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Africa

African gay films on Berlin's silver screen

Some African filmmakers dare to break the silence surrounding the gay community in Africa. They portray the hopes and struggles of Africa's LGBT. The Afrikamera film festival takes the stories to Berlin's silver screen.

A woman in front of a hill at sundown

The 'Pearl of Africa' shows the story of Ugandan transgender activist Cleo Kambugu (pictured)

Ndimbira Shenge's movie has a simple title, but a complex story. Her 14-minute production on display at this year's Afrikamera film festival is called "She." It's the fictional story of Laura, a young Rwandan who discovers that she is in love with another woman. It's a love that does not leave any room for dreams and romance. Laura is afraid to express her feelings in a society that strongly rejects same-sex relationships.

"I was wondering: Where is humanity? What are we doing? Why can't we just leave people at peace and allow them to be who they are? That is what inspired me to produce this movie," Ndimbira Shenge said after the screening of her movie at the festival in Berlin.

It's a story only common to many gays, lesbians and transsexuals across Africa. In many African countries the gay community faces discrimination, rejection and even attacks and arrests. Reason enough for festival director Alex Moussa Sawadogo to give this year's edition the title "African Queers, African Movies, African Cultures."

"I'm also working as a curator or program advisor for different festivals in Africa. We sometimes discuss to show films with this topic. But most people are against showing these films, because they do not want to generate discussions or they are afraid to get in trouble with their governments," Sawadogo said.

Several men and women at a panel discussion

Filmmakers, writers and activists from different parts of Africa attend the festival

'We want to start a conversation about LGBT'

But now the films are on display - at least in Berlin. Productions from various African countries, such as South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria are on this year's program. Filmmakers are agreeing across the board that it's necessary to highlight the living conditions of the LGBT in Africa.

Ugandan LGBT activist Cleo Kambugu has come to Berlin to witness the preview of "The pearl of Africa," a documentary about her life by Swedish filmmaker Johnny von Wallstroem.

"When we made the movie, it was meant to start a conversation about gender, transgender and also about health issues in Uganda. But I am happy that the world has come on board to learn about what's happening in Africa," Kambugu said

Uganda is one of the most repressive countries for gays, lesbians and transgender persons to live in. The 2012 Anti-Homosexuality Act made homosexuality a crime punishable with life imprisonment. It was later annulled in 2014 by the constitutional court on technical grounds. The government banned 38 non-governmental organizations in the same year for alledgedly promoting homosexuality. Cleo Kambugu's life is a story of harassment and threats. A local tabloid even published her name along those of other alledged members of the LGBT community.

She's happy that the audience in Europe now gets to know her story and her struggles. "We already have a movement of activists who have helped to change laws and policies, but we need more people to come on board," Kambugu says.

A woman in a yellow and black shirt with a hat on her face

"She" is the fictious story of Rwandan Laura's coming out

Festival wants to send a signal to Africa

But despite the discrimination of LGBTs across Africa - Cleo Kambugu and Rwandan filmmaker Ndimbira Shenge agree that films about them also should have a positive message. "If a woman loves a woman, its love. It's more important to show love stories than negative or sad stories. Sad stories are not going to contribute in a good way," Shenge said. 

Despite the fact that the movies are now being shown in Berlin, festival director Alex Moussa Sawadogo hopes that this year's Afrikamera is also going to send a signal to Africa. "There's a great deal of interest in Africa about African culture shown in Europe. Many artists and many filmmakers in Africa know about our festival and I'm sure they are going to learn something from it. We've already been contacted to present a small selection of our program in Africa."

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