Uganda’s laxity gifts Rwanda with multi-million film deal

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Rwanda has in the past few years built its brand as a potential filmmaking powerhouse, thanks to its attractive investment policies, state funding and picturesque landscape.

And now, the country has given yet another huge boost to its emerging audio-visual sector after signing multiple co-production deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the ongoing Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco) in Burkina Faso.

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Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré greets Rwanda’s Minister of Sports and Culture Esperance Nyirisafari at Fespaco yesterday

Although no specific details have been divulged, officials at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the national body charged with overseeing the country’s investment plans, have told this blog that the deals will take effect immediately.

“What I can confirm to you now is that we have so far secured agreements to co-produce 15 international films in Rwanda starting this year,” said Félix Siboniyo, the Head of Single Project Implementation Unit (SPIU) at RDB.

“We cannot wait to showcase to the world what Rwanda has to offer in terms of its film potential and tourism while also creating jobs for our youths,” he added.

Siboniyo is part of an 80-member Rwandan contingent comprising of top government officials which is currently stationed at Fespaco with the sole purpose of marketing the country as a tourist and filmmaking destination.

The team from Rwanda is among the main exhibitors at Fespaco’s famed film co-production and financing market, known simply as Mica, which attracts thousands of film professionals from across the world to Ouagadougou every year.

The tiny country’s big coup at this year’s Fespaco comes at the expense of Uganda after it has been revealed the latter turned down an opportunity to participate at the biggest cinema showcase in Africa, which Rwanda then gladly grabbed and ran with.

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Interview with Rwanda Development Board’s Félix Siboniyo

In a bid to foster synergies between Francophone and Anglophone filmmakers, Fespaco this year extended special invitations to a select number of countries, Uganda inclusive, to participate in its various programmes.

In a letter dated Jan 04, 2019, which this writer has seen, the Fespaco director, Ardiouma Soma, writes to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi inviting the communications and film regulatory body to send a delegation to Ouagadougou.

Efforts by the festival’s liaisons in Kampala to follow up on the request with UCC fell through. It is not known whether Mutabazi wrote back to Fespaco declining the generous offer, although it is now obvious Uganda was short-sighted in envisioning the immense benefits Rwanda is now enjoying from Fespaco.

The filmmaking community in Uganda will also be irked to learn that the Rwanda invite came in at the eleventh hour after Uganda showed no interest, but nonetheless authorities in the fast-developing country saw the big picture and hurriedly sent an impressive team of ministers, filmmakers, pop stars and PR specialists to Ouagadougou.

President Paul Kagame himself is expected to officiate over the festival’s awards gala due tomorrow at the Ouagadougou Municipal Stadium where the acclaimed Rwandan war drama, The Mercy of the Jungle, by director Joel Karekezi is tipped for glory.

Rwanda, one of the only two French-speaking countries in East Africa, already has blossoming bilateral ties with West Africa, and its participation at Fespaco is seen by many as a move to open up new markets for its cultural products.

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A Rwandese cultural dancer entertaining guests during the festival’s opening ceremony on Sunday

Despite having the youngest film industry in East Africa, Rwanda is already well on its way to overtaking Kenya and Uganda as the region’s dominant filmmaking hub following a series of government interventions.

The government for instance established the Rwanda Film Agency (RFA) last year to provide funds and training to the country’s creatives while the RDB has been outstanding in lobbying for foreign investment into the local sector.

The government of Rwanda, which already has co-production agreements with France and South Africa, is also now encouraging its filmmakers to depart from the clichéd narrative of the 1994 genocide so as to paint a more positive image of the country.

Indeed, all the three films representing Rwanda at Fespaco this year – Mercy of the Jungle, Inanga and Icyasha – tell narratives of hope and beauty about a country that is up to today still recovering from the horrors of the genocide tragedy.

Themed ‘Confronting Our Memory to Shape the Future of a Pan-African Cinema’, this year’s Fespaco marks the 50th anniversary since the world-renowned festival was launched by the great Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara as a cultural tool aimed at fronting authentic African narratives in the face of colonialism.

