top of page

Above the Troubled Water

Virtual Q&A for the Portraits of Us program: 9/26 (Mon) 8PM EDT
Virtual streaming available in the U.S. from 9/16 12:00 AM EDT - 9/29 11:59 PM EDT

Not sure what tickets/passes to get? Check our Festival Pass page.


Dir. by Joe Cohen
UK, USA | 2021 | Documentary | 38 min

Three gay friends from Nigeria are forced to flee their country. Above the Troubled Water follows their stories as they adjust to life in exile. We are introduced to Bisi, who put his life on the line when he came out, during a live interview on the popular Nigerian television show ‘New Dawn’, becoming the first and only Nigerian to come out publicly on national television. After enduring violent attacks, he fled to London as a refugee. We follow him as he becomes a prominent human rights campaigner. Damoshe, who lived with Bisi, fled to the USA, where he fulfills his long-term ambition to become a nurse. Ade now lives in Toronto, but is struggling with substance abuse and his mental health. Above the Troubled Water explores the legacy of trauma through a subtle and domestic glance, looking at the meaning of friendship in overcoming the everyday adjustments to life in exile.

Director's Bio


Joe Cohen (he/they) is a multi-disciplinary filmmaker. He trained at the UK National Film and Television School, after which he was selected as an emerging director for the Berlinale Talent Campus. His entry film Stepping Out was in official selection at the London Short Film Festival, ReelOut Canada, and was nominated for the documentary award at the Rushes Soho Shorts Film Festival. His work has screened at the Serpentine Gallery, the Barbican, the National Museum of Scotland, Corso Como, the Centre Pompidou and on i-D. He currently lives and works in New York City. 

Director's Statement

"Above the Troubled Water was a long time in the making. Originally, I started making this documentary about the remarkable story of Bisi Alimi, who was the first person to publicly come out as gay in Nigeria. I was drawn to his story for the perseverance and courage he had shown, not only in coming out in a country which is extremely homophobic, but because he also acted as a mentor, or ‘mother’ figure to other gay men who were coming to terms with their sexuality. 

I grew up in a very conservative, religious household, and being queer was not easy, so even though Bisi’s world was far from mine, I was naturally drawn to his story and the theme of courage and determination in the face of extreme stigma and prejudice. 


I initially planned to travel to Nigeria with Bisi for the first time since he was forced to leave, however in 2017 my visa was denied, and I had to pivot the film to find another angle. I became increasingly interested in the friendships that Bisi formed with the people that he lived with in Lagos, and what happened to them.   


My vision for the film shifted from a portrait of one person, Bisi, to a portrait of friendship. By exploring the everyday interactions and conversations between the contributors, my aim was to weave a wider conversation about the legacy of trauma, through a domestic glance. I wanted to stay away from creating a sensationalist film, but simply to start a conversation between the camera and the contributors. I also wanted to explore the manifestations of prejudice, both in the contributors’ country of origin, and in the new homes they find themselves in. 


At 38 minutes it runs as a long short, however, I felt that this was the length it needed to be. It sits somewhere in-between, perhaps like the contributors who are themselves in-between the notion of home, and at an intersection of identity."

- Joe Cohen

Virtual Q&A: Portraits of Us

Date: Monday, September 26th
Time: 8:00PM EDT
Location: Virtual on Zoom

Join us for a virtual live Q&A with filmmakers of the Portraits of Us program. Ticket and pass holders will receive a link to join the Zoom later via email.


All Access Pass
     PrideFull Pass (In-person & Virtual): $49.00
     Virtual Pass (Virtual only): $39.00

Single Film Tickets
     Virtual Streaming (9/16 - 9/29)
          Regular: $9.00 | Suggested: $18.00


Paying the suggested amount helps us sustain the program. Thank you!

bottom of page