“I am Samuel” is such a simple documentary it’s almost (almost) like watching your friends’ friends’—friend’s home movie. Not because it’s poorly crafted because it’s not, it is because it’s so intimate and moving, that you want to reach out and have a conversation with Samuel and the love of his life, Alex all the way in Africa, to the countryside of Kenya where they live.
“I am Samuel” is Peter Murimi’s feature directorial debut, filmed a verite style for five years in his home country. Murimi is a multiple award-winning Kenyan TV documentarian, who focuses on hard-hitting social issues, from extra-judicial killings to prostitution. He recently won the 2019 Rory Peck award for a news feature about suicide. His first major win was the CNN Africa Journalist of the Year Award for his intimate documentary about Female Genital Mutilation among his Kuria community, “Walk to Womanhood” (2004).
Another ground-breaking project was the film “Slum Survivors” (2007), filmed in the Kenyan capital, which won an award at the Czech Tur Ostrava film festival. Peter was a producer/ director for Al Jazeera’s Africa Investigates strand, which exposes crime and corruption, with credits including “Spell of the Albino” (2011) and “Zimbabwe’s Child Exodus” (2011). Another Al Jazeera film, “Kenya’s Enemy Within” (2015), revealed the terror threat posed by homegrown al Shabaab Somali militants to Kenya.
What makes Murimi’s “I am Samuel” so beautiful? I think because it presents love with such raw honesty that you can’t look away.
Samuel is a country boy who grew up on a farm in the Kenyan countryside, where tradition is King and Queen and is valued above all else.
He relocates to Nairobi desperately in search of a new life, where he can be his authentic LGBTQ self and there he finds his place in a vibrant, courageous community of fellow queer men where he meets and falls in love with Alex.
It’s important to bring to light that Kenyan laws criminalize anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, but Samuel and Alex’s love thrives even though they face threats of violence, rejection, and death. The consistent resistance of acceptance by Christians is part of Samuel’s world, in fact, his father is a preacher at the local church and he doesn’t understand why his son is not yet married.
Samuel’s life is a challenge. He’s constantly navigating the real risk that being honest, authentic and true to himself may cost him dearly, it may cost him his life and his family’s acceptance.
Does love win in the face of such obstacles? “I am Samuel” was filmed over five years and it’s wonderfully intimate. Samuel is a proud, LGBTQ Kenyan man who balances the pressures of family loyalty, love, and safety like a Prince.
“I Am Samuel” is produced by We Are Not The Machine an independent Kenyan factual and fiction production company that tells stories of outsiders, rebels, and change-makers of African descent. They provide creative production, fundraising, and service production support and regularly collaborate on shorts, features, and series with content creators from across the world.
Here is what Samuel and Alex featured in “I am Samuel” had to share about his life in 2020. There are certain things that the couple could not share because, sadly, because their lives in Kenya remain in tenterhooks.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Thank you Samuel, for sharing your life and love in the documentary “I am Samuel” — which was shot over five years, amazing. Why did you take the risk to make this film?
SAMUEL: It will enlighten the community to understand who we are and what we want to be.
ALEX: We hope that by showing the life of two gay men trying to survive in a country that doesn’t recognize or support their love that people can see the kind of challenges experienced by gay men in Kenya.
LAS: It took courage. What’s it like for LGBTQ people in Kenya today?
SAMUEL: It’s getting worse.
ALEX: It has been half and half. Gay people have been fighting to be seen, recognized, and accepted. It has brought the community together and made it stronger. On the other hand, for a country governed by cultural and religious beliefs, that kind of exposure is dangerous for the community.
LAS: I’m sorry to hear that. Is it safe for you and Alex there?
SAMUEL: Both of us accepting to be whom we are despite staying in a country that it’s not safe for us.
LAS: Samuel, I am getting chills going up and down my spine. I’m sorry. How are you both staying strong, if I may ask? Is love the big motivation?
SAMUEL: Yes it was the biggest motivation and it’s strong. We live for each other.
ALEX: Yes it was. It was the foundation we used to build our entire relationship. We knew that no matter what happened, both of us could deal with it because we were together, and at the end of the day that was enough.
“I am Samuel” is part of the following virtual film festivals:
Hot Docs Online Film Festival (geoblocked to Toronto) (https://ff.hrw.org/venue/hrwfilmfestivalstreamorg);
Human Rights Watch Online Film Festival (geoblocked to USA) – June 11th to 20th
www.wearenotthemachine.com – for the outsiders
Twitter – @Iamsamuelfilm
Facebook – www.facebook.com/Iamsamuelfilmkenya