Creating something immutable

The film curator and writer Katarina Hedren has five questions for the Nairobi-based filmmaker and musician, Jim Chuchu, about his craft.

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 has 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).

1) 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.

2) 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.

A still from “Homecoming” (2013) by Jim Chuchu.

3) 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.

4) 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!

5) 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

The skeleton in the closet

The novelist Nadifa Mohamed complicates Britain’s troubled, racist legal history through the personal tale of one otherwise insignificant person, a Somali immigrant to Cardiff in Wales.

Life to the sound of gunfire

Nigerians fleeing extremist violence at home take refuge across the border in Niger among an already fragile population. Together they proceed to carve out a way to live better lives for now.

Democraticizing money

Cameroonian economist Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi died in 1984, either poisoned or by suicide. His ideas about the international monetary system and the CFA franc are worth revisiting.