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.
Several excerpts from the article and the interview are below:
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….
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.
Why take the risk of addressing these themes and taking a stand on LGBTQ rights?
Uganda is our country, it’s where we all grew up. I’m queer myself and I have so many gay Ugandan friends; they’re my family. People have different ways of fighting. Some people go on the streets and demonstrate. Some people go to court. But film is my tool, to fight for people’s rights and to educate people about what’s going on in my country. … I’m actually working on another project [with Montreal filmmaker Karin Hazé], called “75 Shots,” where we go to countries that criminalize homosexuality— there are about 75 of them— and empower the locals to tell their own stories on film. One of our main goals is to encourage courageous people, anyone who wants to tell their stories to the world.
Do your family and friends understand what you’re doing?
When I talk to my sister about what I’m doing, she just says, push on. But my dad doesn’t even want to see me. It’s sad, because sometimes there are moments when you need a father in your life, and when he doesn’t want to see you, what do you do then? But fortunately I’m a grown-up and I don’t depend on him to pay my bills … I hope that one day people in Uganda, especially parents of gay youth, can understand that a person’s sexuality is not a choice and that there’s nothing to be afraid of.