By: Geofrey Phutietsile 

It is perhaps very fitting that it was the godfather of theatre, William Shakespeare, who reimagined human life as a play where “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” And just as any players in theatre, we derive a sense of purpose from an audience of some sort. So it would appear that a big part of life concerns itself with sharing our experience of life with others, mostly through the art and the process of storytelling. It is certainly the case that numerous civilisations have for a very long time sought diverse ways to communicate their stories with one another. This can be seen in the ubiquity of rock paintings across the globe, from the early bronze age Sumerians to the San people of the Kalahari, a sign of humanity’s deep need to express itself to one another.

One could agree that filmmaking is but an extension of these ancient forms self-expression, with the added help of colour, sound and moving pictures to capture and tell a story more powerfully and accurately. And what usually makes for a great film experience is seeing one’s own life, or a resemblance of it being played out by others, something suggesting a shared experience, common ground, which is perhaps the cement that binds a community. Thus in a society where the film culture fails to capture the lives of a niche group, the marginalised individuals of these groups are more likely to feel disconnected and uninvited to the communal dialogue. Feeling alienated, they are more likely to withdraw themselves from the community, further eroding any sense of belonging. It is therefore no surprise that a lot of research suggests that individuals from groups that are not only marginalised but publicly looked down upon by the surrounding society, are more times likely to be withdrawn and fall victim to mental health issues such as depression, all stemming from feeling disowned and unwelcomed in their own societies.

Queer film production and celebration is therefore an attempt by the LGBTI community to seize this powerful medium of storytelling to support LGBTI individuals on an emotional and spiritual level, aspects that all will probably agree transcend means of nurture. To foster pride in one’s identity, a strong sense of belonging and acceptance, and in good time; a space for unbridled self-expression, which so happens to be one of the rights supported by the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. After all, it usually tends to be the desperate need of a group of LGBTI people to see positive depictions of themselves on film that spurs them into taking the helm of content creation.

Film as a medium of storytelling is also so versatile as to succeed in encouraging a kind of emotional development in the earnest audience, such as the growth of empathy among others, which so happens to be an emotional skill that thrives under constant self-reflection. Thus, as the film allows the audience to walk a mile or two in the protagonist’s shoes, doors that would normally be kept shut are opened and barriers of ignorance that spawn all kinds of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are finally brought to light and dealt with.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~ Marie Curie

And it is thus that LGBTI communities across the globe have seized this medium of film to strengthen pride in one’s identity and foster a sense of belonging that is enjoyed by all the other more mainstream communities.

African LGBT film festivals have gone from just telling the world that “we exist” to owning up spaces like any other community. Even today, large swaths of the worlds LGBTI community still find themselves smitten to living under governments that sometimes make mere existence an unbearable

ordeal. A case in point is the Ugandan LGBT community who had a lot of resistance in running their Queer Kampala International Film Festival with a police raids shamelessly shutting down the event on grounds that where later discredited. Such pernicious harassment by the police unfortunately remains a day to day norm for many LGBT communities in African countries, and quite frankly, the diaspora. But despite such blatant forms of discrimination and abuse that casts a dark shadow, the resilience of the human spirit once again never ceases to meet tyranny at its level, with organisers of the Queer Kampala International Queer Film Festival determined to reschedule the screening of the festival’s films; following the fact that it still remained that they had acted within the laws as well as within their rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

More beacons of the hope for change abound on the African continent. With countries like South Africa having very comprehensive Human Rights legislature that are inclusive of the LGBT community among other minorities. Boasting a mature 21-year-old Queer film festival – Out in Africa that has supported South Africa’s and the rest of Africa’s Queer community for decades. Botswana can also be proud of its very own queer film festival, thus, the Batho Ba Lorato Film Festival which is due to run its 6th annual festivities this February 2018. The festival, run by local LGBT human rights group LEGABIBO, is one of the numerous driving forces of change in the community that give rise to more public living space for LGBTI people in the nation, making it possible for greater levels of self-expression and the enjoyment of the profound right and civil liberty to assemble and associate with kindred people. And thus “Batho Ba Lorato” not only brings Batswana persons to commune with the queer community in their neighbourhood; but brings them up onto a global forum for dialogue, bringing them close to that experience that has for so long been thought reserved for the deeply pious and religious, that feeling of belonging to a part of something bigger that one’s own life.

The 6th annual Batho Ba Lorato Film Festival is proudly supported by the Goethe – Institut South Africa, and will run from 22 – 24 February 2018 at New Capitol Cinema in Gaborone.

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