the roots of its many wars. He thus gives voice to a re-claimed African identity that is proud of its culture and expresses itself, but that it is also able to adapt to the changes and challenges.

Hajooj Kuka succeeds to give a different perspective of the country, culturally alive and resilient, while also highlighting its complexities and devastating impact of the war.

Beats of the Antonov was awarded best documentary at the Durban International Film Festival 2015 and at the African Film Festival of Cordoba-FCAT 2015, and it is the winner of Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film is part of the Music & Resistance CAFF theme and in collaboration with the Festival of Ideas in the City of Cambridge. It will be screened in Cambridge on Tuesday, 20 October, followed by a Q&A via skype with Hajooj Kuka, in conversation with Dr Sharath Srinivasan, director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR) and lecturer at King’s College, University of Cambridge.

Tickets are sold out.


By Estrella Sendra

 South Africa has a strong young female face – Ayanda. This 21 year-old Afro-hipster is a creative youth fun character, determined to revive her father’s prized garage business, eight years after his tragic death. The film is set in Yeoville, a vibrant community in Johannesburg that hosts African migrants from across the continent, searching for a better life. Set in this district, Ayanda is a coming-of-age story of a young woman who embarks on a journey of self-discovery when she’s thrown into a world of greasy overalls, gender stereotypes and abandoned vintage cars once loved, now in need of a young woman’s re-inventive touch to bring them back to life again. In order to achieve her goal, Ayanda will persuade her brother and the mechanic David, interpreted by the Nigerian acclaimed actor OC Ukeje, who starred in Gone Too Far, a British-Nigerian comedy directed by Destiny Ekaragha which was part of last year Cambridge African Film Festival.


 Ayanda, directed by multi-awarded South African filmmaker Sara Blecher, opened the 36th Durban International Film Festival earlier this year, four years after her previous film Otelo Burning also opened this festival in 2011. While the latter draw on masculinity, Ayanda focuses on women, and very particularly on a young South African woman who presents new horizons for audiences in the country. The debut actress, Fulu Mugovhani, dominates the screen by an overwhelming energetic performance, whose creations are coherently complemented by the aesthetical choices of the filmmakers. With the photos of photographer The Expressionist, who plays himself in the film in an attempt to ‘portray a country reinventing itself’, and the animation that translates Ayanda’s imagination, the director successfully manages to present an optimistic world view, which is, in this case, led by a young South African woman.

 Entertainment blog Indiewire called the film “an important and fascinating piece that is absolutely worth seeing for its representation of a modern African story, which is uniquely, distinctively African, but also urban, fresh, and contemporary in a way that is far too rare. Anchored by a standout performance by the magnetic Fulu Mugovahni, the vibe and milieu of Ayanda is as refreshing as a light summer breeze.”


The director, who was recently in the BFI London Film Festival presenting the film, defined it as a “love letter to Joburg” a place where the world merges. Ayana does indeed place us in a vibrant and diverse Johannesburg where the youth cannot really move forward until they grapple with the past. This intertwined connection between the past and the present, after 21 years of freedom in the country, is embodied in Ayanda’s commitment to keep her dead father’s garage alive.

Following the last edition of the Cambridge African Film Festival, celebrating the 20 years of freedom in South Africa, Ayanda is an illustrative film of this festival’s mission, counter-balancing the stereotypical representation of the continent, with a focus on the work by women filmmakers and bringing to the UK some of the best contemporary African films – a unique opportunity for the city of Cambridge to watch this film.

 The screening will take place on Tuesday 20 October at 6 PM at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, and will be followed by a Q&A with South African film scholar Dr Litheko Modisane (University of Cape Town), in conversation with festival director, Estrella Sendra. Tickets can be booked here.