It was made over the course of four difficult years with no script and zero budget, and its producers at one point contemplated throwing in the towel.
But the painful journey to produce City of Dust ended on a positive note earlier this week as the film finally premiered to warm reception at the National Theatre in Kampala.
Directed by Young Gul Kim, a 24-year-old Korean-American filmmaker who calls Uganda home, the drama film began production in 2010 but had to endure numerous interruptions owing to conflicting schedules and limited funding among other shortcomings.
The hassles however proved worthwhile on Tuesday as moviegoers and critics showered the film with praise.
Although there were a few reservations about its sound and visuals, the film was largely hailed for its aesthetics, powerful themes and impressive performance from the cast.
The rather artsy piece exudes a documentary-like feel, and tells the story of an ambitious conman in Kampala whose life is turned around when one deal terribly backfires.
The 71-minute picture opens with a powerful Bible quote that likens human life to dust (Ecc 12:7) before taking you on the emotional journey of Mugisha (excellently played by James Bagyenzi) whose only goal in life is make so much money off fleecing people so as to be able to set up his own legitimate business.
He goes about his dubious intent with the help of a friend, John (Felix Bwanika), who unfortunately is not as smart and rational as himself – John won’t mind mugging you for a few bucks.
The duo, both blighted by their deprived backgrounds and driven by sheer greed, however soon fall out after a huge sum of ‘dirty’ money they are meant to share mysteriously goes missing.
It is later revealed that Mugisha’s brother, a wanted man, initially stole the money from his boss. Mugisha in turn steals it from his brother, only to lose it to his duplicitous girlfriend, who is seen driving around in a posh car at the end of the film – presumable money well spent.
Kim, a graduate of Arts from the University of Southern California in USA, put a lot of artistic integrity to the film, even when he made it when he was just 20 and with only one previous film credit to his name.
He went for the risky-but-serious arthouse genre by ditching conventional storytelling techniques and instead using settings and a lot symbolism, such as the title itself and the subtle reference to religion, to drive the story forward.
The film also highlights a number of topical issues such as hypocrisy, human greed and laziness among youth, while using less dialogue and more of the characters’ emotions and actions to enhance scenes.
“It is a film about one man in a city full of new and lost dreams. I hope it gets society and the youth in particular reflecting on their lives,” Kim says of the film that was partly inspired by his own experiences as a regular victim of con schemes in Kampala.
The young filmmaker, who prefers to be called a storyteller, grew up in the upscale Kampala suburb of Muyenga having moved here with his academician parents when aged four.
He made a short film in 2009 from where he met most of the team that he would later the next year work with on Dust.
Bagyenzi, a former journalist who is currently trying to introduce filmmaking in his hometown of Kabale, leads the film’s small cast that also includes Carlos Ombonya, Felix Bwanika, Leone Menya and Maureen Jolly Nankya.
Tuesday’s premiere was graced by a strong American and Korean community, as well as government dignitaries including MPs, David Bahati and Ronnah Ninsiima.
Bahati was greeted with a few hushed sneers from the American community in the audience, presumably owing to his authorship of the now infamous Anti-gay bill.
The Ndorwa West MP was nonetheless applauded after pledging to donate Shs1m towards Bagyenzi’s project, which aims at teaching and equipping Kabale youngsters to make films.
It is also understood that part of the proceeds from the premiere’s ticket sales were dedicated to the same cause.
City of Dust will soon be available online and on DVD.