Scottish filmmaker’s documentary on Kenya’s transgender and intersex community

Sydney & Friends – Scottish Filmmaker launches feature documentary

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A guerilla documentary by an award-winning Scottish filmmaker reveals, for the first time, the reality of growing up and living as an intersex or transgender person in one of the most conservative and intolerant regions in the world.

The distance between the homes of filmmaker Tristan Aitchison (on The Black Isle near Inverness) and the subjects of this documentary could not be greater, but in Sidney & Friends: Kenya’s Hidden Transgender and IntersexCommunity, Aitchison has captured some of the most in-depth and personal interviews ever filmed with transgender and intersex Africans.

Gender equality is also the subject of recent Golden Globe-winning US TV series Transparent, which won awards for the show itself and lead actor Jeffrey Tambor. The John Oliver Show also addressed this subject head on during its debut season on HBO, with an interview with Ugandan LGBT activist Pepe Julian Onziema.

Sidney & Friends filmmaker Aitchison, who won an award for his 2014 debut Care (a provocative short film about the elderly, with official selections in 14 international film festivals) explains: “I didn’t set out to make this film when I travelled to Kenya in 2013, but by chance, I met someone.

“What I didn’t know at the time is the inadvertent meeting would change the next two years of my life. I met Guillit, a transboy who wanted to be heard. He told me other members  of the transgender and intersex community, living on the edge of society, wanted to speak out too.

“I was welcomed into the small community where other filmmakers and journalists had been refused access. Over a two-month period, I got to know six members of this community. Despite the risks, all were determined to tell their story.

“Some interviews were incredibly difficult. Our contributors have suffered traumatic life events and there were a number of times I had chills at what I was being told. Sidney recalls one occasion he was being beaten by a group with clubs and sticks while his mother just stood and watched.

“He also told me about an incident where he was beaten, stripped, and left for dead in the street by a gang. A kind doctor paid for a motorcycle taxi to take him home. When the driver dropped him off, Sidney’s father turned to the driver and said, ‘If she is not dead, take her away, because I have already started digging her grave.’”

The documentary features a series of revealing interviews with six members of the intersex and transgender community of Nairobi, including Sidney who, 22 years ago, was born as Beatrice to a family in rural western Kenya.

Beatrice didn’t like wearing skirts or doing chores that girls are traditionally supposed to do, preferring herding cattle and playing football. Growing up, Beatrice found that these differences increasingly made her stand out in the community, a source of concern to family members that manifested itself into chastisement, castigation, and hate.

When Beatrice fled and changed his name to Sidney, he was forced from slum to slum, stripped in public and beaten. When he eventually met other intersex and transgender Kenyans, for the first time, Sidney no longer felt isolated.

Sidney & Friends, which to date has been made for around only £700, features striking scenes of everyday life shot with vintage East German and Soviet lenses, as well as black and white analogue stills photography.

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The documentary has attracted a very experienced post-production team including: James Bellamy, winner of a MPSE Golden Reel as music editor of Les Misérables; Paul Dunkley who designed the titles and indents for 2014 BAFTAs;  producer and composer Paul Terry; and vocalist Silas Miami, one of Kenya’s rising stars in the South African and the East African music scenes.

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With this post-production team poised to complete the film, all that remains is to achieve the modest goal of raising less than £10,000 which has been set for a crowd-funding campaign.

To ensure that this vital post-production stage is completed to exacting standards, a 30-day Kickstarter campaign was launched on January 30, 2015. The funding method of Kickstarter means that if the funding goal is not reached they receive nothing and the project will stall. The Kickstarter campaign is now live (weblink lower down).

Aitchison explains, “Backing the film is not a donation. You can receive the competed film, its soundtrack, limited edition darkroom prints of stills from the film, your name in the end credits, and even an Associate Producer title.”

The film is being supported by ScreenHI and XpoNorth. Amanda Millen, Director of XpoNorth enthuses, “We have been working closely with Tristan for the past four years, firstly on his award-winning short film Care, and now with Sidney & Friends. XpoNorth nurtures and showcases emerging talent from across the world.

“We are proud of what Tristan has achieved so far and we are really excited that this internationally important film highlights the creativity we have within the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.”

 Bisi Alimi, the world-renowned LGBTI advocate says Sidney & Friendsis “very powerful and like nothing ever seen before from the African continent.” Willis Austin Chimano from Sauti Sol, winner of MTV Europe’s Best African Act says, “Everyone is on their own journey and no society has the right to deny someone’s destiny. We are all looking for one thing, happiness, and this film is part of that journey.”

Sidney & Friends is also part of the Scottish independent film movement Tartan Features.

• Downloadable images (password: rafiki) http://www.blanchesnickelodeon.com/sidney-friends-image-bank/

• Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/588010714/sidney-and-friends-kenyas-trans-and-intersex-commu

CONFIRMED SIDNEY & FRIENDS CREW:

TRISTAN MG AITCHISON (Writer, Director, Editor)

Shortlisted for the John Braborne Big 5 Comedy Award in 2011, Tristan has since worked with BAFTA awardwinning director Marcus DF White developing television series. In 2012, he directed his debut award-winning short Care. Tristan was trained in Social Work and has a post-graduate qualification in screenwriting from Screen Academy Scotland.

 PAUL TERRY (Composer, Executive Producer)

Paul has produced and scored independent films for 15 years, including the 14-time award-winning The Furred Man,and Raindance Festival award-nominated drama Emily, starring Felicity Jones and Christopher Eccleston. His five solo records under the moniker of Cellarscape include the acclaimed The Act of Letting Go.

JAMES BELLAMY (Music Editor)

James won a MPSE Golden Reel as the music editor of Les Misérables. His other 60+ credits include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Submarine, The Double, and Filth.

PAUL DUNKLEY (Titles Designer)

Paul designed the titles and indents for 2014 BAFTAs, and has also produced motion graphics and titles for MTV, ESPN, Channel 4, E4, ITN, and Discovery Channel.

SILAS MIAMI (Contributing Vocalist)

Silas Miami is one of Kenya’s rising stars in the South African and the East African music scenes.

 MATT WILLIS-JONES (Colourist)

Matt is an experienced colourist working for Norwegian television as well as feature films and shorts.

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