Over 500 Ugandan actors have auditioned to partake in an upcoming international film about how Idi Amin persecuted Christians during his eight-year bloody reign as Ugandan president.
A Distant Grief is an adaptation of the Ugandan politician and clergyman Dr Kefa Sempangi’s autobiography of the same title, and will begin shooting in Uganda January next year.
We broke news of the project on this blog earlier this year, revealing that the feature film would be written and directed by American filmmaker, Dan Fabrizio, and would cast a mix of top Hollywood and Ugandan actors.
Auditions to select the Ugandan cast were held last week at the National Theatre in Kampala with hundreds of actors turning up to give it a shot during the two-day exercise.
The auditions attracted some of the biggest names in Ugawood, including Sarah Kisauzi, Mathew Nabwiso, Prynce Okuyo, Allie Mutaka, Esther Bwanika, Ernest Bumba and Micheal Wawuyo Sr among others.
But it was rather the young and novice actors who stole the show, leaving Fabrizio and team spoilt for choice on who to take.
“I have no doubt that some of these performances can easily win an Oscar,” Fabrizio told us at the end of the first round of auditions on Thursday, where 300 actors were tested.
The number nearly doubled on Friday, leading the 57-year-old documentary filmmaker to consider holding another round of auditions sometime in September ahead of the January 2015 shooting.
But the born-again Christian, who also teaches filmmaking in his hometown of Seattle, has bemoaned the possibility of missing out on securing the services of Hollywood superstars, Don Cheadle and Dennis Haysbert, whom he had previously courted to play the film’s lead roles.
Fabrizio explained that although the duo is enthusiastic about the project, their agents are stalling negations by demanding hefty paychecks for their clients.
“Haysbert’s agent is demanding for $5m (about Shs12.5bn) which is our total budget for the film. Cheadle is asking for twice as much,” a seemingly disappointed Fabrizio said, quickly adding it will be a blessing for Uganda if his compatriots indeed pull out.
“We want Ugandans to own this film in every single way because it is their story,” he said, explaining the only reason he wanted Hollywood star power on board was to make it easier for him to get funding.
Fabrizio had also hoped the two wealthy black American actors would contribute some money to the project, but now finds himself having to devise other means of getting funding.
He has so far only been able to raise $200,000 (about Shs500m) from a crowd funding campaign out of the $5m (Shs12.5bn) total production budget.
His plan is to raise at least $400,000 (about Shs1bn) before the end of this year so as to be able to get a bank loan of $5m back in the U.S. He says it is hard to get funding in Hollywood for a film that features a predominant black cast.
The film’s Ugandan associate producer, Ashabel Malinga, says a number of fundraising activities will be organized in Kampala starting next month to help raise at least $200,000.
Rumour also has it that government is considering supporting the project as was the case with The Last King of Scotland which enjoyed enormous logistical support from President Museveni including granting the filming crew access to statehouse, army garrisons and other highly confidential places.
A Distant Grief has spent over two decades in the making after Fabrizio first read Sempangi’s book in 1990. The two men later met and agreed to adapt it into a film. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that the duo co-wrote the script Fabrizio’s sabbatical in Uganda.
The film, to be produced under Fabrizio’s Dogwood Media Productions, is expected to depict terrifying circumstances under which thousands of Christians were butchered on Amin’s orders in the ’70s.
Above all, however, Fabrizio says the film is meant to show God’s amazing grace, and how Christianity has stood the test of time.