Now in its 26th edition, the biannual festival’s position as the ‘Mecca of African cinema’ has largely remained unchallenged except for a few criticisms regarding its Francophone-inclined programming and inability to nurture balanced growth of the film industry across the continent.

The weeklong cinema showcase features diverse programming including film screenings, the Mica, workshops and many other industry events. This year’s ultimate prize, the prestigious Golden Stallion of Yennenga, has pitted 16 of the best African films with Mercy of the Jungle and Kenya’s lesbian love story Rafiki considered among the front runners.

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‘Rafiki’, a beautiful tale of forbidden love

POLLY KAMUKAMA

It was outlawed in its own country ahead of its scheduled premiere last year, and there are fears it is not welcome in many other countries across the continent.

But the controversial Kenyan film, Rafiki, certainly felt at home as it screened to hundreds of moviegoers at the ongoing Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco) in Burkina Faso yesterday.

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Kena and Ziki kiss in one of the film’s many intimate scenes

Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, the film about forbidden love between two young women had already created frenzied buzz at Fespaco courtesy of its provocative subject matter and successful run on the international film festival circuit.

There had nonetheless been fears it would be boycotted in Ouagadougou despite the city’s liberal image as the ‘film capital of Africa’. Heavy security deployment was seen at the venue ahead of the 8:30pm screening, although this might have been as a result of a slew of invited government officials rather than as a precautionary move to curb any potential protests against the showcasing of the gay-themed film in a predominantly Muslim country.

By 7pm, however, hundreds of moviegoers had already started lining up the street leading into the enormous Cine Burkina to catch the audacious love story which has since its premiered at Cannes last May served as an advocacy tool in the fight for LGBT rights in Africa .

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Actresses Sheila Munyiva (L) and Samantha Mugatsia (R) put on stunning performance in the film

Inspired by the Caine award-winning Ugandan short story, Jambula Tree, and set in Nairobi’s sprawling middle class urban housing blocks, Rafiki follows the story of two girls who are forced to choose between happiness and their own safety.

While awaiting results for their final high school exams, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), daughters of two rivalling politicians, meet and are instantly attracted to each other. What starts out as friendship however quickly grows into an intense romance as neither girl can hide her feelings for the other.

With Nairobi’s raging homophobic culture suffocating them in, however, the two lovers must keep their affair a secret. But how long can they pretend?

The chemistry between Mugatsia and Munyiva, along with performances from the rest of the cast, is a marvel to witness on screen, and cinematographer Christopher Wessels made sure to augment it with compelling visuals of Nairobi’s emerging skyscrapers and vibrant life.

Kahiu’s bold decision to explore homosexuality, a taboo subject in most African societies, has been praised at every festival the film has been to so far. Rafiki’s strength however goes beyond the superficial – the film is for instance stylistically edited, allowing the narrative to unfold at a steady, almost realist pace, much to the benefit of the viewer.

There are also very symbolic moments that are quite simply unforgettable in the film, such as the first time Kena and Ziki make love inside an abandoned car to the backdrop of an evening moon, which could be viewed as an analogy of the beauty in their supposedly sinful act.

The character of a bible-bashing pastor, who at one point apparently attempts to cure a defiant Kena of her demons, will also leave viewers questioning the role of religion in propagating homophobia in Africa.

The film’s sheer beauty however couldn’t stop some audience members walking out in an apparent act of protest as it became clear that Kahiu’s masterful piece is after all as much an outsider as its heroines.

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Belgian-Ugandan thriller ‘Papi’ premieres this Thursday

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Papi, the long-awaited Belgium-France-Uganda co-production film set in Uganda and featuring a predominantly local cast is set to premiere at Theatre Labonita in Kampala this Thursday.

Speaking exclusively to this blog yesterday, the film’s Belgian writer and director Kjell Clarysse said he was excited to bring the film ‘back home’ following a successful run in Belgium.

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The film revolves around its titular character Papi, played by Congolese actor and fashionista Papy Tshifuaka

“We had a great time filming in Uganda with the local cast and crew, and I hope the audiences here appreciate the film as much as the ones back in Europe did,” Clarysse said, revealing that the film enjoyed rave reviews when it debuted in Brussels in May last year.

