Film industry stakeholders in Uganda have been urged to join forces with their counterparts from other East African countries to demand a regional film commission.
Local filmmakers have long desired to have a national film commission, but it now seems they may as well get more than they bargained for if a campaign to lobby the East African Community (EAC) for a regional commission materializes.
The call was made by Dr Martin Mhando, the founder and director of Zanzibar International Film Festival (Ziff), during a recent East African filmmakers’ forum held at the National Theatre in Kampala.
Addressing a group of about 30 guests, mostly Ugandan filmmakers, Mhando emphasized a need to start thinking beyond individual country borders if East Africa is interested in developing their burgeoning cinema, currently ranked last on the continent.
“East Africa is not just a geographical entity but a cultural one as well. We have a sense of shared history, with each country’s borders reflecting similar political and economic values despite its traditional and colonial histories,” Mhando explained of the need for a common film-governing body in the region.
A renowned filmmaker and associate professor at Australia’s Murdoch University, Dr Mhando has been at the helm of cinematic development in East Africa, particularly in his homeland of Tanzania.
Besides starting up Ziff, now in its 17th year running and considered the biggest cultural event in East Africa, Mhando was recently instrumental in the formation of the East African Film Network (EAFN), an umbrella association of film festivals and producers across the region.
After a lengthy period in the offing, EAFN was last year finally sanctioned by EAC, the region’s legislative body, and has representatives in every member country. But Mhando says his initial request to EAC was the regional film commission, which he hopes can be achieved with a united front.
He however could not elaborate much on how Ugandan filmmakers can contribute to the cause, especially given that there are no proper collecting societies here, but nonetheless offered an impassioned explanation as to how the industry would benefit from such a venture.
“A regional commission would do magic in terms of ensuring that filmmakers are given proper incentives including education, funding and distribution channels,” he said, explaining that the regional body would inevitably foster the formation of individual national film regulatory bodies.
Some filmmakers however expressed skepticism at the idea of forming a regional film commission, citing the diverse nature of East Africa and the different levels of industry development among member states as potential hindrances.
Headquartered in Arusha Tanzania, the East Africa Community was revived in 2000 after a long hiatus, and is built on the five countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania Kenya and Uganda. But the regional parliament has struggled to live up to its promise of establishing a uniform system in the region.
Its problems are compounded by a lack of a common language, common currency, uniform taxes and cross-border trade incentives, as well as some infighting and political tensions among member states.
In terms of cinema, Kenya has by far made the most impressive strides including regular representations on the world stage and a vibrant film commission that runs a hefty fund to benefit its filmmakers. The other member states don’t have film commissions.
In Uganda, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has tried to champion the industry’s development, but is nonetheless limited by its vast regulatory mandate which covers the entire communications sector including telecoms and TVs.
There has thus been increasing pressure from local industry players to have UCC formulate a separate independent body to man the industry; something Mhando believes won’t be necessary if there is a regional film commission.
Co-organized by Native Travel Festival and Ziff, the filmmakers’ forum also featured keynote presentations from local film festival executives including Sarah Nsigaye (Native Travel), Phad Mutumba (Ndiff), Moses Magezi (Piff) and Kenneth Barongo (Manya).
Meanwhile, in a separate interview with this blog, Mhando said his festival was delighted to receive a bulk of Ugandan submissions for this year’s edition, to be held June 14-22 under the theme A Common Destiny.
He said he won’t be surprised if Uganda turns out to dominate this year’s selection list to be released anytime from now. Only two films – The Ugandan and Haunted Souls – represented us at last year’s festival.
Yet Ziff is working to bring more programmes to Uganda following the huge success of their recently-concluded Aboriginal Films Tour project in the country.