This review was originally published at www.tikkun.org
by Wendy Elisheva Somerson, | Tikkun | Sep. 8, 2011
When I saw Eliaichi Kimaro’s documentary A Lot Like You premierat the Seattle International Film Festival this year, one of my first responses to this moving and complex film was to recognize it as a model for a personal and family accountability process. Having just finished reviewing The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities for Bitch magazine, I was interested in seeing more concrete examples of community accountability, which Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha define as “any strategy to address violence, abuse or harm that creates safety, justice, reparations, and healing without relying on police, prisons, childhood protective services, or any other state systems.” A Lot Like You brings to life the complicated, messy, beautiful, and liberatory process of addressing harm and seeking healing within a family context.
To discuss the process of creating her film, I sought out Kimaro, a Seattle filmmaker and activist, and was excited to learn that she too sees her film as capturing the beginning of a family accountability process. The film was originally titled Worlds Apart, and its change to A Lot Like You reflects the journey that Kimaro embarked upon while creating this documentary about her relationship to her father’s side of the family—the Chagga tribe in Tanzania who live on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The first cut of the film emphasized the cultural differences of her family that “spans many different bridges, continents, and worlds,” but the final version emphasizes Kimaro’s discovery of her connection with her Chagga relatives.
After growing up in Tanzania, her father Sadikiel Kimaro earned a scholarship to pursue his Ph.D. in economics in the United States where he met his wife, Young, a student from Korea. He spent the next forty years or so working for the IMF, while his wife worked at the World Bank, and they raised Eliaichi and her brother in a suburb of Washington, DC. After her parents retire to Tanzania, Eliaichi and her partner Tom decide to join them with the intention of filming for nine months, partly because the filmmaker feels only a “hazy connection” to her Tanzanian family in spite of having spent every other summer there as a kid.
Setting out to portray “culture” in Tanzania, they interview members of Kimaro’s family and film different aspects of Chagga life, but often bump into cultural disconnect and miscommunication. In the film’s voiceover narration, Kimaro describes how “everyone around us performed their version of Chagga culture, one they thought that I, as a tourist, wanted to see.” The first cut of the film was focused on the filmmaker’s father’s story, but included interviews with her two aunts who describe, in brutal detail, how their marriage rituals involved violence. Her aunts did not know that Kimaro herself was also a survivor of sexual abuse.
When Kimaro and her partner screened Worlds Apart to a Seattle test audience in September 2009, they thought they were just about done with the film they’d been working on for the past seven years. They focused on perfecting details such as the film’s soundtrack and subtitles, yet Kimaro describes “feeling nothing” when she watched the screening. A local filmmaker took her aside and told her that she had made a “nice” film, but if she didn’t step towards her aunts’ stories, then she was doing them a disservice and being complicit in the silence that had kept them quiet about their experiences for most of their lives. He suggested that she ask her parents if they knew how her aunts got married.
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