I Am Samuel – BFI London Film Festival

Written by Ricardo Acosta & Peter Murimi

Directed by Peter Murimi

Rating: 3 out of 5.

While identifying as gay isn’t strictly illegal in Kenya, the act of engaging in a relationship with someone of the same gender or sex is. An openly honest account of a young gay man’s struggles with receiving the equality he deserves, I Am Samuel documents five years of Samuel’s life as he moves to steadily introduce his parents, his friends and hopefully, one day, his country into accepting who he is.

I Am Samuel’s unobtrusive verité-style maintains authenticity in how it delivers the truth across the film, refusing to pander to ideas of a manipulated narrative for dramatic effect. As director Peter Murimi gradually introduces the audience to Samuel, his partner Alex, and their subsequent friends and family, time is given to develop them as people, rather than encouraging snap judgements. This verité comes at a cost though, as the film’s flow stifles, and any seeking a form of closure will be pressed to find one given Kenya’s continued attitudes towards the love between two members of the same gender.

The longevity to create pays off for Murimi’s debut piece, filming over five years allows for a definitive picture and flow of narration. The established relationship guarantees an openness from Samuel, concerning his relationship with Alex, as a level of trust is paramount given the nature of their relationship in a country violently opposed to love in a form which some are regrettably still unfamiliar with.

Depictions of violence only make up a minuscule, but impactful, anchor point for the film. Those who mindlessly preach on how things are different or that homophobia isn’t as prevalent need only watch the film’s opening moments. Censored, but still visceral, a young man is between and assaulted as the perpetrators hurl abuse and, breath-snatchingly declare to ‘teach him a lesson’, instructing one another to get a knife.

I Am Samuel doesn’t garb itself in shocking imagery, though one distressing scene shows the scars a man bares after being mistaken for Samuel. The dedication to their visibility is extraordinarily respected by Murimi, who strives to allow everyone the chance to tell their story and experiences – obviously, chiefly that of Samuel and his partner Alex. Nothing is treated as inconsequential, as it all goes to building the image of who Samuel is as a person and his ambitions, despite the conformation and expectations men in his culture face.

A level of established trust is evident as the camera works its way into Samuel’s parent’s homes to unfold their thoughts on the revelations of their son’s ‘friend’ Alex. Redon and Rebecca consistently harp on at their son to find a wife to both help with the family farm work, and to continue a legacy. His father Redon, a pastor, in particular raises eyebrows to this ‘friendship’ with Alex, discussing with the camera his concerns, as equally does his mother but for wholly individual reasons and worries for his safety.

Clean, capitalising on the beauty of the region, the film’s visual direction of light and aerial shots capture the stage for Samuel’s story. Backdrops are never parts of the narrative, outside of location changes to and from his parents or grandmothers residence. What aesthetical shots used enrapture, but stick within the verité guidelines to reinforce the film’s authenticity, rather than bathe in spectacle.

Leaning into the rights of humanity to be recognised through the players in this film, as opposed to a direct political allegiance, Murimi succeeds in building I Am Samuel’s legitimacy as a short documentary feature which manages to divulge five years of a young gay man’s life into seventy minutes. Will the film essentially change the fundamental rights to care and love across Kenya? Not likely, but in putting across Samuel’s story – Murimi’s documentary protects the autonomy and determination a young man has to love, hopefully improving his future. 

The Old Man: The Movie – Fantasia Film Festival

Written & Directed by Oskar LehemaaMikk Mägi

Estonia/ 2019/ 88 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Milk, it is a dangerous substance – or were you not aware? Causing chaos, its necessity to the small communities across the world leads to a disturbing reliance on the soft, quivering underbellies of so many cows. The stop-motion animation The Old Man may have humble beginnings as an episodic online series, but now the titular character strides out, udder in one hand and vodka in the other, with his very own Movie, which is, in part, an inter-generational road epic.

