London Film Festival 2020: I Am Samuel | Review
Online on BFI Player from 10th October 2020 6.30pm until 13th October 2020 6.30pm
Inspirational, brave and thoroughly heartwarming, I Am Samuel (Pete Murimi’s feature debut) demonstrates the capabilities of cinema by giving a voice to the African queer community through the story of a young, gay man living in Kenya, a devoutly Christian country where people – under a century-old law introduced by the British – can be imprisoned for 14 years for committing homosexual acts. Shot over a period of five years, this cinema verité documentary introduces audiences to the titular subject as he juggles between his life in Nairobi with his boyfriend Alex and his relationship with his parents, who can’t understand why he isn’t married yet.
One area in which this film succeeds is in Murimi’s ability as a documentarian to present events organically. Scenes of Samuel and his friends celebrating in the couple’s cramped flat have a homemade quality to them, as does everything else in the movie for that matter. Murimi picks up his camera, hits record and, aside from the obvious editing, that’s what we see on screen. This is Samuel, his life, his story; and we have the privilege of sharing it.
But there is a downside to this approach. While the moments captured are natural and frequently moving, they – by design – have no narrative arc or structure connecting them together. This lack of cohesion is clearest whenever any sort of conflict is covered, especially when it comes to the subject’s relationship with his very traditional father (who’s also a preacher). As soon as these moments surface, a time skip of an unknown length occurs and the conflict has evaporated as if nothing happened. The intention here is to show how volatile Samuel’s familial relationships can be, but in practice, it demonstrates a lack of focus and an inability to provide closure on substantial life events – even after emphasising their significance.
Although I Am Samuel lacks a cohesive structure, Murimi’s debut gives a platform for one man to proudly share his story despite the very real threat of violence and ostracism that he faces daily. It allows viewers to share Samuel’s world and a handful of his intimate moments – and that’s something special.
I Am Samuel does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.