June 14, 2012 at 8:49 am EDT | by Erin Durkin
Documenting our lives

Silverdocs Festival
June 18-24
AFI Silver Theatre
8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring
‘Call Me Kuchu’ — June 20 at 9:30 p.m. and June 22 at 8:30 p.m.
‘How to Survive a Plague’ — June 20 at 7 p.m.
‘Ray: A Life Underwater’ — June 21 at noon.
Individual tickets cost $12, however Silverdocs is offering various package deals that allow access to multiple screenings and the conference.

A scene from ‘Call Me Kuchu’ showing Uganda activist David Kato in what would end up being the last year of his life. (Still courtesy Silverdocs)

When two filmmakers set out to capture the work of LGBT activist and Uganda’s first openly gay man, they didn’t realize they were also filming the last year of his life.

“It was an incredibly hard thing to go through,” says Malika Zouhali-Worrall of her work with the late David Kato. “We spent a lot of time with him while he was working and during his private time. It came as an awful shock to both of us.”

Worrall and fellow filmmaker Katherine Wright tell Kato’s story in their new documentary “Call Me Kuchu,” which is screening in the upcoming Silverdocs Festival at the AFI Silver Theatre, which kicks off Monday for its 10th year. It’s a seven-day film festival with a five-day conference that promotes documentary film as an art form.

Sky Sitney, festival director of Silverdocs, says the movie will shock those who are largely unaware of what is happening in Uganda while drawing viewers close to the subjects.

“I think it is the way the film takes the topic and weaves it through personal stories, allows intimate access so that you are deeply invested in their lives, that makes it so powerful,” she says.

Worrall is a freelance reporter for CNN and this is her first feature length film. Wright was a film studies and anthropology major at Columbia University and has produced other feature length films including, “Gabi On the Roof in July,” while also directing shorts.

Worrall and Wright began filming in January 2010 after a transgender man named Victor Mukasa won a court case in the high court of Uganda, granting him his right to privacy after it had been violated during a raid. They shot the film with a less than $300,000 budget provided by various backers and a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The filmmakers chose the term “kuchu” because this is the umbrella term used there for members of the LGBT community.

The film observes Kato and other activists as they fervently try to get Uganda’s homophobic laws repealed while preventing a new anti-homosexuality bill from passing in parliament. The new law would have HIV-positive gay men sentenced to death while others would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Kato was one of the founding members of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an underground movement for LGBT rights. However, Kato’s life abruptly ended when a man named Sidney Nsubuga Enoch, a local gardener and apparently a well-known thief, murdered him in his home.

At the time, Wright and Worrall were in New York planning their next trip to Uganda to shoot. They decided they needed to go back to Uganda immediately — Wright left the next day.

“We realized our film suddenly became about the last year of Kato’s life and added a sense of urgency, it was really intense,” Worrall says.

Though the documentary is LGBT specific, it was not this element that attracted Worrall and Wright to Uganda.

“It wasn’t so much that I was interested in LGBT rights more than any other human rights, but more that these people had these destinies laid out for them by these laws,” Wright says.

To fully depict the causes of these laws and their effect, the filmmakers traveled back and forth between anti-gay community members and LGBT activists. Both Worrall and Wright say it’s important for American audiences to understand what inspired the creation of the new bill.

“Getting all the basic facts is really important,” Worrall says. “Understanding what is happening in Uganda, and that it is very much related to American evangelicals and American foreign policy.”

Specifically, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, all American evangelicals, were invited to participate in a workshop in Uganda in 2009 where they spoke about the international “gay agenda.” According to a New York Times article, Lively told attendees that gays sodomize children and would destroy the culture. Soon after the bill was proposed, Worrall says they filmed a scene where a group of evangelicals celebrated and praised the government for proposing it.

Despite the hostility toward the LGBT community, members were still able to find ways to enjoy their lives. Wright says capturing these moments was of special importance to them.

“It was invigorating to see how these people were able to organize themselves despite the persecution,” she says. “It wasn’t the narrative victimization that you might have expected.”

Filming members of the LGBT community could still threaten their security, and some declined to be shown on camera for fear of being outed by local tabloids, which list LGBT people by name under headlines, “Homo Terror! We Name and Shame Top Gays,” according to the movie’s website.

Though Worrall and Wright are straight, they wanted to use the work being done by the LGBT community as a different way to approach Uganda, and by extension Africa.

“It was a way to capture a vivid portrait of people,” Worrall says. “Especially now that David is gone it has become very urgent.”

Worrall will be attending the Silverdocs with one of the film’s protagonists, Long Jones. The U.S. premiere of the film is occurring at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday. The screening at Silverdocs will be the East Coast premiere of the film and will occur on June 20 and June 22 near the end of the festival.

“We are very excited to premiere it in the U.S.,” Worrall says. “It was first premiered in the Berlin Film Festival and the reaction there was incredible.”

Sitney says “Call Me Kuchu” will provide a juxtaposition to another film with LGBT themes, “How to Survive a Plague,” which revisits the 1980s when HIV/AIDS was still greatly feared and effective treatment was largely unavailable.

“One film is showing an injustice that is going on literally today and the act of change in positive and negative ways,” she says. “One is a retrospective look, to see what has changed and what has remained the same.”

“Call Me Kuchu,” which runs 87 minutes, is in the running for a grand jury prize while “How to Survive a Plague,” is one of the centerpieces of the festival.

Another film that doesn’t have prevalent LGBT themes but is directed by lesbian director Amanda Bluglass is “Ray: A Life Underwater,” a 14-minute short provides a portrait of 75-year-old deep-sea diver named Ray Ives who has been exploring the bottom of the ocean for 50 years while wearing a diving suit from the 1900s.

Sitney says that including these films adds to the diversity of the festival, but they do not specifically look for films with LGBT themes, or any specific themes, when reviewing submissions.

“We already make this festival exclusively about documentary films, we don’t want to set too many other boundaries,” she says. “We don’t choose central themes, but some emerge unintentionally.”

Sitney says that each film should be accessible to a non-LGBT audience, by breaking cultural parameters to create a “stunning and beautiful quality of work.”

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