Traversing the landscape of Estonia, The Old Man: The Movie sees one grandfather task his three grandchildren with help in finding his lost cow. While this may seem simple enough, the cow will explode without being milked regularly. What’s worse, the town’s previous milker has a vendetta against the bovines of this world, determined to lop off their heads before another serious accident, one which turned him more dairy than human, can occur once more.

No doubt unique in premise, Oskar Lehemaa and Mikk Mägi’s writing and direction maintains the renowned humour of its small-screen source while attempting to drive an extended narrative. The film’s story divides itself between three tales: that of the Old Man, our antagonist The Old Milker, and the third grandchild Mart, who is left behind in the cow byre. Balancing the three well, the road movie aspect turns itself around, refusing to conform to bizarre notions of growth or character arc. While the children may come to appreciate their grandfather, the film (fantastically) cruelly pokes fun at the forced changes, ridiculing how a one-hour journey would not impact many people at all.

The divisive comedic stylings of The Old Man: The Movie are taken directly from the animated shorts of Vanamehe Multikas, and despite the huge success of the series both in and outside Estonia, this explains much of the film’s pacing issues. The extreme levels of scatological humour make sense in a five to 10-minute video, where the excessive joke level provides a built-up gag. In a feature film, the same gag parcelling itself in different animal anuses begins to wear thin. You will find several excellent individual scenes which do have a solid sense of humour, poo related and slightly more refined, but you will also find padding thicker than the clay used for these figures.

This, regarding the stop-motion figures, is conversely one of the film’s more substantial aspects. Egert Kesa and Olga Stalev’s animation is rough and occasionally lacking in movement, but throughout the film grows exponentially in character, and the fusion of intertextual forms of old cinema clippings, 2D-styled drawings and Claymation makes The Old Man: The Movie a must for any animation fans. It accentuates the ludicrous narrative while maintaining an unfettered earthiness; as if some of the farmland had been ground into the modelling clay. While the principal cast is sculpted rather plainly, our antagonist Old Milker, along with some exploding cows and a cock-eyed bear, make for characters of which other studios would be proud.

Things are never what they seem with the Fantasia Film Festival, and The Old Man: The Movie is definitive proof of the inventive capabilities of those attracted to the event. The film will divide audiences as it repels and entices in equal measure. The humour can be crude, awkward and dragging, but on occasion, it is cleverer and even cruder than first thought. As a piece of animation, the roughness belies a brilliance in its stop-motion craft, a style which borrows from the likes of Aardman or Pat & Mat, but which sprinkles it with enough dairy, grime and cow dung to stand out from the crowds.

Review originally published for The Wee Review

Available on-demand as part of Fantasia Festival from 20st August 2020

Live in Your Living Room with Magic Gareth – Preview

Feeling like this year has sucked a bit of magic out of the summer? Perhaps after all that home-schooling, some of the little (and older) ones could do with some energising, phantasmic entertainment? Well, ready those special magic words, hold on tight and prepare to be astonished at the wizardry of Magic Gareth Live.

Despite the Edinburgh Festival Fringe taking a hiatus for 2020, that’s no reason not to conjure up your own magic with Gareth! Direct from your home, there’s now the chance to become your very own ‘virtual magician’s assistant’, without even leaving your Pjs. Take your place in a new Magic Circle live on Zoom with up to fifty other guests as you all try to figure out the sorcery before you.

No stranger to the digital medium of performance, and while other acts are still finding their footing with the change in scenery, Gareth has already hosted over 300 live virtual shows to tremendous appreciation and enjoyment. Magic Gareth has been crafted with a whole hat full of tricks, illusions and secrets which have been specifically designed with the viewers in mind.

Spellbinding the nation from August 2nd, Magic Gareth will be hosting his virtual events each morning at 11 am each day until August 9th.

A full list of information relating to shows can be found from Magic Gareth’s website here: https://www.magicgareth.co.uk/live2020.

And if you’re feeling social, why not give Magic Gareth a follow on Facebook?