Uganda’s young film industry has evolved but still faces major challenges that have to be addressed if the country is going to compete favorably. Besides facing pressure from Hollywood, African countries like Uganda have to faceoff competition with other countries on the continent like South Africa and Nigeria – Nollywood whose films flood markets. Blogger Rosebell Kagumire spoke to Uganda’s leading arts journalist Moses Serugo about the film industry in the East African country.
Q: What’s the status of the local film making industry?
The local film industry is currently polarized between the downmarket filmmakers that use the guerrilla Nollywood approach to filmmaking, churning out a picture in say a fortnight and screening it in makeshift video halls after which a deal is struck with a distributor (usually a pirate that will pay a once-off fee and then make copies that are later distributed).
The upmarket filmmaker has the film aesthetic but with limited funds has to depend on the competitive scramble for donor cash and more often than not, this filmmaker either dies with their idea in their head or plays second fiddle to the few and far between international film projects.
Q: Which 3 movies have been top in Uganda in the last 4 months and why?
I am going by the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival held last December. The hit films were the John Akii-Bua documentary; An African Tragedy, Black and White; a documentary about albinism and State Research Bureau, a Ugandan film about the regime of Obote II and the atrocities committed by his army (despite the film title giving an impression that it is set in the President Idi Amin’s era.)
Q: Could you tell us about the Uganda consumption patterns of films?
The upmarket Ugandans consume mostly Hollywood blockbusters screened at Cineplex. The downmarket folks consume the kind-Uganda (Ugawood) films that draw from the Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) model of low production values but with relatable stories that mirror their lives. Indie films are mostly consumed by those that have an interest in learning the craft of filmmakers and expatriates at isolated small screening of your Tribelca Film festival sort of films.
Q: What major changes have we seen in the last 5 years on the film scene in Uganda.
The proliferation of film festivals (Amakula, Pearl International, Maisha African Film Festival and Manya Human Rights Festival. This is both good and bad, the latter being that the lack of a critical mass means the audience is too small to feed each festival and yet if there was a coming together, this would make better sense.
There is an entrepreneurial potential for film in light of the East African Common Market and its 134 million population as a potential market but Uganda is disadvantaged because Swahili is not our lingua franca.
A couple of filmmakers have had a stroke of luck in securing international funding for their projects, the Maisha short films continue to create a buzz on the international film scene but on the whole the fact that there are no guilds for screenwriters, actors, Directors of Photography, sound and other film crew, there is quite a lot of exploitation.
The industry has also failed to reap the gains and profile shooting of The Last King of Scotland should have brought five years since its global premiere in 2007.
Q: As an African country, do you think the film industry has been affected by heavy reliance on foreign productions, from Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood?
Yes it has which is not a bad thing because filmmakers need inspiration and like writers have to read to improve their craft, filmmakers have to watch lots. The snag here is that there is lots of copying and pasting yet Uganda has rich folklore and contemporary stories that can supply content for fiction films and documentaries.
Q: Do you think Ugandans have benefited from African film industries like
Nollywood, South Africa and lately Kenya?
Not quite because the absence of a fully functional film commission like in Kenya and South Africa means that international film projects can’t be baited and when they come here, the locals are prone to exploitation mostly getting roles as extras.
Q: What are the major challenges of the film industry in Uganda and where do you see it in the next 5 years?
Funding. There are so many scripts gathering dust and leaving screenwriters frustrated. Given that our economy is liberalized, there is hardly any government support and yet banks do not extend credit to such venture. Perhaps crowd funding much like the wedding meetings model can come to the rescue coupled with filmmakers coming together and investing in a movie with a view to making profit through clever marketing and international appeal by way if universal themes.
Mediocrity; The absence of full-fledged film schools means that most talent is fast-food bubblegum that mostly copies and pastes. Strong legislation to limit pirates living off the sweat of filmmakers brows.
Looking forward, perhaps taxing the industry will make government pay a little attention to the industry and thereby put in place the requisite standards. Film has more entrepreneurship potential and the performing arts programmes at the universities would benefit so much from this initiative.