For filmmaker Eliaichi Kimaro, what began as an attempt to capture her cultural heritage in Tanzania grew into an acclaimed documentary that altered her perspective in ways she had never imagined. During the week of Oct. 14, she shared that experience with Knox.
“A Lot Like You: The Culture We Inherit & the Legacy We Choose” was screened on Sunday, followed by an encore showing on Wednesday. And on Thursday, Kimaro herself arrived to share her personal story and took questions from the audience in Ferris Lounge at 6:30 p.m.
Born to a Tanzanian father and Korean mother and in an interracial marriage of her own, it dawned on Kimaro that it was up to her to pass on her family’s cultural experience to her future children.
She grew up surrounded by her Korean family and culture in the states, but visited her father’s native homeland every other summer as a child. Though she was connected with her father’s family’s land near Mt. Kilimanjaro, her Tanzanian relatives were another story.
So she and her husband, amateur filmmakers with little prior experience, set off.
As she assured her Knox audience, she was here speaking because she “just happen[ed] to have made a movie,” one intended to be part home video, part attempt at capturing Chaga culture.
“The film that I set out to make, I wasn’t in at all,” Kimaro said. It was about her dad and the struggle that immigrants face leaving as well as returning to their homeland.
She had set out to capture a “robust, thriving culture” but “didn’t actually get anything honest or real and part of it was because of my own expectations of what I would find…I was just an American with a camera.”
The turning point came when she began to talk to her father, his siblings and other elders. With the camera between them, her aunts began to share stories of their lives that they had never even shared with each other — of traumas like non-consensual marriages and genital mutilation.
Rather than increase the cross-cultural divide, they opened up with the camera between them. It facilitated dialogue that had not been possible ever before. Their stories rendered her speechless and connected to her own work and experience back home “in a very personal and deep way.”
“All I could do was bear silent witness…all I could do was create a space where they [could] share their stories” she said.
But discovering the heart of her story was “devastating.”
For seven years, Kimaro tried to get the footage to tell her father’s story and “the journey from ‘Worlds Apart’ [the original title] to ‘A Lot Like You’ happened in that eighth and final year.”
She realized that if she was going to do their story justice, she had to tell her own.
“The only story I was qualified to tell was my own — why I went on the journey, what I found there,” she said.
And facing an intimate audience of 15 or so in Ferris Lounge, that was what she did.
Directer of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez, who brought Kimaro here, was thinking about the student populations and the conversations in which they engage when she asked her to come.
She felt Kimaro’s experience suited the Knox community “because her story crosses so many different perspectives” and that it was “timely” for the intergroup dialogues on race issues that Certvantez is starting here.
On Thursday evening, Kimaro’s cultural and personal stories also stood out to freshman Anastasia Gamble.
“It was something different and it explained a lot. She shared this as a part of herself so that others could understand her story, who she really is,” Gamble said.