He is currently in jail on a string of charges, but young Ugandan actor Hassan Spike Isingoma’s star is still shining after all.
The 19-year old actor has been nominated for an African Movie Academy Award (AMAA) for his spectacular performance in the film Boda Boda Thieves.
Isingoma, who plays the film’s teenage hero Abel – a young man given the responsibility of fending for his family through riding a boda boda (motorcycle commuter) – will be vying for the Best Young/ Promising Actor gong when the eleventh edition of the most prestigious film awards on the continent holds in South Africa this September.
Joining Isingoma on the nomination list to complete Uganda’s only hopes at this year’s ‘African Oscars’ is his co-star, Prossy Rukundo. She will be vying for the Best Supporting Actress accolade.
News of the film’s double recognition came in on Sunday after the nominees had been announced at a swanky ceremony in Los Angeles, USA a day before, and has since elated the local film fraternity.
Speaking exclusively to this blog yesterday, the film’s director, Donald Mugisha, said it was a great honour to have his long-awaited film, which premieres in Uganda this Saturday after doing stints at a number of international fests, recognized on the continent.
“Obviously I feel so happy about it, and I hope that the nomination can inspire other Ugandan filmmakers to work harder,” Mugisha said.
He however bemoaned the fact that none of his two actors might be able to travel to South Africa to attend the awards ceremony come September.
Isingoma is currently in prison, and Rukundo has no passport let alone the financial capacity to afford travel expenses.
We could not immediately verify details of Isingoma’s imprisonment at Luzira maximum security prison, but reliable sources have told us that the youngster is on remand awaiting trial for a string of serious offences including murder, rape and robbery.
A talented but deeply-troubled young man, Isingoma was discovered in the filthy slums of Kamwokya by Mugisha some 11 years ago, and the duo has since worked together on two films.
Mugisha describes his favored actor as a highly vulnerable youth and victim of circumstances having had a rough ghetto upbringing.
Isingoma’s father was a petty thief who was killed by mob while his mother sold marijuana and other illicit drugs to support the family.
As a youth from a dysfunctional home, it seems that Isingoma fell in with the wrong crowd, and he soon fathered a child aged just 15.
He would go to be enlisted in a notorious Kamwokya-based gang calling themselves ‘the Beach Boys’, whose modus operandi involved using its younger members as bait to start fights, which would then be used as justification to beat up and rob the victims.
His legal troubles started to take a toll on the film right from the moment he was cast in the lead role, which producers say was so similar to his real life story they felt as if they were making a documentary rather than the fictious story that it actually is.
The production process had to endure many halts as the youngster bounced in and out of prison, and at some point a body double had to be brought in for the pickup shots.
Now sitting in the cold Luzira cells awaiting a trial he will most likely lose, it is almost certain Isingoma will never know the joy of being recognized as one of the most outstanding film actors in Africa.
His co-star’s story is not any better. Thirty-year old Rukundo, who makes a living crushing stones, says she is too broke and unexposed to be a part of the glamorous ceremony.
Speaking to us in a phone interview in her local dialect Rukiga, the married mother-of-two recalled how she got cast after the film’s producers spotted her hammering away at rocks in a stone quarry in Kireka suburb.
“They said ‘can you say these words while looking at the camera’, and I said ‘let me try’. They called me the next day and gave me the job,” she recounted, admitting she does not exactly understand the significance of being nominated for an AMAA.
Meanwhile, South African gangster thriller iNumber Number (also known as Avenged) is tying with Cote d’Ivoire’s coming-of-age war drama Run in the top spot for the highest number of nominations at this year’s AMAA with 12 each.
The two hit films however face some cutthroat competition from Mauritanian’s Timbuktu, which racked in a whooping 11 nods.
Independence-themed Nigerian thriller, October 1, ties with Ethiopia’s immigration drama, Triangle Going to America, in the third spot of most nominated film with eight nods each.
This year’s AMAA has undergone massive rebranding following the resignation of the pan African brand’s founder and CEO of ten years, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe.
The move to have the awards held outside Nigeria for the first time in their 11-year history has been welcomed by many film lovers on the continent.
Uganda has consistently put in a dismal performance at the prestigious awards, thanks to its underdeveloped film sector, although a number of our films have earned nominations in recent past.
It now remains to be seen whether Isingoma and Runkundo will overturn the jinx.