Meet the programmer: Wema Mumma

Introducing our new BFI Flare programmer, her taste in films and what she hopes to bring to the festival.

27 February 2023

Wema Mumma

When did you first become aware of BFI Flare?

I studied at the University of Warwick in the academic year 2021 to 2022, and one of the modules I did during my master’s programme was film cultures. I learned all about the distribution circuit, which included the BFI. At the time, I was also designing a module on queer African cinema, and one of the films I wanted to watch was Dakan (1997), but I couldn’t find it anywhere online. Months later, my lecturer informed me the film was showing at Flare, and this was the first time I attended the festival. It was also my first time seeing a queer African film on the big screen.

Dakan (1997)

What is it that makes BFI Flare special for you?

Having only been aware of the festival for a year, both in front of the screen as an audience member and behind the scenes as a programmer, it’s apparent to me that Flare takes inclusivity seriously. The festival strives to include everyone of every nationality, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, which is what makes it such a comfortable space for me to exist in.

Why were you keen to be part of the programme team?

When I saw the ad online to join the team, I almost didn’t apply – I barely had any experience in festival programming. However, the opportunity to surround myself with queer cinema and work on a team of queer people was too good to pass up. Luckily, the team gave me a chance and took me on as an assistant programmer. The growth and experience have been immeasurable.

Have you previously been involved in any other film festivals? Or had other experiences of programming films?

I have never been involved in a professional film festival, except in a volunteering capacity. However, I did get the opportunity to curate my own film festival through a university assignment. My project was a virtual queer African festival, and its focus was accessibility; I know what it’s like not to be able to legally watch queer films in your country, so I designed a festival that would bypass this – partly inspired by Flare and the British Council’s #FiveFilmsForFreedom initiative.

What do you bring to the programming mix?

My goal has been to put more queer Africans on screen and highlight asexual cinema as well. I am glad to say that we have representation of both this year. I was also really interested in the stories of queer elders, which are rare in my own community, and I’ve been able to explore and share this through a shorts programme I curated that highlights elderly LGBTQIA+ people around the world.

Rafiki (2018)

What are some of your favourite queer films, and who are your favourite queer filmmakers working today and why?

I don’t think I have discovered all my favourite queer films yet (some of them are in the 2023 Flare programme). So, I’ll just go for queer firsts. Tangerine (2015) – the first film I saw that featured Black trans women; Watermelon Woman (1996) – the first film I saw that was written and directed by a Black lesbian; But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) – my first queer teen romcom; and Rafiki (2018) – my first gay Kenyan film.

One of my favourite queer filmmakers and all-round creatives is Jim Chuchu. I deeply resonated with his feature film Stories of Our Lives (2014) – an anthology of short stories that captures the lives of various queer Kenyans. He continues to explore sexuality in his works and boldly exhibits it in African spaces, despite the danger.

What would you like to see more of in queer cinema?

I may sound like a broken record saying this, but Africans. I just want to see queer Africans in all our courage – and joy. There are many who’d prefer that queer Africans remain hidden. I’d also love to see more asexual and aromantic people on screen. Basically, I’d like to see even more diverse representation.

Wema Mumma is from Nairobi, Kenya. She has just started her journey in the world of filmmaking. She also works as a writer and event manager. She hopes to create more inclusivity through her work in the creative industries.

BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival runs 15 to 26 March 2023.

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