The Pearl of Africa Interview Series, Part I: Interview with the Filmmaker

Posted on Apr 14, 2014 in Behind The Scenes
The Pearl of Africa Interview Series, Part I: Interview with the Filmmaker
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Today begins a series of interviews with people from the International LGBTI and Transgender communities, from Uganda to the United States, from activists, authors and other individuals concerned  about the civil and human rights, the politics and everyday lifestyles of LGBTI people around the world.

Filmmaker Jonny von Wallström who produced the movie Zero Silence, is working on a film about a transgender woman in Uganda, called The Pearl of Africa. She will be the first trans woman to openly transition in Uganda. Jonny hopes to tell her story as well as to produce companion educational materials to help with the fight for LGBTI rights in Uganda.

To start off I asked director-filmmaker Jonny von Wallström some questions, which will be running all week, about how he came to be making a film about a trans woman in Africa and his hopes for his upcoming feature length film ‘The Pearl of Uganda.’ 

Q: Jonny, so how did you end up in Uganda? 

JONNY: About 10 years ago I did music videos ( for a partly Ugandan group called Swahili Nation, which had a huge success in Eastern Africa. It wasn’t one of my greatest moments in filmmaking but it did open my eyes to Uganda and especially the music, which I’ve come to love: Navio, Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, Mathias Walukaga, Herman Basudde, Papa Cidy…  I’m a huge fan of Jose Chameleone who is one of Uganda’s biggest artists and coming out from film school I made a video for Swahili Nation, featuring Jose Chameleone. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to come to Sweden because of issues with his visa, so the video was made without him.

At the time I thought it was quite funny because hip-hop is such a strong macho culture and there’s a huge fear of gays, in this Ugandan hip-hop context this was even more so. Growing up in Sweden where being gay is very common and accepted in many places I always liked teasing them about this, being a bit too touchy and so on. At that time I didn’t realise how bad the situation actually was in Uganda, but because I’ve been aware of the situation and knew of the Anti-Homosexuality bill when it was introduced in 2009, which planted a seed that I should do a film on the subject.

Since then I’ve been very interested in Uganda. The people are fantastic and very welcoming. The landscape and diversity in the country is amazing, I love how quickly Kampala changes from a big city to wilderness in 10 minutes. One of my favorite things is that the country hasn’t yet been destroyed by too many modernizations.

It took some time to find a unique story in Uganda and before this project I had time to make Zero Silence, but then one day I read a story about two Ugandan men who fled Uganda, only to find each other once again by chance in Sweden, they we’re at the time struggling to stay in Sweden and got married. A marriage that made the international news big-time. But that story had already happened so it didn’t work out in the end. Instead I took my equipment and went to Kampala to search for a strong character who wanted people to know about his or her story. This is when I met Cleo who is such a fantastic woman, she’s been through so much and still she has the courage to transition out in the open.


Thank you, Jonny.  Tomorrow we’ll hear more about how Jonny met Cleo.

 Be sure to check back throughout the week and in weeks to come to follow the interviews. We welcome your questions and comments. If you appreciate this content please like and share this post with your friends.


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