The 31-year-old filmmaker and photographer who is currently in the country to finalize arrangements for the Feb 15 red carpet do is hopeful his debut feature will open up doors for more European co-productions with Uganda.

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Ugandan actor Wilberforce Mutete (R) gets made up during the film’s shoot in 2015

Shot on location in Kampala back in 2015, the $15,000 (about Shs 54.5m) budget film was mainly funded through an elaborate crowd-funding campaign that saw money raised through online contributions and other forms of fundraisers in Belgium and France.

The multilingual thriller revolves around its titular character Papi, a Congolese dandy who finds work as a boda boda rider in Kampala. His life is however turned upside-down when he crosses paths with a troubled woman and a duplicitous Belgian expat.

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This behind-the-scenes photo shows the cast and crew in action

Papy Tshifuaka, a Congolese actor and real life member of the world-famous fashion cult the Sepeurs plays the titular character while Belgian film star Fredrik Declercq is the villain.

The film’s Ugandan cast is on the other hand led by actors Rehema Nanfuka, Daniel Omara, Felix Bwanika, Wilberforce Mutete and TV personality Deedan Muyira.

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The film’s trailer features gripping, action-packed exerpts

The film’s two-minute trailer offers exciting insights into what awaits audiences on Thursday with its gripping action-packed excerpts. The brief clip opens with an impressive aerial shot of a Kampala suburb before cutting to what appears to be a meeting between two powerful men. Flashes of Papi’s flamboyant lifestyle then provide a transition to a more gruesome tone as the clip appears to show a rape and murder scene before the credits roll.

Tickets to the premiere cost Shs20,000 and will be sold at Theatre Labonita box office on the D-Day. Gates open at 7pm. See you there.

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Award-winning Ugandan film ‘Freedom’ set for UK stage debut

POLLY KAMUKAMA

A veteran British producer credited for launching the careers of some of the country’s biggest 80s popstars has adapted the award-winning Ugandan film Freedom for stage.

George Hargreaves, a film distributor and evangelist who once produced and managed a host of pioneering Black British entertainers including Sinitta and Five Star, will premiere the stage version of the hit film in the UK later this August.

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Ray Shell (L) and George Hargreaves during the interview with this blog in Southampton, UK last week

Speaking to this blog in an exclusive interview recently, Hargreaves revealed that the play will debut at the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in London between August 15-26th.

According to the tentative programme line-up of the 70th annual edition of the Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, the hour-long play will be showcased at St John’s Church in the heart of Edinburgh city on August 15, 16, 22 and 26.

“The London show will take place on August 18 and 19, and will particularly aim to spotlight our lead actress Nisha Kalema,” Hargreaves said of the theatre production that will be helmed by acclaimed American-British actor and author Ray Shell.

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Director Richard Mulindwa, seen here receiving one of the film’s six accolades from Vice President Edward Ssekandi at UFF 2016.

“We will also screen three Ugandan films [The Tailor, Galz About Town and Jinxed] that cast Nisha in the lead role at the Bernie Grant centre. We want to introduce her to the western audiences as part of our plan to groom her into the international film star that she deserves to be,” noted the 60-year-old producer who also serves as Kalema’s manager.

Both Shell and Hargraves say the play is part of a rather ambitious campaign that will apparently culminate in a remake of the film with the hope of having it compete for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2019 with 23-year-old Kalema as its driving force.

According to Academy rules, for a film to qualify for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, it has got to be made in a predominantly non-English language by a local team of filmmakers, and first released in its home country. It should also be approved by a national Oscar committee, which is tasked with nominating a single film to represent the country every year.

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Actress Nisha Kalema, seen here as Amelia, will reprise the award-winning role in the film’s stage version

As it stands now, the original Freedom, directed by Richard Mulindwa, does not fulfil any of the foreign language Oscar criteria. The feature film nonetheless captivated Ugandan audiences with its shocking violence and staller performances upon release last year.  So impressive was the English language picture that it took home a total of six accolades and Shs37m in cash rewards at the 2016 Uganda Film Festival (UFF) awards.

