BFI LFF 2020: I Am Samuel – Film Review

Filmed over five years, I Am Samuel follows the life and love of Samuel, a young gay Kenyan man, who knows that he won’t be accepted by his community.

This intimate portrait dives deep into the landscape of Samuel and his boyfriend Alex’s life, alongside their friends and family members. We are first introduced to Samuel through a narration, him telling us how director of the documentary, Peter Murimi, said that his story should be told. I always think films that look at this situation can be difficult to watch, knowing how different people and cultures take things on in many ways, whether that is to love and learn, or to leave and abandon. I’m glad that Samuel was able to tell his own story, rather than rely on flashy camera tricks or OTT fictional writing. To know the truth of this story was kept, whether happy or sad, really did mean something to me.

I know how hard it can be to feel one way when society is telling you that another is right, however where I live and the family that I have are very accepting. To know and continue learning about people and places who aren’t is so important to me. We have months of pride and celebrations of love, but what if that doesn’t help you at all, and instead it hinders. I really appreciated seeing the real Nigerian queer scene, especially in documentary format. This way we could really learn about the people there and what they go through.

The flow of the film felt good, and not too long either, which I feel can be the downfall for some documentaries. I was able to feel part of the community, with the handheld camera and tight shots, really pulling me into the action. I think the style of filmmaking that this film used was clever, linking to the lives of the people we saw and the places they live. Alongside this we had a beautiful music score, really creating this vivid picture for us and seeing into Samuel’s life.

I think it would’ve been nice to include date stamps throughout, to solidify the changes in time, as for me, I wasn’t always sure if 20 minutes or 20 months had passed, but if you’re looking to learn more about queer communities in other countries and cultures, I really recommend this. To show the war between duty to family and dreams of a future of his choice, I Am Samuel has really done well to show love, but also the fight that people face every day to have it.

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