The teenage stars of Reform were on Tuesday lauded as ‘the future of Ugandan cinema’ as the local picture debuted to a full house at the National Theatre in Kampala.
Produced by local film studio, Zenken Films, in collaboration with Buddo Secondary School, the feature film casts more students than established actors.
And as it enjoyed a warm reception on Tuesday, it was the youngsters who got most of the praise courtesy of their impressive first-time performances, which many fans reckoned were some of the best they have seen in a Ugandan film this year.
The film itself is a coming-of-age story about a former high school badboy-cum- preacher. It goes on to explore various aspects of teenage life including violence, alcoholism, rebelliousness and love among others.
Nineteen-year-old Mark Katamba plays the protagonist, Kato, a notorious high school ‘celebrity’ trying to regain his status after he’s made to serve several humiliating punishments for assaulting another student.
And as an academic deadbeat, he is made to join the ‘despised’ reading club where he is paired with church girl, Grace (Justine Namuganda), whom he considers a loser and therefore not worthy of his partnership.
Slowly, and amid growing aggression from Kato’s materialistic and hypocritical girlfriend, Stella (Edith Victor Kabazarwe), the odd pair begins to develop a life-changing bond that eventually turns Kato’s life around.
The sharply-dressed star trio’s standout debut performance appeared to have struck a chord with the audience – the youngsters were showered with cheers as they walked the red carpet and mingled with their guests.
Speaking to journalists after the film had screened, a tuxedo-clad Katamba said it was a little difficult for him to pull off the bad boy role because he is a polite and nice guy in real life. The S.6 student however thanked the film’s director, Joseph Kenneth Ssebaggala a.k.a Zenken for putting him through his notes.
His classmate, 19-year-old Kabazarwe, also looked radiant in a leopard skin-themed dress, and was outspoken while discussing her childhood dream of becoming a movie star.
“I seized the opportunity as soon as the auditions were opened. I knew my experience in singing and dancing would help me get the role,” the bubbly born again teen said, revealing she has finally discovered her true calling.
Seventeen-year-old Namuganda on the other hand wore a short African print dress with an animated collar and high heels, a chic look that made her an instant star amongst the many teenage boys that came for the movie.
Like Kabazarwe, the S.3 student said she’s been part of the school’s drama club ever since she joined, and that she was contemplating taking on acting as a career after she’s done with school.
The film’s supporting cast too had its fare share of the fan praise, particularly Charles Kabogoza, who plays the authoritarian teacher, Mr Adams, who’s bent on putting errant students like Kato back on track.
The popular actor known as Chris from his stint on NTV’s Deception series said it was both refreshing and challenging working with young actors. He called on other schools to emulate Buddo and develop their students’ talents.
Dan Ssettaba, Rogers Martine Ssebulime, Madrine Nakyeyune and Janefrancis Namugerwa were also impressive in their respective supporting roles; and so were Kenneth Mugabi and Ali Musoke who scored and shot the film, respectively.
Amid all the praise, however, some critics felt the movie dragged a little, and that its twists were easily predictable. The lead actor also failed to ditch his natural laid-back demeanor in scenes that needed a little emotion. But at his tender age, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Guest of honor and Kika dance troupe director, who’s is also a Buddo alumnus, Yusuf Kaddu, said the film was an ultimate holiday package for students.
Reform will hold several other screenings at National Theatre and Buddo SS in the days to come before beginning its festival tour.