Set in the 80s political anarchy of Uganda, the low-budget film tells the harrowing story of an orphaned girl who suffers despicable abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.

Kalema, a single mother of one who has enjoyed meteoric success since bursting onto the local film scene three years ago, won the UFF Best Actress award for her heart-breaking performance as lead character Amelia.

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The writer with producer George Hargreaves during the interview in Southampton, UK

The Galz About Town actress will reprise her role in Hargreaves’ stage adaptation, and so will veteran dramatist Raymond Rushabiro whose screen performance as Amelia’s villainous father was hailed as outstanding.

African Movie Academy Award (AMAA) 2017 nominee Samuel Kizito Saviour, Queen of Katwe actress Irene Nalubega and UK-based Ugandan actor Richard Kays are also part of the play’s small all-Ugandan cast.

But while Freedom the film details Amelia’s distressing journey from an adored child to a sex slave, the one-hour play can only allow for much detail. Shell, who says he will be working from a script penned by Kalema and not the actual film itself, admits it was a tough decision knocking off some of the parts that made Mulindwa’s directorial effort impressive.

“We will focus on Amelia’s adult life as a tortured woman and her subsequent quest for freedom,” 65-year-old Shell explained, expressing his hopes that the play’s themes of betrayal, violence and self-discovery strike a chord with British audiences in the wake of terror attacks and political uncertainty.

The African American writer will fly to Uganda with Hargreaves in the coming weeks to meet and rehearse with the cast ahead of the August showcase.

Meanwhile, Kalema has described her impending grand stage debut as a “lifetime opportunity and by far my most definitive moment” in her young career. She thanked Hargreaves, whom she now considers a mentor and a true friend despite having only first met him ten months ago, for giving her an opportunity to showcase her talent to the world.

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‘Queen of Katwe’ Ugandan premiere set for October 1

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Queen of Katwe, the upcoming Hollywood biographical film about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, will hold its local premiere early next month.

The hotly-billed sports drama starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Selma leading man David Oyelewo is set to screen at Century Cinemax in Kampala on October 1.

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Oscar-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o (R) seen here in one of the film’s scenes with newcomer Madina Nalwanga who plays the titular character 

“We are currently in the process of getting clearance from the Media Council of Uganda ahead of the film’s October 1 premiere,” Century Cinemax Manager Satish Guna told this blog in an exclusive interview today.

Guna added that the exclusive red carpet event, which also marks the Disney-produced picture’s African premiere, will be graced by the entire cast and crew and other big names from from the world of cinema.

The Mira Nair-directed biopic meanwhile is set to have its world premiere a few days from now at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Canada after which it will have a limited release across North America on September 23.

Its general worldwide theatrical release is slated for September 30 with the $15m (about Shs 50.7bn) budget feature expected to start showing in African cinemas on October 7.

Shot on location in Kampala early last year, Queen of Katwe chronicles the story of 20-year-old Mutesi from a homeless girl growing up in the rough city slum to a world chess champion.

The film is an adaptation of American journalist Tim Crothers’ best-selling book, The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster, which itself was first published as a magazine article in ESPN .

The two-hour film casts newcomer actress Madina Nalwanga as Mutesi while Nyong’o and Oyelewo play her mother Harriet and Coach Katende, respectively.

Hollywood-based Ugandan actor Ntare Mwine, singer Maurice Kirya and Ugandan actress Esther Tebandeke also feature in supporting roles.

Director Mira Nair first teased the film at the Amakula International Film Festival in Kampala this March when she showed a 20-minute clip from the movie to excited fans during her masterclass.

The film’s two-and-half minute official trailer would later go viral almost as soon as it was released in May this year. The rather emotional clip shows snippets of Mutesi’s struggle with poverty and rejection, her first contact with chess, as well as her first time on a plane.

With so much Oscar buzz already surrounding the film, Ugandans will be hoping that the biggest high-profile film out of the Pearl of Africa since The Last King of Scotland will indeed live up to its billing.

