A bitter feud that has been raging between two Ugandan filmmakers since early last year could be headed for a court settlement.
The row between Elvis Andrew Mutebi, an upcoming actor and director, and Paul Walusimbi alias Pollo, a fairly-known cinematographer, accrues from a sketchy deal the duo struck in February 2012.
Mutebi, who has had a couple of small acting roles in local films, was seeking to hit a transition when he set out to write, produce and direct his own film project.
He sought the services of Pollo, who interestingly was his good friend back then, to shoot Into the Country – a rather interesting tale of how a European tourist finds himself living a squalid lifestyle in a downtown Kampala neighborhood.
The 34-year-old father of two had hoped his directorial debut, which he bankrolled with a hard-earned Shs9m production budget, would give him leverage in the intricate Ugandan film industry, commonly known as Ugawood. He envisaged earning lots of money and traveling to international festivals.
But as it now appears, these dreams might never live to pass. In a rather dramatic twist of events, Pollo has withheld part of the film’s raw footage and is demanding Shs2.8m and credit for co-directing, cinematography and lighting.
“He has confiscated my three tapes worth 135 minutes of raw footage, and is making outrageous demands whose basis I absolutely have no clue about,” a bitter Mutebi has told us.
Mutebi says he only hired Pollo to work as a cinematographer, and that he would be paid a daily fee of Shs30,000 plus transport and meals for the entire five months of production. Shooting was only done during weekends.
Midway shooting, Mutebi alleges, Pollo started assigning himself extra duties and asserting himself as the project’s top guy.
“At first, I mistook it as a sign of goodwill and passion. But I soon began to realize he was up to something fishy,” Mutebi narrated, telling of how he felt uneasy with Pollo’s interference in the direction and set management departments.
The friction intensified after Pollo had taken leave to attend the acclaimed One Fine Day film workshop in Nairobi. Upon return with a set of new skills, Mutebi says, Pollo increasingly grew arrogant and irritating.
“He no longer respected my decisions as his employer, and often turned up late on set. That is when he also started to cunningly confiscate the tapes under the pretext of having a keen look at the footage,” Mutebi explains.
By August last year, when shooting ended and the film’s German lead actor returned to his homeland, Pollo had tucked away three video tapes and an audio recording.
“He called me one day and told me he won’t give me the tapes unless I give him the money and guarantee him extra credits. It was a total shock to me,” Mutebi lamented, tugging at his signature goatee beard that occasionally earns him typecast bad guy roles.
Interestingly, Pollo admits to holding the tapes and demanding for the money, but nonetheless denies any wrong doing. He instead accuses Mutebi of backtracking on their gentleman’s agreement.
“The Shs30,000 he is talking of was my facilitation, not payment. I made it clear from the very start that my efforts would be aptly remunerated,” a seemingly infuriated Pollo told us.
Mutebi’s failure, as project boss, to sign a formal contract with his employees gave an opportunity to the more experienced Pollo to set his price. As of the extra credits, Pollo says Mutebi entrusted him to take charge.
“He trusted me with directing and all that other stuff because I am much more experienced than him,” explained the 28-year-old cinematographer of such hits as The Pardon, Haunted Souls and The Last Drop.
Documents availed to us indicate that the former buddies have unsuccessfully tried to settle the dispute through amicable means as none of them is ready to relent.
For instance, in an agreement signed on May 05, 2013 and witnessed by co-star Grace Mbabazi, Mutebi committed to paying Pollo. That meeting however turned into a bizarre episode as Mutebi snatched all copies of the contract and fled, accusing Pollo of wanting to dupe him.
The matter has also appeared before Police, where upon the duo was advised to settle their issues amicably. The case is now under arbitration at Justice Centres Uganda (JCU), an extrajudicial legal aid service body.
Mutebi suggested he will next head to court after two meetings at JCU fell through. Talk of never mixing friendship with business!