By Evelyn Masaba
Over the past years, several film production houses have sprung up, technology has improved, and film schools have been set up, but Uganda’s film industry is still struggling as just a few filmmakers are able to churn out well-edited films that can also captivate audiences outside the country.
Still, local filmmakers continue to hone their craft like a Phoenix from the ashes. Every year, they treat us to more and more interesting projects. And with technological advancement, local filmmakers are now able to showcase their films to the rest of the world through online channels such as Youtube.
Over the years, Uganda’s film industry has churned out numerous movies, documentaries and TV series that have cultivated a cult following along the way. One of those series is Kigenya Agenya, which sold a good number of DVDs and also attracted a huge number of TV viewers.
“As an industry, we have remarkably grown from exclusively ‘development-driven’ films funded by NGOs, to the realisation that we can now make exclusively commercial films. Though we are not yet profitable, we are nonetheless crawling towards the right direction,” says Phillip Luswata, one of the most celebrated actors in Uganda who is also part of the Kigenya Agenya production team.
Some Ugandan actors such Cleopatra Koheirwe, Abby Mukiibi and Ntare Mwine, among others, have even made it to Hollywood blockbusters. These actors create a buzz about their country whenever they are interviewed in international media, and such interviews are crucial in showing the world that Uganda is more than just Idi Amin and Joseph Kony.
Uganda has an array of talented producers such as Mira Nair, whose new film, Queen of Katwe, starring Oscar Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, will premiere on September 30 to audiences all over the world.
Isaac Nabwana is another famed producer whose Who Killed Captain Alex? has garnered over 600,000 views on YouTube.
“For years, Uganda was famous for violence, but now the movies we are making are helping people see beyond the grotesque stories that used to appear in the media,” says Nabwana, the man behind Wakaliwood, an action movie studio located in the slums of Wakaliga a Kampala city suburb. “Our films have helped attract foreign visitors who now realise that Uganda is full of very warm and welcoming people.”
But what could be holding back Uganda’s film industry? “Our setback, as I have always pointed out,” says Nabwana, “lies in our over-concentration on the means of production while focusing less on exhibition and distribution. Few of us are investing in these two areas, yet this is where our market lies.
“Once we understand how to respond to these two areas, I believe we will better appreciate demanded quality, content and marketing. Now we are effectively making stories that appeal to us as film producers but may not necessarily strike a chord with the aspirations of our target audience.”
Phillip Luswata, who is currently working on a new TV show called The Campus, describes Uganda as a country in self-betrayal. “We sit back and watch as an industry we should be harnessing goes under,” he says. “Cinema houses have continued to close. The bibanda (makeshift video halls), which used to be popular and would have been exploited to grow local film making, also continue to reduce. Even the cultural centre that would have allowed for the development of new talent is not effective.”
According to Luswata, if the government cannot come out to protect the huge potential of the industry to create employment and lead to economic growth whilst promoting our culture, Uganda’s film industry will remain troubled. He believes that while setting the house right, there is a need to continue growing marketable talent, taking advantage of the growth of broadcast and digital media.
The biggest market for Uganda’s films is Ugandans themselves since most of the films appeal to the local audience. But with the growth of social media, sharing clips and titles of what they have been watching makes it easy for the rest of the world to take a peek into Uganda’s burgeoning film industry — and the country itself.