The genres and styles of Ugandan cinema have steadily evolved overtime, with local filmmakers increasingly getting bolder and showing a more vibrant and diverse Uganda. It is thus hard for me to rank the best Ugandan films of all time.
There are nonetheless some local films that have stood out in one way or the other; films that I enjoyed watching and feel that they are representative of what is out there. Here’re my favorite 25, in no particular order and excluding international productions.
1. Boda Boda (Didas Abaho)
One of my personal favorites, this film tells an uplifting story of a young man who risks his reputation and family by quitting his teaching job to start riding a bobaboda. In the process, he finds genuine love. Probably the best cinematographed Ugandan film I have ever watched, boasting of breathtaking panoramic shots of the lush rural western Uganda.
2. Sente Sente (Morgan Isaac Kimuli)
This five-minute flick is so grainy and shaky it looks like it was shot with a cheap camera phone by an amateur cinematographer. Interestingly, it is one of the best shot films I have ever watched, thanks to its gripping action. It chronicles a young street brawler who wins a brutal fight only to be denied his prize money. He puts his life on the line to recover it and then donates it to a random kid.
3. The Route (Jayant Maru)
A shocking tale of human trafficking and sex slavery, fraught with lengthy explicit rape scenes that enhance the storyline.
4. Bullion (Henry Ssali)
This one is somewhere between the first and fifth in my favorites list. A duplicitous and smooth-talking accountant hatches a plot to rob his workplace. He enlists the help of a couple of his disgruntled workmates only to double-cross them and pocket the entire heist. The film’s Kenyan lead actor, Ainea Ojiambo was simply phenomenal as the charming but deadly criminal mastermind.
5. Mama Sam (Ahmed Lubowa)
This is a film that all evil stepmoms ought to watch. It’s a moral tale on how bitter karma can get to bad people. I was particularly touched by one scene in which a redeemed stepmother-from-hell tries to make peace with her estranged son – she hysterically cries and begs him to sit on her laps just so to prove he has forgiven her.
6. State Research Bureau [S.R.B] (Matt Bish)
For its bold portrayal of the mid 80’ political anarchy in Uganda, S.R.B has bagged several international awards and screened at numerous international festivals since its release in 2011. It chronicles a rogue army captain in the Obote II regime, and his unconventional way of rooting out ‘rebels’. Like in many Bish films, Prynce Joel Okuyo stood out as the protagonist.
7. Feelings Struggle (Ashraf Ssemwogerere)
Although not quite an artistic masterpiece, this 2005 feature has earned a place on this list courtesy of its historic importance – it is the first film to entirely be written, directed, produced and acted by Ugandans. Otherwise, it was shot with cheap equipment and minimal artistry, and chronicles a family’s desperate search for their kidnapped daughter.
8. Akataka: That Small Piece (Joseph ‘Zenken’ Ken Ssebagala)
Anyone who has watched this film can understand Zenken’s frustration at failing to win any award at the inaugural Uganda Film Festival (UFF). Akataka is iconic for packaging a typical Ugandan story in such a professional way. It centers on land wrangles and witchcraft, with a dominate theme of love, and boasts of sleek dialogue and plot development. It nonetheless suffers poor performance from the lead cast.
9. Battle of the Souls (Matt Bish)
Inspired by the life of popular Ugandan radio personality and former devil-worshipper, Roger Mugisha, this film came at the height of the illuminati movement and helped to draw many Ugandans back to God. It also launched the career of the now acclaimed Ugandan actor, Prynce Joel Okuyo.
10. The Semester (Dan Mugisha)
Mugisha, along with his Light Media Films colleague Ivan Kayongo Kavan, is the Lars Von Trier of Uganda, never shying away from using unassimilated sex scenes in his movies. Often, his porno is for cheap shock value but in The Semester, the explicit scenes came handy in expounding the story of how a group of university students contract and spread HIV/AIDS.
11. Fate (Cindy Magara)
Kate, a successful city woman, fresh out of university and loaded with lots of money, runs out of options on what to do with her wealth. This is Magara’s first and arguably best film by far.
12. Call Me Kuchu (Katherine Fairfax Wright & Malika Zouhali-Worrall)
Though made by non-Ugandans (Wright is an American while Zouhali-Worrall is Brit), Call Me Kuchu remains a Ugandan film considering the fact its production was largely funded by local LGBT groups. It’s a touching biopic of the murdered Ugandan gay rights hero, David Kato, and his collision with a homophobic society.
