Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall on directing award-winning doc Call Me Kuchu

Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall on directing award-winning doc Call Me Kuchu

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 02/11/12

Documentary Call Me Kuchu follows the lives of LGBT activists in Uganda as a new bill threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. The film’s directors (pictured below) share advice about building connections and interviewing people with objectionable views…  

Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall

Did you have any funding before you started filming?

Katherine: We just had what little savings we had. At that point, the biggest expenses were tickets and hard drives. We also got an audio recorder and a couple of small things. But all that added up to a few thousand dollars. 

How did you go about researching the issue of LGBT rights and making contacts in Uganda?

Malika: The first step was going to international organisations, such as Human Rights Watch. They put us in touch with David [Kato], who is the main character in our film. Speaking by phone, he said, “You’ve just got to come out here as quickly as you can”. That was before the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had been introduced but he knew it was in the pipeline and so he gave us a heads-up.

K: We flew to Kampala and stayed in a hostel. We had one appointment set up, with David. He reeled off names and numbers and gave us an overview of what was going on with the community and everything snowballed from there. 

Were the activists receptive to being involved the film?

K: Yes and no. There had been a strong presence of foreign journalists so they were accustomed to cameras and willing to be filmed and have their name printed as a member of the LGBT community. So those initial interviews came quite naturally, but we wanted way more than that from them. We didn’t just want soundbites, we wanted their families, their dreams and hopes and fears. 

How did you get people to open up to you when filming?

K: We would drink beer with them, have dinner with them, repeatedly ask to hang out, and they would say, “Are you sure?” It took time for them to realise what we were trying to do, because no other journalist had done that. Everyone else just wanted to come down and get some saucy stories. It’s important to have a few cheerleaders in the community, people who understand what you’re trying to do and are willing to vouch for you. We were very fortunate that David and Naome [another activist in the film] caught on to what we were trying to do and became our friends.

Do you have tips for interviewing people whose views you disagree with?

M: Figure out before the interview what you want to get out of it. One thing we had to think about was how much of a discussion or a debate we wanted to have with people like Gilles Muame [newspaper editor] and David Bahati [MP calling for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill]. Stylistically, you may want yourself as a character in the film, pressing people to answer difficult questions. Or – as in our case – it could be that the most important thing is to have that person explain what they think and leave it open for people to hate them or not.

K: [If you argue,] their disposition changes and that won’t play as well to an audience because it seems like you’ve pinned them in a corner and they’re doing a natural human thing by responding vehemently. But if they’re sitting there calmly telling you they want these people hanged, that’s a whole other thing...

What advice do you have for young documentary filmmakers who are thinking about shooting their first feature?

M: Trying to get backing before you start is hard. Do what we did and just go. It doesn’t take that much money to go and film enough for a teaser, which you can then use to develop the idea and raise funding.

K: But it’s also important to do it right. You need something that’s professional and is broadcast quality so make sure you’re filming on the right camera settings, that your camera isn’t bumping all over the place, that your audio’s OK, that you’re getting a sales agent when you need a sales agent, that you’re getting a publicist when you need a publicist, that you’re applying for the right grants. Be conscious of what you’re doing, network and pick people’s brains.

M: [Documentary filmmaker] Katie Dellamaggiore put it really well on a panel we did recently – she said, “Assume you’re going to be successful”.



Call Me Kuchu is on release now.

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