From the first ever government-run festival to a quadruple win in Nigeria, 2013 has been a remarkable year for Ugandan cinema. In this review, we recap on what we feel have been the main highlights.
1. The Hostel runs broke
What started as a brief Christmas break soon turned into an embarrassing six month limbo for Uganda’s flagship TV series, The Hostel. In a candid January interview with this writer, after the series had spent two weeks off air midway its third season, Fastrack Productions MD Conrad Nkutu admitted his firm could no longer afford the show’s production costs. He blamed the financial woes on a bad business model involving using sponsors’ money to pay production costs and buy TV airtime, leaving the firm in loses. He also for the first time lifted the lid on the controversial exit of the show’s three lead actors – Isaac Kuddzu (Sober), Daniel Omara (Odoch) and Richard Tuwangye (Twiine) – saying the trio had demanded for abnormal payments. Thankfully, the show has since returned to air following a new deal with NTV.
2. Coordination Working Group (CWG) first meeting
About two years back, a coalition of several government bodies headed by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) was formed under the name CWG with a mandate to nurture the emerging local film industry. However, CWG remained dormant until this March when they held their first landmark meeting, now credited for bringing forth such great initiatives as the Uganda Film Festival (UFF), copyright law enactment and establishment of the Film Classification Secretariat (FCS).
3. Mathew Nabwiso win
The Hostel actor Mathew Nabwiso will probably live to remember this year. First, his role as the hostel player Gilo was elevated following the controversial exit of the series’ three lead actors. Then, he married his costar, Eleanor Nansibo alongside being honored at the just concluded Ndiff. Undoubtedly though, his biggest win this year (and perhaps in his entire career) was the Best Supporting Actor-Drama award at the inaugural Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA).
4. Okuyo’s woes
Early this year, news (or should we call them rumors) linking acclaimed actor Prynce Joel Okuyo to the human trafficking started doing rounds in local tabloids. It was alleged the SRB star and billboard model makes a killing selling unsuspecting Ugandan girls to ruthless pimps in Asia. Word reaching us now suggests that as a result of these damaging reports, Okuyo’s career is in jeopardy, with agencies and production houses no longer wanting to associate with him out of fear they could tarnish their images. On his part, the burly actor has vehemently maintained innocence calling the accusations a witch hunt.
5. Sam Childers comes to town
It was one of those rare cases of a celebrity coming to Kampala and leaving unnoticed. But Sam Childers, the redeemed American mobster who inspired the hit film Machine Gun Preacher with his unconventional ways of combating LRA rebels in northern Uganda, was in town this April to discuss his plans of building a film academy here.
6. Uga-Naija collabo leaves sour taste
In January, Nigerian filmmaker Kingsley Paul Ukaegbu flew to Uganda on a mission to shoot at least four collaborative projects. His dream was however cut short after the premier of his second project See Through Me fell flat, leaving him devastated. In a post event interview, Ukaegbu threw a tantrum, cursing all Ugandans and their poverty. He also accused local authorities and filmmakers of sabotage. Later, after the experienced filmmaker had return to Lagos, reports of poor payment started emerging from amongst his Ugandan cast.
7. Metroplex 3D cinema a.k.a Cinema Magic opens
In a country where the movie-going culture is fast picking yet there are only about five cinemas, nothing could have come better than news of Cinema Magic’s opening at the Metroplex Shopping Mall in Naalya. The country’s first ever 3D cinema seats 102 people, although it will need to consider adding Ugandan films to its vast bouquet.
8. Deception replaces The Hostel
The Hostel’s long and unexplained break inspired NTV to look for a replacement in the form of Deception, or so it appeared. The latter series hit airwaves mid this year amid pessimism, with viewers being quick to write it off as a rushed show. Soon, however, the drama began to charm its way into the hearts of many Ugandans with its riveting storyline and authentic acting. As of today, it’s one of the most watched shows in the country.
9. Pearl International Film Festival (Piff)
In May, Piff cemented its reputation as Uganda’s best organized and most inclusive annual film festival by holding a fairly impressive third edition amid financial challenges. Director Moses Magezi and team had to struggle to foot operation costs, but the outcomes were nonetheless impressive. The week-long fest, featuring over 50 screenings and a few workshops, was crowned off with a modest awards night where The Semester and The King’s Virgin emerged the biggest winners.
10. Light Vision Media
A number of local production houses have come and gone without leaving any significant mark. But this is not the case with Light Vision Media, a crew made up of young enthusiastic filmmakers. Their mission this year, it seems, was to take everything out of the box. Their surreal film The Semester, which features what appears to be unsimulated sex and other stark depictions, was the biggest winner at the Pearl International Film Festival (Piff) awards in May.
11. Movie Digest returns to air
After a six-month hiatus due to financial and technical woes, Uganda’s exclusively local film show returned to Record TV airwaves this September. You can now catch it every Tuesday 8pm with a repeat on Sunday, same time.
