How loud, provocative and risk-taking must art be to trigger change? A restless film about queer artists, performers and visual activists who raise their voices in some of the world’s most homophobic places.
Because of who I am tells the story of Nils and Benjamin, two filmmakers from Berlin and former lovers, on a journey through a divided world. While half the world is leaping forward, and is even including LGBT rights in their foreign policies, many countries are fighting whenever possible against the very existence of gay women and men. The filmmakers present snapshots of queer realities through an artistic perspective, raising the question to what extent art can be an advocate for change and, ultimately, freedom.
About the Film
Why do we need to define sexual identity? Why is coming-out still a political act? What are the global mechanisms that feed hate and anger towards LGBTIQ people? What, ultimately, does human freedom mean today? Because of who I am is a journey of two filmmakers who try to capture the schizophrenic atmosphere of today’s world towards lesbians, gays and trans people. Beginning their journey in an allegedly free Western environment, the one in which Nils and Benjamin grew up, the film will then approach artists, in exile, who confront the world with atrocities occurring in their home countries.
One such artist is London-based Mojisola Adebayo, who deals, through the medium of theatre and dance, with the issue of corrective rape of lesbians in Nigeria. Abdellah Taïa, Moroccan writer was forced to escape to Paris after his coming out at home. The filmmakers will accompany these artists through the process of creation and performance to understand how their personal stories inform their works. How would their creations unfold at home? What impact can they have in a globalized world?
These encounters push Benjamin and Nils to embark on a journey around the world to visit artists in countries where LGBTIQ life is hunted down, forbidden, or reduced to secrecy and shame: from Moscow to Capetown, from Beirut to Berlin, from Paris to Los Angeles and London. These are some of the destinations where the filmmakers will meet local artists and visual activists, who risk their lives and careers in order to make a statement about the repressive reality in which they live. Benyamin Reich grew up in an ultraorthodox Jewish family, his father being the communities Rabi. Since a couple of years he lives with his Jewish boyfriend in Berlin and explores the borders between spirituality and sexuality in his artworks. Hamed Sinno openly sings about his love to a man, as lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, one of the most successful rock bands in the Middle East. To what extend can art protect its creators from surrounding aggression? How can such an environment become a source of inspiration? During the journey, and through their many encounters, the private history of Benjamin and Nils will become more and more transparent. Their former relationship has been shaped by the liberal atmosphere and social dynamics of Europe, and will contrast with the lack of freedom they find in so many other places in the world. Yet, Nils and Benjamin look forward to challenges, in direct discussions with the artists, to overcome their own misconceptions. In the end, it is all about building bridges. Through this personal perspective, the film reveals the impact of art, as it directly affects reality.
Is a British born, Nigerian / Danish performer, playwright, director and teacher. Her wide and diverse work has ranged from being an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company to co-founding VIDYA, a slum dweller’s theatre company in Ahmedabad, India. I Stand Corrected, created with Mamela Nyamza, premiered in Cape Town in August 2012 is an artistic response to gender/sexual violence (corrective rape), homophobic and transphobic discrimination.
Is an Israeli photographer, currently living in Berlin. Reich’s father is an ultra-orthodoxer Chassidic rabbi from Jerusalem. The pictures Reich creates are challening orthodoxy and his father’s position as religious leader, by openly showing male nude beauty within Jewish religous context.
Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev_Moscov/Russia
Are the co-directors of the award winning documentary CHILDREN 404, about the mainly invisible LGBT children and teenagers in todays Russia. Since President Putin’s bill forbidding the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” LGBT youth, now defenseless against insults and intimidation under this “gay propaganda” law, are considered sick, sinful and abnormal. After finishing the production, Kurov and Pavel, realized that it is time to out themselves and since then continue making critical political documentaries.
Mamela Nyamza_Cape Town/South Africa
Is a multi award winning choreographer, dancer, performer and activist from South Africa. Along with Mojisola Adebajo she is the co-creator of I STAND CORRECTED about corrective rape of Lesbians in South Africa. Nyamza’s abstract dance style allows her to use dance as a way to share both her own personal stories as well as African stories with the world. She lives with her wife and teenage son in Cape Town.
Is an openly gay novelist, journalist and filmmaker, who has chosen to live in the Parisian exile since 1999. Since his outing he had to face massive hostility in his home, as a gay Muslim. His debutfilm L’armée du salut was based on his novel and premiered on the Venice Film Festival in 2013.
MASHROU’ LEILA _ BEIRUT/LEBANON
مشروع ليلى is an emerging young music band, with lead singer Hamed Sinno, who is openly gay. Their lirics adress controversial issues within Lebanese society and often are driven by very personal stories, such as the song Shim El Yasmine, in which Sinno sings about his love for his ex-boyfriend.
The band is often quoted as the music of the Arab Spring.
Dustin Lance Black_Los Angeles/USA
Is an American screenwriter, director, film and television producer and LGBT rights activist. He has won an Academy Award for the 2008 film Milk. Growing up surrounded by Mormon culture and military bases, Black worried about his sexuality. He says that his “acute awareness” of his sexuality made him dark, shy and at times suicidal. He came out in his senior year of college and today belongs to one of the most influential out persons in the US creative industry.
BENJAMIN CANTU (1978) grew up in Berlin and Budapest. After his BA in Animation he continued with directing studies at the dffb (Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin). During his studies Benjamin directed one-off documentaries for Arte and 3sat, mostly in cooperation with Nils Bökamp. Harvest marks Benjamin’s debut as a feature film director in 2011. The film is a hybrid of documentary and fiction film making, involving over 30 non-professional actors. The film was premiered on the 61st Berlinale, and screened in over 30 film festival with an ensuing worldwide distribution.
Filmography as Director (selection):
2012 „The Berlin Patient“ documentary, 52 min., RBB, Arte, YELE (Finnaland), ORF (Austria), winner of the media prize of the German AIDS foundation
2011 „Stadt Land Fluss“ (Harvest) feature for cinema, 85 min., distributed by Edition Salzgeber
Festivals 2011 (selection): Berlinale Generation 14Plus, Viennale, Outfest (L.A.), Motovun (Croatia)
NILS BÖKAMP (1977) is working as a producer and director for documentaries and fiction films since 2007. He is one of the CEOs of Boekamp & Kriegsheim GmbH and Supermarket Medien GmbH. His films have been produced with international partners, screened and awarded in Cannes, Berlinale, Amsterdam and other international festivals. He has been working with Benjamin Cantu on all his previous films, since they were both studying at the dffb (Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin).
Filmography as Director (selection):
2014 “YOU & I” feature for cinema, distributed by Edition Salzgeber
2011 “Freedom or Security” documentary, 75min, ZDF / Arte
2011 “Dreamfactory Kabul” as producer and author, directed by Sebastian Heidinger, cinema release, ZDF
Festival: Berlinale 2011, Forum