A new Ugandan film set for release this May is promising to touch the lives of young viewers with a powerful massage of faith and redemption.
Written and directed by Joseph Kenneth Ssebaggala, alias Zenken, Reform tells a touching story about the grace of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of a redeemed high school hell-raiser.
“I wanted to tell a universal story about the trials and tribulations of today’s teenager, but also to provide a positive message of a better tomorrow,” Zenken told this blog in an exclusive interview yesterday.
A born again Christian, Zenken says he wrote the script for Reform a few years back. But it was only until late last year that Buddo Secondary School accepted to partner with him to make the film.
“I am an old boy of the school and they (school management) have seen my previous work. So they agreed to fund 70% of the budget as well as grant me free access to all the school’s facilities,” explained the multi-artist who holds a bachelors degree in Art and Industrial Design from Kyambogo University and runs Zenken Films Production Company.
The 31-year-old filmmaker, famous for his 2011 hit Akataka: That Small Piece, which enjoyed successful stints in Netherlands and South Africa, is taunted as one of the fastest-rising stars of Ugandan cinema.
But he says working on the religious film, one of the first of its kind in Uganda, has left him feeling refreshed and fired-up as if it were some booster of sorts.
“When you work on such an inspiring film under very hard conditions, it makes you a better artiste and man,” he asserted, revealing he has had to put up with a modest budget and inconvenient weekend shooting schedules.
Currently in its final shooting stages at the city-based school, Reform pits a predominantly student cast alongside a few established local actors, notably Deception series’ Charles Kabogoza (Chris) who plays a heavy-handed teacher.
And the film is looking to rely on a strong plot and a positive message to deliver a powerful impact on young viewers – it deals with real-life issues affecting teenagers.
Told in the rather artistic first-person narration style, the film revolves around Kato (Mark Katamba) a fun-loving drug-abusing school bully and academic dwarf who begins to question his infamy (or rather popularity according to other students) after he is paired with Grace (Justine Namuganda), a church girl, in a reading club as punishment for his ill behavior.
Gradually, Kato begins to appreciate God’s grace and how it saved him from self-ruination. He later becomes a pastor and motivational speaker whose work inspires hundreds of other troubled kids looking for identity in a violent and corrupt world.
Watching a few clips from the film, I found myself drawing a comparison to the 2009 American Christian drama, To Save a Life, which covers a similar subject matter – youth struggles.
Both films are relatively gritty for an ordinary Christian cinema fan. They contain scenes of high school students drinking, doing drugs, fighting and even heartbreaks. But in the case of Reform particularly, the unorthodox depictions greatly add up to the story’s authenticity.
And Zenken, who has attained film training in Berlin, Durban and Kenya’s One Fine Day workshops, owes the film’s uniqueness to his own faith and the excellent performance of his cast.
Both Katamba, 19, and Namuganda, 17, are first-time actors, but the S.6 and S.3 students respectively had a stellar outing that has since inspired Zenken to consider working with them on a future project.
But the school itself also deserves some credit– Buddo SS has one of the most vibrant school choir and drama groups in the country, perhaps only matched by Namasagali College during its heydays.
“The school really put in a lot to nurture students’ talents. Some of these kids have the potential to be the next big stars,” says Zenken who recently worked with Raising Voices to produce a film about child abuse and career guidance.
But the promising filmmaker suffered a setback last year when he was forced to abandon a project 80% into its production because the house and sole location was sold off midway shoot. He incurred serious financial loses.
He nonetheless hopes to redeem himself with Reform, which he hopes to distribute through churches, NGOs, international festivals and cinema screenings.