13. Imitate (Alex Musisi)
If given good publicity, distribution and entry into international festivals, this film will certainly go places. It’s perhaps the best local animation, relaying the popular and hilarious Buganda folklore involving a hat trader and a group of cheeky monkeys.
14. Through My Eyes (Shams Bhangi)
This sickening docu-film chronicles four children as they tell how they were abused by the very people that are supposed to protect them, including parents, relatives and teachers. This film will definitely hit you with its superb cinematography, acting and music.
15. Nafulu (Patrick Sekyaya)
A shocking film about a native African tribe somewhere far off, with its barbaric cultural values including genital female mutilation and a bizarre cure for impotence.
16. Imani (Carol Kamya)
In the course of just one day in contemporary Uganda, three seemingly unrelated lives – a former child soldier, break-dancer and a house help – get to cross. At first, it’s hard to figure out how the three separate vignettes piece up. But as the story unfolds, you get to realize that the characters are bound by a strong thread, weaved with violence, a troubled past, and the will to survive.
17. Christmas Turkey (Reagan Washiwala)
A young and aspiring ghetto footballer is eyeing to win the top scorer’s grand prize of a turkey at a lowly soccer tourney. If he doesn’t, his broke family will go without a meal on Christmas day. Very inspiring story of resilience, friendship and prejudice!
18. Voices of Domestic Violence (Watoto Church)
A group of sobbing women gives terrifying accounts of how their drunken husbands batter them in this chilling Watoto documentary on domestic violence.
19. Guno Mukwano (Sharp Sewali)
Driven by rage, a hitherto polite and respectful husband beats his quarrelsome and violent wife to pulp in this short film’s landmark scene. But rather than showing the physical battering, Sewali cleverly opted to show the effects – a bloody disfigured face and a broken home. Such a fresh, viewer-friendly take on an otherwise sensitive and brutal subject matter.
20. Kacoke Kin Gang: The Village Meeting (Joel Obalim)
Set in post-Kony war Northern Uganda, this Acholi language short film is a masterpiece. It portrays a dysfunctional rural community where broken homes, immorality, lawlessness and crime is the order of the day. Unlike other films about Kony and Northern Uganda, Kacoke is not confrontational but rather a savvy political satire that will keep you laughing all the way.
21. The Felistas Fable (Dilman Dila)
This film explores the plight of a woman suffering from fistula, a damning ailment associated with early sex and homosexuality, and notorious for breaking its victims’ self esteem because they are incontinent and reek a foul odour. Like thousands of other Ugandan women living with the disease, Felistas is a social outcast.
22. A Good Catholic Girl (Matt Bish)
So controversial is this short film that even director Bish was reluctant to screen it in Uganda. But when he finally did, last year, everyone loved it. Dwelling on religious tensions between Muslims and Catholics, this masterpiece tells a story of a young Muslim woman (Amina) who is determined to marry her Catholic boyfriend against all odds. For his portrayal as Ahmed, a piggish and conservative butcher, Mathew Nabwiso scooped Best Supporting Actor-Drama award at the 2013 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) in Nigeria.
23. Bisobera (Julius Mutebi Albert)
The theme of male bonding (friendship), specifically involving black characters, is a rare specialty in world cinema, with Nigerian-American filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa taking credit for showcasing genuine brotherly love in such movies as The Wood and Our Family Wedding. The Ugandan equivalent of those films is no doubt Bisobera, a tale of two down-on-their luck buddies who stick together till death does them part.
24. Hello (Usama Osam Mukwaya)
This brief comedy set against the height of telecommunication infiltration in Uganda chronicles a rural couple as they try to come to terms with the acquisition of mobile handsets amid suspicions of infidelity.
25. Game On (Gerald Namanya)
A struggling Kampala-based dance group dreams big amid a brewing romance, bitter rivalry and a troubled past. This is a new revolutionary dance movie that heavily borrows from the likes of You Got Served, Step Up, Save the Last Dance and Stomp the Yard, but successfully maintains a Ugandan touch. Don’t miss its premiere at Theatre Labonita, November 15, 2013.