The horrific oppression faced by Uganda’s LGBTQ community is not a new documentary-film topic. The 2010 episode of Vanguard, “Missionaries of Hate,” comes to mind. Or 2013’s God Loves Uganda.
Nor is Uganda alone in its horrific oppression of the Queer community, though it’s probably easier for documentary film crews to operate in Uganda than in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Still, there are a variety of ways to come at this heartbreaking subject, and Out of Uganda (★★★★☆) has its own particular view.
“This film project arose from curiosity about African refugees seeking support from ‘Queeramnesty’ in Zurich,” read the production notes provided by French Outplay Films, as translated by ChatGPT.
Accordingly, the film bounces between Uganda and Switzerland. In Switzerland, we meet three Ugandan asylum seekers, Hussein, Philip, and Lynn, respectively identifying as bisexual, gay, and lesbian. In Uganda, we meet Shammy, a transgender woman, exiled from her home village.
There’s also the Swiss bureaucrat offering insight on the asylum process, and a few unfortunate Ugandans affirming their belief that LGBTQ people need to be oppressed if not simply executed.
In Uganda, we also see a bit of Dr. Frank Mugisha, who holds one of the planet’s most perilous jobs as head of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). There’s also Justine Baraya, the hero who runs the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum legal-aid clinic “for LGBT people, sex workers and people who use drugs.” And family members of those featured LGBTQ Ugandans in the film.
Scenes move to and fro, perhaps speaking with Philip’s sister, sharing how his identity and exile have left the family shunned in their home village; then onto a street preacher offering his interpretation of Leviticus; then Lynn walking by a snowy Swiss lake.
In all, the stories are presented in a sort of loose postmodern narrative. Where are we going, exactly? What is this person’s connection to that person? A name may be revealed at some point, even if not till the credits.
Which village is this? We may never know. This is not a news documentary. The evocative cinematography of a sheer curtain lazily billowing near a vase of flowers or of light streaming through a window onto a spare table sets the mood.
Then again, that mood can change, as now we’re frolicking through Zurich Pride. Are we meant to resent these merrymakers, seemingly carefree in one the world’s richest countries?
As the filmmakers offer in their notes, “We don’t have the answers. We only ask the questions.”
Indeed. The point of Out of Uganda is seemingly not to serve as any kind of call to action. It’s not a promotion for any particular organization. The roots of Ugandan bigotry are not examined with a sociologist’s scrutiny.
Rather, it’s an intimate peek into the lives of several people trying to keep their heads above water as the hate pours down, or to reclaim a sense of home as they tread water endlessly in an asylum-seeking sea.
It may well leave you feeling helpless and heartbroken, but Out of Uganda also shares the lives of people many of us will likely find simultaneously alien yet absolutely relatable. It’s a world you may not want to enter, but the filmmakers have taken great effort to make you welcome in it.
Out of Uganda plays on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. at The Eaton.
Live screenings of Reel Affirmations films are Oct. 20 to 22 at the Eaton Hotel, 1201 K St. NW, in Washington, D.C.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29. Of the 43 films, 26 are available only online.
For a full schedule of films, including retrospective showings, all pricing and pass options, and party information, visit www.thedccenter.org/reelaffirmations.
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