A couple of government initiatives, back-to-back festivals and individual success stories made 2013 a fairly good year for Ugandan cinema.
And the odds yet again seem to be in favor of the emerging industry this year, thanks to promises of increased government support and public goodwill. But there is much more to look out for.
Top on the list is the local TV content quota. Scheduled to take effect anytime from now, the government directive to have all local TVs show at least 70% Ugandan content during prime time has thrown the industry in frenzy with many filmmakers having already sealed lucrative deals.
Needless to dwell on the commercial and quality-control prospects of the quota, this platform is however up for some criticism including fears that local content won’t be good enough for our TVs let alone be big enough to feed the lengthy airtime.
The industry and public alike will also keep an eye on government’s Film Classification Secretariat (FCS). Established last June to censor and classify all films and video content before they are distributed in Ugandan, FCS excited Ugandans with promises of protecting the public against consumption of harmful western films while promoting the local industry at the same time.
But by the end of the year, the government department was at odds with the industry for what the filmmakers termed as exorbitant charges. According to the tentative regulations governing FCS, each film title within runtime of up to two hours will be charged a classification fee of Shs150, 000. Any additional minute is charged Shs2000, and each classification label will cost Shs1,000.
Although these figures are relatively lower those in neighboring countries, Ugandan filmmakers insist it is too much for them. It will be interesting to see how the two parties come to a compromise.
Other government efforts, including regional tours to nurture film talents and talk of a mega film fund are also tipped to catch an eye. But it is the ongoing internal revolution within Ugawood that every Ugandan film fan and filmmaker ought to keep tabs on.
Last year, increase in the number of film schools and the fact that the local film industry had become attractive led to the influx in the number of new talented entrants.
The likes of Kevin Byaruhanga (Game On), Jayant Maru (The Route) and Dickson Kaluya (Stranded) had their fare share of glory. But can they maintain the tempo this year amid rejuvenation of the old stock in the name of Mariam Ndagire and AMVCA nominee Michael Wawuyo?
Content wise, Ugandan films have steadily diversified in styles and genres, with filmmakers now boldly exploring controversial themes. Last year saw films on tribalism and sex abuse, and the trend is expected to go a notch higher this year with films about cult leader Joseph Kibwetere, the 2010 Kampala bombings, and wayward sexual tendencies in Ankole already in the pipeline.
The local festival circuit usually has something new to offer every year. And with Uganda’s flagship fest, the Pearl International Film Festival (Piff) already having started their campaigns ahead of their fourth appearance in May, audiences can’t wait to see what’s in store.
The likes of UFF, Amakula and Manya have also expected to up their game this year, and Ndiff will change its schedule from December to October. Also to look out for this year is the premier of the Shs2bn budget Escape from Uganda at the end of this month.
We could go on and on about what to expect of Ugandan cinema this year, but it is also worth noting that the industry is still plagued by lots of problems that have effectively hindered its takeoff throughout its nine year history.
There is still a rift between uptown and down town factions and piracy is still a big issue. The distribution chain too needs redress to enable filmmakers make money, say through ensuring films make theatrical tours before going on DVD.
That said though, government, particularly Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has provided a ray of hope with its several laudable initiatives. The filmmakers too are making an effort in acquiring skills and basically getting organized.
As always, we will be there to keep you abreast with what’s happening.