Filmmaker Amirah Tajdin and her producer sister Wafa Tajdin are currently working on their first feature, titled “Walls of Leila,” and are running a Kickstarter campaign to help launch their production. For two young, clearly talented filmmakers, this is a film project worth backing. You can visit their kickstarter page here. The film is described as “… a love story set in Cape Town South Africa that chronicles the life of Leila, a young Cape Malay girl who falls in love with an American boy, Derek, who happens to be black. When the intricacies and prejudices of race and religion (which are still very prominent in postcolonial Cape Town) throw Leila off balance, she finds herself forced to make difficult decisions as well as questioning her own degree of prejudice. She is ultimately caught between breaking the hearts of her family and/or her lover.” The trailer reminds me a bit of what Andrew Dosunmu visually achieved with “Restless City”.
We get a sense of the Tajdin sisters’ talent in another short they made as part of the CollabFeature Project, a brilliant initiative that brings independent filmmakers from all around the world to collaborate on multi-director feature films. Tajdin’s contribution to the feature, ‘Train Station’ (working title), where 40 filmmakers in over 26 countries submit their section of the story (filmed in different international cities), is set in Nairobi. A lithe, majestic drag queen sits in Nairobi’s train station, perfectly framed by the station signs behind. Rusty, worn colors and once imperial gold-painted signage remind of the colonial times past; few places in downtown Nairobi retain the withered gleam of colonial architecture so much as Nairobi station, that’s remained nearly unchanged save for its inevitably dusted decay. Perhaps then, it’s truly the perfect setting for this drag queens poetic breakdown.
Sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette, the film witnesses the drag queen’s poetic pandemonium; both self and body are stuck in the railway station’s no man’s land; “I’m stuck between where I’m supposed to be and where I am” — both a lament on his/her body, and a literal comment on the act of waiting at a train station, and the self-reflection waiting induces. Amirah Tajdin deftly melds the now iconic familiarity of Nairobi station, with the odd-beauty of the drag queen, playing on the expected and unexpected.
In Swahili, a woman observing the drag queen’s breakdown leans over and says, “whoever he is, he’s not worth your tears”. And again, in just 8 short minutes, Tajdin plays on our preconception of Kenyan prejudices toward homosexuality. It’s very well made, and the visuals often carry the short narrative along, particularly when the drag queen’s anguished soliloquy tends toward confusion.