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STORIES OF OUR LIVES - TIFF

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Touchwood PR was brought on to represent the film Stories of Our Lives at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. The film, an anthology of five short films that dramatize true-life stories from Kenya's, LGBTQ community, had its world premiere in the Discovery Program.

STORIES OF OUR LIVES - TIFF

Given that homosexuality is a criminal offense in Kenya with a maximum of 14 years in prison, the film presented a unique challenge: what was embraced here in Toronto may not be acceptable once the filmmakers returned home. Jim Chuchu, Njoki Ngumi and George Gacahra, members of the NEST Collective, were risking their lives to tell their story. Originally, they had decided to premiere the film anonymously to protect their identities, but at the 11th hour, before arriving in Toronto, they courageously decided to reveal themselves at the festival.

We worked very closely with the NEST Collective to ensure that while we secured media coverage for the film we were also respecting the risks involved in their decision to fight openly for LGBT rights.

STRATEGY AND TACTICS:

The film was a sales title at the festival so it was important to build as much as buzz around the screenings as possible. The challenge with non high-profile films like Stories of Our Lives at a large film festival is that they tend to get lost in the shuffle with media focusing mostly on celebrities and large scale films. With that in mind, we targeted LGBT and news media in addition to entertainment press.

To garner awareness of the film among media we circulated a screener link to outlets we hoped would review the film, but to make a big impact we leveraged the announcement of the filmmaker’s identities. The story was offered as an exclusive to Variety with the piece timed to run in conjunction of the film’s world premiere. The day that piece hit we traveled the filmmakers to as many in-studio TV, radio and online interviews as possible covering outlets such as CBC’s The National, CTV News, Vice Magazine, Xtra, Proud FM and Kiss 92.5.

Our first meeting with the young filmmakers from Kenya brought up a lot of questions. Did they understand that the media done at TIFF would be seen back home?  Were they prepared for the consequences when they returned to Kenya? Were they ready to come out as gay themselves? Ultimately, did they understand that their lives would continue long after the film had premiered at TIFF?

Navigating the comfort level of the filmmakers and providing them with guidance was the most important part of working on this film.

RESULTS:

Through the media coverage garnered at TIFF, Stories Of Our Lives received international attention. The interview with CBC’s The National was viewed across Kenya. Upon returning home the NEST Collective received a letter from the Kenya Film Classification Board banning the film from being screened, sold or distributed in Kenya because of scenes that “promote homosexuality”. This news prompted Canadian and international media to come out in support of the NEST with follow up stories that generated more awareness of the film. Following that, executive producer George Gachara was arrested for allegedly violating Film and Stage Plays Act, but the charges were subsequently dropped.

Stories Of Our Lives went on to be selected for the Berlinale Panorama where it took home the Teddy Award and came second in the Panorama Audience Award.

In the end, the work we did on this film was about more than generating media impressions. For us, our focus and intent was to allow the filmmakers to embrace their identities and give them a platform where they could give a voice to the systematically and culturally marginalized LGBT population in their country.