“Film is my tool” A conversation with the risk-taking organizer of the first queer film festival in Uganda
18 November 2016
A queer film festival comes to Uganda — where homosexuality is illegal
This December, several hundred film fans from around the world are expected to gather in Kampala, Uganda. There will be no red carpet, no palm trees, and no billboards, just a series of text messages directing the guests to a series of otherwise undisclosed locations. Welcome to the Queer Kampala International Film Festival, the only gay film festival organized in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
The festival, scheduled for Dec. 9-11, will be East Africa’s first LGBTQ film fest, aimed at bringing together the Ugandan gay community, film fans from outside the region, and potential allies. Filmmakers from five continents have submitted work to Queer KIFF, and several plan to attend the festival in person. Twenty-six films, including nine from Africa, are on the schedule. The films set to screen run the gamut, from documentaries about raising queer children and conversion therapy to coming-of-age dramas and edgy illicit romances.
Even though the organizers of Queer KIFF dream of holding a public event, after a wave of arrests at this summer’s Kampala Pride event, they have decided to release the list of screening venues only to a select group of pre-cleared supporters.
Kamoga Hassan is the lead organizer of the festival and one of a committed core of LGBTQ activists who dare to make their voices heard in one of the world’s riskiest places to be gay or lesbian. A 2014 Amnesty International report found that openly gay Ugandans have faced arbitrary arrest and sexual harassment, including when reporting crimes. Local NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda reported more than 260 “acts of intimidation” aimed at LGBTQ people in 2014 and 2015, of which 35 were violent vigilante attacks and 73 concerned loss of property or job loss. When openly gay or lesbian Ugandans organize public events, arrests are a regular occurrence. A 2014 anti-homosexuality act proposed the death penalty for gay men under certain circumstances. It was later nullified on procedural grounds, but human rights groups warn that vigilante groups continue to use the law to justify arbitrary violence. Under British colonial laws that have remained on the books, LGBTQ Ugandans still face a minimum two-year prison sentence for openly expressing their identity.
Kamoga, a self-employed videographer who shot weddings and corporate events before turning to feature films, has been involved in the LGBTQ community for the past five years. His first feature film, “Outed: The Painful Reality,” inspired by real events, explored the fate of a young professional who was outed by an infamous Ugandan tabloid. The film toured queer-themed film festivals throughout Europe in 2015 with a few stops in North America, and it will be one of the marquee features at December’s festival.
Kamoga has lost contact with relatives and friends, been evicted, and faced harassment from family members and strangers, a situation that’s far from unusual in the Ugandan queer community. “You speak to some people and you assume they’ll be understanding, but then they talk to other people, who might be your business associates,” said Kamoga, who identifies as queer. “I can’t get those contracts because no one wants to associate with a gay person. I can’t stop speaking out, because professionally I’ve already lost everything.”
VICE News met with Kamoga at the World Social Forum in Montreal earlier this year to discuss Uganda’s queer community and his own belief in the power of film to fight injustice.
Source: Vice 12 November 2016