5 Questions for a Filmmaker: Jim Chuchu

The Nairobi-based filmmaker and musician aims to bring stories, pictures and sound together to create something immutable on the screen.

A still from Jim Chuchu's "Pagans" (2013).

Hyper-creative visual artist, filmmaker Jim Chuchu lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was born in 1982 and lived since.  He is the Creative Director at the NEST– a multidisciplinary art space – and a member of the ten people strong collective. Jim is also a singer-songwriter and former member of the group Just a band. Chuchu, who has directed short films – among them two fashion films and one of the African Metropolis Project films – is currently working on his first solo exhibition of images and video works, scheduled for May this year. With the NEST, he is working on the “Stories of Our Lives” book, to be released in March. The film “Stories of Our Lives” has been selected to the Panorama-section of Berlinale, and is screening four times between February 8 and 14 (see the schedule here).

What is your first film memory?

I remember watching a cartoon in a film theater sometime in the 80s. I can’t remember what it was called, but it involved tails and mice, and I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing. I was too little to sit properly on the folding theater seat, I kept falling through the gap in the back and my mother had to pull me out several times.

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I was an escapist child, who spent a lot of time in the imaginary. Filmmaking seems to me to be the adult version of the games I used to play when I was a child. Bringing my family at the NEST, stories, pictures and sound together to create something immutable. Lately, I’m starting to discover that film has the capacity to dissect and soften those many, unyielding and convoluted castles of privilege and nonsense that one encounters in the universe of Being Black, and Being African, and Being Different. It’s a capacity that I was only dimly aware of until now, and I am relishing the opportunity to explore it.

Which film do you wish you had made and why?

Kim Ki-duk’s3-Iron,” an almost silent film featuring lovers who never speak to each other, mysterious and ambitious, and that deliciously unaffected sleight-of-hand at the end. Breathtaking! When I grow up, I want to make films that are as simple and confident as this.

Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.

I’d always been interested in the story of the Zambia Space Program, and the way those guys were and still are ridiculed. That story was, for me, more evidence of how little room there is for contemporary African dreamers, how pervasive the idea that Science does not (and cannot) belong to Africans and how much fantasy and the unknown are derided as being useless and dangerous for and by the continent.

I heard about Frances Bodomo’s “Afronauts” and waited years (years!) to see it. Because of the way African films work these days, where you’re more likely to see them in Europe than in Africa (sigh), I finally got to see it in Sweden, and it was worth the wait. I haven’t seen anything so spectacular and awe-inspiring, I haven’t seen black bodies move with such grace. My heart was beating fast throughout its 14-minute run-time. This is what film can do; demonstrate the truth of things that are beyond the boundaries we place on black bodies and minds. I met her afterwards and had such a fan-boy moment, rendered absolutely mute!

Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.

What has the little voice inside your head been saying lately? Stop resisting chocolate.

Further Reading

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Āfrīqāyī

It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.