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‘Freedom’ sweeps the board at Uganda Film Festival Awards

POLLY KAMUKAMA

New Ugandan film Freedom got off to a dazzling start as it took home six awards and Shs 37m in cash rewards at last Friday’s Uganda Film Festival (UFF) Awards.

The Richard Mulindwa-directed picture won awards for Film of the Year, Best Feature Film and Best Cinematography which came with cash tokens of Shs 20m, Shs 5m and Shs 3m, respectively.

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Richard Mulindwa (2nd L) receiving his Film of the Year award from Vice President Edward Sekandi

The 80s-set feature film also scooped accolades for Best Costume, Best Editing and Best Actress (Nisha Kalema) which also came with bonuses of Shs 3m each.

It was Kalema’s second UFF Best Actress award in a row having shared it with arch rival Faridah Kutesa at last year’s edition of the annual awards.

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Richard Mulindwa (L) with Freedom‘s principle cast (L-R) Bobby Tamale, Nisha Kalema, Yvonne Sue and Fiona Sebandeke during a photocall at the awards 

The 23-year-old starlet got emotional as she accepted the award for her heartbreaking performance as lead character Amelia, an orphaned girl that suffers despicable abuse at the hands of her adoptive father in the thrilling drama.

Thanking her rumoured screenwriter boyfriend Samuel Saviour for discovering her, the fast-rising actress told the audience how she’s yet to come to terms with her meteoric rise having burst onto the local film scene just last year.

Mulindwa on his part thanked God for the success of the film that’s set to officially premiere in Kampala next month.

Freedom indeed lived up to its billing having headed to the Serena Hotel event last Friday as a clear favourite with a whooping nine nods.

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Actor Farooq Mutebi is joined on the red carpet by some of the guests at the awards

In the end, it only lost out on the Best Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Actor categories.

Hassan Mageye’s Invisible Cuffs, a chilling tale of a family man’s struggle with cannibalism, on the other hand only managed to win two of its eight nominations. It took awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Mageye).

It was however a disappointing evening for New Intentions, the latest directorial effort from Kennedy Kihire, as it failed to make any good on its six nods.

The film’s greatest strength perhaps lies in its lead actor John Wayne Muganza whose momentous performance as a child molester was surprisingly overlooked by the five-man UFF 2016 jury.

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Nisha Kalema (L) poses with her second UFF Best Actress award in a row  

Urban TV’s Coffee Shop also reigned supreme in the TV categories beating arch rival NTV’s Deception to the Best TV Drama, Best Actor in a TV Drama (Arnold Muhereza) and Best Actress in a TV Drama (Pamela Karyeko).

The jury, headed for the fourth consecutive time by Nigerian film expert Femi Odugbemi, noted that there was a significant improvement in the general quality of submissions this year.

They advised local filmmakers to avail their films for critical and scholarly review so as to get expert opinions that would help them improve their craft.

It was the first time in the awards’ four-year history that all winners got feted with cash rewards on top of the crested crane-shaped crests.

The red carpet event opened with a short documentary about the festival’s journey in which a couple of filmmakers were featured complaining about government’s failure to fully support the local sector.

In his speech as Guest of Honour, however, Vice President Edward Sekandi said government was committed to support the burgeoning industry, even hinting on the possibility of setting up a film fund in the next financial year.

Organised by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the national communications regulator, UFF seeks to provide a platform for the promotion and exhibition of Ugandan cinema.

This year’s festival was themed ‘Promoting Culture Through Film’ and featured a number of weeklong activities that culminated with the glamorous awards gala on Friday.

