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. 

Bare E-ssentials 3: with a Vengeance – Encompass Productions

Produced by Liam Fleming, Rachael Owens & Jonathon Woodhouse

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who says the sequels are never as good as the original? Back with a vengeance, Bare Essentials, one of London’s leading new creative writing evenings returns for their monthly reminder of the talent out there in the world. The now award evening 17th edition (third virtual), is as strong as ever and ready to grab life by the unmentionables and explore unique stories, original creators and some fresh takes.

This evening we’re treated to a quartet of fresh innovative writing, all helmed under the watchful eye of the charming host Liam Fleming. Each comprises different genres, styles and aesthetics, as these four pieces make up a cluster of imaginative premises, exceptionally prepared and thought-out through lockdown and isolation – many incorporating the now normal struggles, working with the limitations of COVID rather than actively struggling against.

Despite what pretences may come with new writings, nothing about Bare E-ssentials is scratch media or a melting pot, these are fully-fledged concepts with finished productions. Evident in the direction and writing, the online format opens up the conceptual dynamics of the shorts, where inspirations from cinema and theatre are seeded into original concepts.

First up, there’s a set of Rules which must always be adhered to in life, especially those concerning sex and friends. Lucy Jamieson’s short production takes two friends stuck at home, Jess and Alex, as they lament the struggles of life, and the difficulties of balancing relationships, friendships, and syphilis. Together the pair have terrific energy and chemistry, and the jarring sense of the comedy settles quickly, with Rachael Owens direction coming over as a Channel 4 pilot episode. It’s the richest laugh of the evening, and the finest way to start.

It isn’t all giggles and comradery, however, as both Emma Dawson’s Stones Around My Neck and Jacquie Penrose’s Listen take a substantially darker turn, well – it wouldn’t be a new writing night without this turn. Sat alone, Deborah Garvey effortlessly holds attention in Dawson’s piece as she reflects on the relationship (or lack of) with her youngest daughter, and the influence she has had weighing down aspects of her life – sombre, it’s an investable performance. Equally, a combination of Fleming’s direction with Amelia Parillon’s performance in Penrose’s chilling Listen, which perhaps adheres to the idea of a shot in lockdown the quickest.

Throughout are reminders as to why the recent session of Bare E-ssentials was the honourable winner of an Oncomm Award. The creativity practicality behind scripts, particularly James C Ferguson’s The Chair, where Jonathon Woodhouse’s direction shows how Encompass Productions takes steps beyond the traditional shot-at-home premise, elevating the pieces and working some of the stretched writing mechanics.

An essential lifeblood for the arts community across the nation, Bare E-ssentials is a brief monthly reminder of the exceptional community we’re at risk of losing. Episode 4 of the online series is due to release on August 26th, and couldn’t be recommended enough with a small glass of your favourite and some solid company. And while there’s no possible way to know what spectacles, wonders and oddities may emerge from that evening, it’s safe to say there will be a tremendous showcase of emerging and undervalued talent.

Further information about Bare E-ssentials can be found at Encompass Productions: http://www.encompassproductions.co.uk

You can catch the third installment, and catch up on the rest, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amwtba7YPN0