A man with a rope tied around his neck is pulled like a goat through the streets of Kampala by a group of mean-faced soldiers. They beat and curse him as they lead him through throngs of terrified onlookers.
Moments later, he is hanged at a public square and the gory execution is telecast live on national TV to serve as a warning to all ‘enemies’ of President Idi Amin.
This is one of the many gruesome scenes to be depicted in the upcoming film about the martyrdom of Christians in Uganda during the dictator’s eight year reign.
A Distant Grief is an adaptation of a 1979 autobiography of the same name by the renowned Ugandan clergyman and politician Kefa Sempangi, and is set to begin shooting in Uganda early next year.
The rather gritty book details Sempangi’s lucky escape from Amin’s henchmen, and how thousands of his fellow Christians were either butchered or forced to flee into exile.
Now, the film’s American co-writer and director, Dan Fabrizio, has come out to clarify that he will maintain the book’s brutal and violent parts including accounts of barbaric torture, public executions, rape and cannibalism.
The 57-year-old documentary filmmaker was two months ago in Uganda to audition over 500 local actors seeking to take up roles in the film. He told this blog that he chose not to tone down the book’s shocking content so as to be able to bring out Amin’s true character as a devilish hater of Christians.
His decision is reminiscent of The Last King of Scotland, a 2007 Oscar-winning film about Idi Amin, which was noted for its violence. In one particular scene, a man is hanged by his own skin and left to die after suspended meat hooks are pierced through his body.
“It is rather comforting to know that Amin’s evil deeds could not break the spirit of Ugandans and that of the church,” Fabrizio says of his decision to portray this sort of terror in his film.
The born-again filmmaker and scholar who has previously done some work in Uganda first came into contact with Sempangi’s book in 1990. The two men later linked up and co-wrote the film’s script in 2010.
He notes on the film’s website that the book changed his life in many ways, and that he instantly knew it would make a great movie.
The 192-page memoir has sold a few thousand copies in Europe and America, but is still largely unknown to Ugandans. It is probably the only notable book that charts the very important story of the birth and growth of the born-again church movement in Uganda during the Amin regime.
Much of the book’s chapters offer explicit accounts of unthinkable atrocities carried out by soldiers and other top government officials from when Amin seized power in 1971 up until his disgraceful downfall in 1979.
It highlights a number of high profile murders which were carried out in an almost systematic fashion by tall dark merciless henchmen dressed in sunglasses, flowered shirts and bell-bottom trousers.
The drunken gun-toting assassins, mostly from Amin’s Kakwa-Nubian tribe, would storm homes and offices, call out the names of their victims and humiliate them in front of family and friends.
The terrified victims would then be tied up and hoarded into a car trunk while begging for mercy. Only a few were killed immediately. Majority were taken to prison and tortured to death by the most sadistic methods including forcing them to eat their own body parts.
In government safe houses, prisoners were made to kill each other by hitting themselves on the head with sledgehammers. When the killings were quick and merciful, the soldiers cursed in anger. When they were slow and torturous, they rejoiced.
Female victims were gang raped before their husbands and children after which their reproductive organs were cut off or set on fire to allow for a slow agonizing death.
The book further alleges that Amin himself often took part in the debauchery. In one particular incidence, Sempangi wrote, the burly tyrant went into a rage and pummeled his friend with a sledgehammer to the head. He then proceeded to cut off the man’s head to take for keeps in his freezer at home.
“For Kefa and other Ugandans to emerge out of this dark period of unthinkable anarchy was a miracle that needs to be shared with the whole world,” Fabrizio says of his inspiration to make the film.
He is now hustling to produce the film himself under his novice company, Dogwood Media Productions Ltd. His biggest challenge now is raising the $5m (Shs12.5bn) budget needed for the film’s production.
He has so far only been able to raise $200,000 (about Shs500m) from a crowd funding campaign back in the US, but hopes to raise another $200,000 before end of this year through a series of fundraisers in Uganda.
The film will also now have to rely on local talent with the second and final round of open auditions slated for next month in Kampala. Actors who made it from the first round will be notified in two weeks time from now.