Full list of UFF 2016 Award winners

  • Best Student Film –The Touch
  • Best Short Film – Jinxed
  • Best Documentary – Heritage
  • Best Animation – The Runaway Rolex
  • Best TV Drama – Coffee Shop
  • Best Actor in a TV Drama – Anorld Muhereza (Coffee Shop)
  • Best Actress in a TV Drama – Pamela Karyeko (Coffee Shop)
  • Best Screenplay – Invisible Cuffs
  • Best Costume/Production Design – Freedom
  • Best Cinematography – Freedom
  • Best Sound – Wako
  • Best Editing/Post Production – Freedom
  • Best East African Film – Majembere (Burundi)
  • Best Actor – Hassan Mageye (Invisible Cuffs)
  • Best Actress – Nisha Kalema (Freedom)
  • Best Feature Film – Freedom
  • Film of the Year/Best Director – Freedom

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Upcoming film ‘Freedom’ tops UFF 2016 nominations

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Ugandan director Richard Mulindwa’s upcoming film Freedom is off to a dazzling start after scooping a whooping nine nods at the forthcoming Uganda Film Festival (UFF) awards.

The film, set to officially premiere later this November, scoped nominations in every major competition category at this year’s UFF scheduled for next month.

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Nisha Kalema’s heartbreaking performance in ‘Freedom’ could win her another  UFF Best Actress award

 

Based on a true story and set in the 80s, the English language picture details the despicable abuse suffered by one unlucky girl at the hands of her adoptive father.

The film has landed nominations for Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

It has also scored Best Actor and Best Actress slots in its lead cast of Raymond Rushabiro and Nisha Kalema, as well as nods in the costume, sound and editing categories.

 

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Both Tania Kankindi and Hassan Mageye have been nominated for their performance in ‘Invisible Cuffs’

“I endured many challenges and made plenty of sacrifices to make this film. I’m thankful to God for rewarding me in this magnitude,” an emotional Mulindwa said in reaction to the nomination list released today.

The 29-year-old filmmaker is certainly the man to beat at this year’s UFF awards as his other new film The Only Son, which premiered in a glamorous red carpet event at Serena Hotel in Kampala just last week also raked in six nods including Best Director, Best Feature Film and Best Screenplay.

Hassan Mageye’s Invisible Cuffs, which charts the unnerving story of a man’s struggle with cannibalism, comes hot on the heels of Freedom with eight nods having only missed out on Best Cinematography among all the top categories.

 

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Richard Mulindwa’s two films brag a combined total of 15 nominations in ten categories

Mageye, who also plays lead character Deo in the film, will be looking to take home the Best Actor gong with his biggest rivalry coming in the form of Rushabiro.

Mageye’s onscreen wife and the drama-thriller’s heroine Tania Kankindi will also go head-to-head with the high-flying Kalema for the Best Actress accolade.

Other top contenders at this year’s UFF awards include among others Kennedy Kihire’s New Intentions, Aaron Ziwa’s Wako and Dream America by Paresh Gondaliya with six, four and four nods each, respectively.

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UFF 2016 Full Nomination List

Bobby Tamale, producer and lead actor of The Only Son, landed two acting nods – one for the film, the other for the WBS TV series It Can’t Be for which he also doubles as producer.

Although largely praised as a fair lineup, this year’s UFF awards nominations haven’t fallen short of controversy.

Among the rather outstanding performances overlooked by the five-man UFF jury this year include that of John Wayne Muganza (New Intentions), Specioza Amito (A Girl from Lamwo) and Yvonne Sue (Freedom).

Imbabazi, Don’t Lick, Five Seconds, Chebet and Mr Ability are some of the other good films that didn’t make the cut.

The supporting categories were also unjustifiably scrapped off in favour of three new TV categories which pit Coffee Shop and Deception as the top contenders.

Organised by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), UFF seeks to promote the local film industry by providing a platform for filmmakers to showcase their works to the world.

The fourth edition of the annual cinema showcase takes place Aug 22-26, 2016, under the theme ‘Promoting Culture Through Film’ and will make use of all the major cinemas around Kampala.

The weeklong programme will feature a series of activities including film screenings, forums and workshops, and will culminate with a lavish awards gala were winners are feted with crests and laptops.

This year’s awards jury includes film experts Femi Femi Odugbemi (Nigeria), Cliff Okumu (Kenya), Leonce Ngabo (Burundi), Dominic Dipio (Uganda) and Joshua Ssali Sentongo (Uganda).

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