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Spotlight: Katherine Fairfax Wright, Director, ‘Call Me Kuchu’

The documentary film Call Me Kuchu presents the harrowing stories of gay rights activists in Uganda and the anti-homosexuality politics they are up against. Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall joined forces in making the documentary and running all aspects of production as a crew of two.

David Kato

How did you approach Call Me Kuchu?

Katherine Fairfax Wright:This documentary is about fundamental issues surrounding the right to exist for the LGBT community in Africa. From the get-go we wanted to make it as character-driven as possible in an observational style in order to show human beings with the intricacies, humor and intelligence that come with friendships and family life.

Once David, an LGBT rights activist and our main subject, was murdered in 2011, all the footage we had of him became very important. When he died, we were in the process of planning a two-month shoot specifically to focus on his work and following him to the prison when he was arrested. We never got to shoot that footage, so we had to rely on his interviews.

We had a very small crew—just Malika and me. That was great for gaining intimacy, developing a strong, trusting bond with [our subjects], since we were minimally invasive. And it also meant stressful shooting. I’m not sure I would want a crew, though, had I had a proper budget. I just don’t think we would have ended up with the same footage.

What cameras did you use?

One of the many front-page stories published by Ugandan newspaper

The Rolling Stone

(no relation to the American music magazine), which terrorized the LGBT community.

For some shoots we used two Canon EOS 5Ds, and sometimes one 5D and one 7D with the L series lenses. For the first shoot I didn’t have a proper rig, but for the second and third shoots I had a Redrock shoulder mount rig, which was much better. I usually got a master on the tripod, and the handheld camera was more for longer focal length and getting the tighter shots. When I was shooting with two cameras, Malika was doing sound. We were just two people in the field, so we both had to be responsible for everything.

When we began shooting in January 2010, the Canon 5D was brand new. It was quite revolutionary. The size is ideal. I’m also a photographer, so the camera body and my muscle memory with the camera worked well for me.

Katherine Fairfax Wright

What did you find challenging in the field?

The biggest hassle was dealing with everyday issues in Uganda. It’s very, very hot, and it’s very hard to shoot in such humid conditions. We didn’t have money for a private hired car, so we were going everywhere on public transit. Cramming into vans with all of our equipment and all of our hard drives five times a day got a little grueling. In terms of the actual shoot, though, it was pretty easy. Only a couple of times were we asked to stop filming. We never really felt our safety threatened.

What did it mean to you personally to be able to make this film?

The answer to that question changed with David’s death. Both Malika and I felt a responsibility the moment he died, knowing that his final testimony lay in our footage. It was up to us to tell his story. We feel like we owe that to David. I feel proud to do it.