Filmed in verite style over five years, I Am Samuel is an intimate portrait of a Kenyan man torn between balancing duty to his family with his dreams for his future.
Hi Peter thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
I am doing ok. We have all had to adjust to the new normal, and it is always humbling to be reminded that we are not in control of everything and sometimes have to adapt to continue to function.
Do you think this time has offered you some new creative inspiration?
Since I could not travel, I had more opportunities to collaborate with local filmmakers who were connected to this story. This has been refreshing and has created wonderful new working relationships.
Congratulations on having I am Samuel selected for this year's BFI London Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of films?
It is such an honour for the I am Samuel team to share our African story with London audiences. This film is a passion project made with a lot of love, and BFI London Film Festival is a perfect platform for us to help Samuel share his world with the public.
I am Samuel was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Atlanta Film Festival, has it surprised you that your film would connect so well with audiences around the world?
Although it is an African story, I think that the struggles of complicated family relationships and the inspiration of love in its purest form are universal. I am grateful that audiences are able to connect to it from all around the world.
How did you first get introduced to Samuel & Alex?
I was introduced to Samuel through a mutual friend, and it was a perfect partnership from the beginning. Samuel wanted to show the world what it means to be poor and gay in Kenya, and also felt it was important for the next generation of young LGBTQI+ Africans to know that he exists. When he was younger, he was always told you cannot be African and gay, so he wanted the world to know that he is proudly both, and this does not change his value as a human being.
"...we see the great difficulty and pain of Samuel’s struggles of being poor and gay in Kenya."
When did you realise you wanted to tell their story on film?
As soon as Samuel and I met, we both knew that we wanted to tell this story together. We were both committed to the project from the start, even though at the time we didn’t have any funding for it and didn’t know where the money would come from.
What was it about Samuel's story that connected with you as a filmmaker?
Samuel’s relationship with his father is very similar to my relationship with my father - both had expectations of us that we could not fulfil. In my case, my dad wanted me to have children of my own and go into business, rather than filmmaking. Samuel’s father, Redon, was desperate for him to marry a woman and live the same kind of life as him - as a farmer, pastor, husband and father.
Did you have any apprehensions taking on such a big project?
Samuel and his family were extremely brave to put their faith in us to share their story with the public, so we had to make sure the film did them justice. As a team, we felt that it was our duty to get this film over the line even though it was a very ambitious project, and that duty was always the most important thing.
What made you decide to shoot in cinema verité?
I like the intimacy with subjects that cinema verité gives me. It also allows me to let their voices and expressions drive the narrative, instead of me driving the narrative. For me, this style is an incredible tool that empowers people to express what they want and how they want, freely. I find the process pure and refreshing.
With this being a 5 year journey how important was it for you to be flexible as a director on this film?
I had to surrender to the process. The natural arc of Samuel’s life drove the narrative, but I had to make sure I was always ready whenever anything happened in Samuel’s life, to be there to hit the record button at a moment’s notice. For example, when he was attacked I had to drop everything in that moment and go to his house immediately to document what had happened.
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making I am Samuel?
We had to surrender to the process. We had to commit, buckle up and trust that the film would be finished in its own time, when it was right.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I have been a storyteller all my life. In my early 20’s I started working as a camera assistant for commercials, and then as a VTR operator for the Hollywood film The Constant Gardener.
In my spare time with my friends, we would shoot documentaries. When our first film, ‘Walk to Womanhood’, about FGM in my tribe, the Kuria, won the CNN journalist of the year award in 2004, I felt I had found my passion and got hooked on making documentaries.
How important is it for filmmakers to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I think this is different for every project, because it is a new experience each time, so I don’t think that there is one golden rule for every film or story.
Is there any advice you would offer someone a fellow filmmaker?
Commit. Surrender to the process. Trust.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from I am Samuel?
This is a film about love, identity and resilience. At first, we see the great difficulty and pain of Samuel’s struggles of being poor and gay in Kenya. But as we see how he finds love, happiness and sense of belonging with Alex and his community, and is able to finally make peace with his relationship with his family, I hope people will also see the beautiful aspects of Samuel’s life shining through, and feel his hopefulness.