In his early teens, Hakim Bigaruka lived a fantasy life. His extraordinary love for movies led him to create an imaginary world in which he was the hero.
He often impersonated his favorite star, the burly American actor and fitness guru Billy Blanks, by walking around with a bullish swagger, exaggerated by puffing up his tiny chest to look a little more dangerous.
But his fascination with films soon began to drive him delusional, causing him to think that all the action he watched on screen from shanty Kibuye video halls in Kampala was all but real.
“I had it within me that there was a gigantic camera stuck up somewhere in the sky to record everything humans do,” recalls the 26-year-old budding filmmaker, who went ahead to live a hero-like lifestyle in the vain hope that audiences somewhere in America were eagerly following him.
By the time he realized films weren’t real, he had already decided he wanted to become a filmmaker, even if it meant sacrificing the sport of football which had won him a scholarship to study for free at Kisubi High.
And his break in the industry, which came in 2007 during his S.4 vacation, was as dramatic as the characters he is now famed for creating. The writers’ guild president at Uganda Film Network (UNF) recounts the hilarious moment he stormed Mariam Ndagire’s office with a two-and-half page script for a feature film and demanded for a gig.
“I felt deflated when she read it in less than five-minutes and told me it wasn’t something close to a film script,” says the former student of Bachelor of Information Systems at Makerere University. He dropped out of the course a year to completion because he couldn’t afford tuition.
Ndagire, one of Uganda’s most renowned filmmakers, however encouraged the young man to continue writing and even offered him a copy of the acclaimed beginners’ guidebook, Christopher Kean’s How to Write a Selling Screenplay.
From one sample script to another, with the help of internet knowledge and Ndagire’s inspiring tutelage, Bigaruka got better and better, until he twice gained admission into her annual film workshop – the Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre (MNFPAC) – in 2010 and 2011.
Since then, the youngster’s career has quickly blossomed, boasting over ten mostly short film credits including the acclaimed Enyama, 180km and Snake Eyes which all won accolades in the Ndagire academy.
He is currently working on two feature film projects, and a TV drama series High School which he wrote in 2011 is yet to hit screen. His greatest work by far however is the 2011 short film Bloody Sunset, better known for recently winning Best Student Film award at the maiden Uganda Film Festival (UFF).
Speaking to us after returning from Lagos International Film Festival (LIFF) where he recently travelled courtesy of the film, Bigaruka told of how his life has drastically changed from being a mere novice to one of the most sought after writers and directors.
“Everything I now have, I owe it to that film,” he said of the film that follows a rather bizarre and tragic plot in which a young girl returns from school to find her well-to-do parents murdered by her estranged half sister.
It first gained public attention by winning the $1,000 (about Shs2.6m) grand prize at last year’s Tanulu, an annual awards ceremony that aims to award outstanding MNFPAC alumni. Bigaruka has since used the money to establish a side business in form of a hair salon in Kasubi.
His fast success in the industry, distinguished by a non-linear story telling style and controversial themes, has also landed him a teaching job at the Natete-based Greenfield Media Academy where he is fondly addressed as ‘master Hakim’ by students.
His versatility and dedication has publically been hailed by his colleagues, including his script editor girlfriend. The couple is currently expecting their first child, and hope to one day become the Brajolinas of Ugawood.
And from the look of things, his dream might come to pass. But only if the industry gets organized and government intensifies their support, he surmised.