Many will agree this is the most consequential stage of Uganda’s film industry. For many years, filmmakers have struggled with having to sink resources in productions that don’t earn them as much. There was no market and no eyeballs to watch the films. That coupled with the advent of streaming, selling DVDs is no longer an option.
The industry is turning the tide and the prospects have never looked better. As Uganda Film Festival (UFF) marked a decade of promoting the local film industry (both locally and internationally), all while bringing industry stakeholders together in a more focused and structured environment, there are strides worth celebrating. It is a good time to pause the reel and reflect on the story of Uganda’s film but also ponder on what remains to be done.
Annually Uganda Communications Commission through its awards program Uganda Film Festival which started in 2013, recognizes stellar film work in addition to the showcasing of films that provides creatives a platform for their content to be seen and appreciated. It’s also a time when the spotlight is turned on the storylines considered exceptional, the unique art of bringing these stories to life, and the talent (actors, sound/production designers, etc) that excelled in bringing scripts to life.
UFF which is pretty much the yardstick to take stock of where Uganda’s film is in its pursuit to expand its audience far and beyond.
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In the run-up to the UFF Awards, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) together with key partners like MultiChoice Uganda embarked on movie screenings of at least 25 films in the different Century Cinemax cinemas at Acacia Mall, Arena Mall and Metroplex Naalya.
Eleven days of catching up on a variety of Ugandan stories and discovering the new stars in filmmaking.
Some of the films screened in the cinema this month were When You Become Me (produced by Reach a Hand Uganda and Light for the World), a disability inclusive feature film that challenges stereotypes often tagged on people with disabilities and the resultant stigma, discrimination.
The 2023 UFF screening slate also featured Kafa Coh (Doreen Mirembe) which tells a story of pursuit of justice in the face of barriers like corruption and deceit. But it also brings to the fore themes like gender-based power dynamics. Kafa Coh which had a Nigerian lead actor (Kalu Ikeagwu) and a Kenyan director (Gilbert Lukalia) represents what can be achieved when filmmakers collaborate.
The Passenger (an M-Net production) is yet another story to look out for. Nominated in 12 categories including Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Film (indigenous language), Best Supporting Actress, Best Lead Actress, Best Lead Actor and Best Screenplay, the film is a typical “kina’Uganda,” set in central Uganda.
A young man tries to deliver a mysterious package to the city on a bus, but another passenger thinks he is a killer carrying a mutilated body or bomb, and is determined to stop him. It is gripping.
But that’s not all. More films like Mukisa, The Kitara Chronicles, The Tales of Our Times, Ganyana, Sipi, The Matron, Pieces of Me, Enkuba, and Dial M for Maya were screened.
The palette got even better, with Ugandan-made documentaries (Akampene Punishment Island, Letter to Jovan, Staunch, Walugembe, When the Water Is Not Fun) and Animations (Famous, Nkoza and Nankya, Tula, Lost, Heights).
Experiences in countries with an advanced film industry such as U.S., Nigeria and UK, have shown that filmmaking can only thrive when the cinema culture is vibrant.
In the last one and a half years, there have been some success stories from local films in the cinema, like: Tembele, which was pre-selected for the Oscars (Uganda’s first ever film to be considered for an Academy Award) ran for a week at the local cinemas performing better than some of the international titles. The film ranked in 33% of the total sales made in the local cinemas that week.
Kafa Coh and When You Become Me equally ran for a week and two days, and half a week respectively. Similarly, in the same week Alita: Battle Angel (James Cameron & Jon Landau) opened in local cinemas in 2019, it was outperformed by Nisha Kalema’s Veronica’s Wish (a Ugandan film) in terms of ticket sales. It’s therefore possible for local titles to have successful cinema runs.
Each passing year, more and more compelling stories are being told with nuances that are unique. Producers and directors are going to greater lengths to invest (time, equipment and art) in storytelling. And it’s beginning to pay off. Ugandan stories over the years have gotten more attention outside the borders, an example being this year’s Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCAs) where Uganda got its most nominations.
The industry however requires more support, beginning with local support for Ugandan-produced films. The Ugandan audience must be as passionate about going to the cinema to watch our stories as it is when it comes to Hollywood titles. By proudly associating with local films and converting as many people as we can in our circles.
This is the only way Producers, Directors, actors, costume designers, cinematographers, screenwriters, makeup artistes, editors among others will get economic empowerment, look after their families, make a livelihood out of filmmaking and be able to produce their next project.
While speaking about the screenings, Meddie Kaggwa, Head of Multimedia, Uganda Communications Commission mentioned that the fees from the entry fee collections were to be shared by the Cinema and the filmmaker. “Film viewing at the Cinemas was costed at Ugx. 10,000 per viewing per individual to make it affordable for all Ugandans. Additionally, for each screening at the Century Cinemax cinemas at Acacia Mall, Metroplex and Arena Mall, 50% of these collections was to be given to the filmmaker of the movie screened at the scheduled showtimes.”
In the face of hardships surrounding formal employment, most youth in Uganda have opted to get employment in the creative industry. Therefore, a thriving film industry would not only guarantee them opportunities, it would also give the economy a significant revenue boost as seen in countries like Nigeria, South Africa, India and the U.S.
Cinema is an important part of modern culture. It has the power to entertain, educate, and inspire audiences around the world. In some instances, films provide a form of escapism, allowing people to momentarily forget their problems and immerse themselves in the world of motion picture that entertains them.
Film also has the power to transcend borders and connect people from different cultures. Ugandan-made films play a role in introducing foreign audiences to new perspectives, traditions, and ways of life with a touch of local nuances.