12. A Shs2.6bn budget Ugandan film
In August, River Nile Motion Pictures (RNMP), a new Indian-Ugandan film production firm, announced they were shooting a $1m (about Shs2.6bn) budget film entirely on location in Uganda. Escape from Uganda, which stars a top brass cast from India and Uganda, is already a hit in Asia, but its Ugandan premiere (slated for early next year) is tipped to attract bigger attention.
13. Establishment of the Film Classification Secretariat (FCS)
As government’s film classification and censorship body, FCS began its operations in June, and is promising to go a long way in protecting the public against harmful video content as well as fostering quality and professionalism within the industry. According to Ugandan law, all films and video content (both local and foreign) must first be approved by FCS before they are aired, distributed or sold on the Ugandan market.
14. The Route
A directorial debut by Jayant Maru, a young London School of Economics-educated Indian-Ugandan, The Route has enjoyed a fair share of publicity following its premiere in July. Based on human trafficking, the film has been criticized and praised in equal measure for its lengthy portrayal of explicit rape scenes. And it has won a couple of awards and participation at festivals, turning Maru into a household name within local film realms.
15. This blog
A colleague has pushed me to include this one, though I am not quite sure it cuts it. But anyhow, writing about film has always been my favorite beat as a journalist. So when I left mainstream media to join the Film Classification Secretariat (FCS) in June, I felt the urge to continue with my first love. My decision was also triggered by the fact that film has consistently been sidelined in the mass media. So I thought maybe I would try to fill the void, which obviously is a huge goal to achieve. But with the industry’s support, we are headed to the top.
16. Kona Series launched
In August, M-Net launched their first ever soap opera Kona, opening a new window for Ugandan talents in the process. The boxing drama featuring actors from across east Africa already stars our very own Prynce Joel Okuyo and Cleopatra Koheirwe in lead roles, yet there’s likely to be more openings as the story advances.
17. Uganda Film Festival (UFF)
Organized by UCC as part of their efforts in championing the development of the local film industry, UFF held a successful maiden edition in August. The festival was nonetheless accompanied by a few controversies, including complaints of exclusion of filmmakers and the awards night mishap in which the jury controversially nullified two categories claiming there was no worthy winner. Otherwise, Matt Bish’s State Research Bureau (SRB) emerged the biggest winner with three awards.
18. The Ugandan comes home
After a fairly successful year-long world tour, in which it won awards and participated at festivals, Director Patrick Sekyaya’s The Ugandan finally made its home debut in October, attracting a full house at the National Theatre. Sekyaya however faced public backlash after he posted inappropriate comments on facebook in response to this blog’s coverage of the film’s premiere.
19. UCU sex tape
Shooting, possession or distribution of porno is illegal in Uganda. But this didn’t deter a group of crafty UCU and Mubs students from filming their romping sessions and posting them on the internet last month. An inquiry has since revealed there’s a big powerful racket behind the emerging local porn industry.
20. Nanfuka Vs Otako/Opio saga
We are not quite sure of the details but from what we gathered, Rehema Nanfuka, one of the more accomplished local female filmmakers hired the two guys to work on her project last month. She however later posted on facebook revealing she was dragging the duo to court for assaulting her. For some reason, the dramatic saga became viral on social media even when she had dropped the case.
21. Guno Mukwano?
Director Sharpe Sewali’s 2011 five-minute-long film Guno Mukwano (Is This Love?) has not only been lauded for its precision and superb treatment but it has also collected a fair share of awards. This year alone, it has bagged five, including three from Lagos International Film Festival (Liff), and one each from UFF and Ndiff. Clearly, it’s been the best performing Ugandan film of the year.
22. UCC Regional Tours begin
In an effort to decentralize the film industry and ensure harmonious growth, UCC recently launched their regional tours in which government is trying to identify and nurture filmmaking talents outside Kampala. North is so far the only region to have benefited, although the campaign is expected to blowup next year with several tours to other regions already lined up.
23. Nile’s Diaspora International Film Festival (Ndiff)
Having debuted with pomp last year by bringing in Hollywood star Tonya Lee Williams and Nollywood’s Jim Iyke and Nadia Buari, things weren’t necessary as rosy for Ndiff this year. Working with a stringent budget meant director Phad Mutumba and team had to give up some of last year’s luxuries. They were even accused of sidelining Ugandan films. The festival nonetheless put on a great show, showing an array of culturally and artistically relevant films, hosting a comprehensive workshop programme and honoring two local film luminaries.
24. Manya Human Rights International Film Festival (Manya)
Manya recently crowned off this year’s festival calendar with their fourth annual edition. Although boasting an array of films, this year’s Manya didn’t live up to its theme of using social media to promote human rights, as their own social media presence wasn’t really felt.
25. Social media frenzy
More than ever before, the local film industry has this year fully embraced social media, with filmmakers taking advantage of its wide-reaching and interactive abilities to promote forthcoming events and keep in touch with one another. A number of facebook pages and twitter handles have also sprung up to keep the industry linked.