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Why Uganda’s film industry moves one step forward, two steps back

ISAAC GODFREY GEOFFREY NABWANA, or simply NABWANA IGG, is the maker of Uganda’s most popular but rudimentary action films: Rescue Team, Who Killed Captain Alex, and Return of Uncle Benon. His ill-equipped Ramon Film Productions, which he sometimes calls Wakaliwood, has also produced Ekisa Butwa, Byabuuka, and Ekisaddaaka Baana. Drawing on his seven-year experience, Mr. Nabwana, 40, told The Campus Journal news web’s YAHYA SSEREMBA and ABUBAKAR SEMATIMBA why the country’s film industry has failed every test except survival. The excerpts:

CJ: What inspired you to invest in film production?
Nabwana: I loved movies since childhood and I loved Kung Fu and acrobatics. Driven by martial arts curiosity, my brother and I started buying China Sport magazine since we set foot in high school in 1988. I said to myself, “When I grow up, I will make a film.”

In 2005, I saw a newspaper story saying that Jingo Robinson of Image Vision studio – not Jingo the eminent V.J. of Kajansi Boys – had earned millions of shillings from making video. I rushed straight away to Uganda Film and Television Institute in Rubaga to learn video editing.

Though the course was meant to take six months, I studied for only two months because of financial constraints. But since I loved what I was doing, I was able to master editing in the two months and I even produced a video – Nimekuja – which was shown on WBS Television in 2005.

CJ: How far have you come?
Nabwana: Having mastered video editing, I fully ventured into film production without any facilities, without even a video camera. Whenever I wanted to shoot, a good friend would smuggle a Samsung camera from his father’s home that I used.

Another friend who taught Kung Fu would send me his students to act in the films, for I didn’t have enough money to hire actors. We used even not to write scripts – we would allocate roles haphazardly at the scene of filming.

Today we have improved tremendously, though we still have a long way to go. Whereas we still depend solely on volunteers, we have started training actors in basic acting skills. It’s so painful that we still cannot pay them.

CJ: How equipped is your industry today?
Nabwana: We have basic equipment and we still face challenges. We do not have facilities to treat injuries – injured actors have to cover their own medical expenses. In advanced countries film industries have ambulances ready at the scene of action; we don’t have even a shadow of that.

Besides, we cannot hire expensive houses or hotels – we often shoot from cheap locations in suburbs even when such places may not be suitable for the story we are acting. At times we are forced to change the script to fit in the little resources we have.

We surely need better facilities, such as HD Cameras. We also produce few copies because the CDs are expensive. When we sell these few copies, we buy more CDs and produce more copies.

CJ. With such serious limitations, how do you withstand the competition posed by imported films?
Nabwana: Ugandan films can compete with foreign films. For instance, I sold 6000 copies of Rescue Team in just two months. There’s no foreign movie that can sell just 2000 copies in such a short time in Uganda.

Besides, foreign movies are often shown in video halls where so many people watch a single copy. Our movies, on the other hand, are normally watched from homes by individuals or individual families and we end up selling more copies.

CJ: What are your best-selling movies?
Nabwana: Who Killed Captain Alex, the first action-packed thriller ever produced in Africa that we released in 2010. I uploaded it on video sharing site YouTube for free access so that we could attract global attention and hopefully expand our market. It has been viewed on YouTube close to 2 million times.

Rescue Team is also popular – I sold 6000 copies in two months. Our other popular movies include Return of Uncle Benon, Ekisa Butwa, Byabuuka, and Ekisaddaaka Baana – all about social evils in our society.

CJ: From your experience, why is Uganda’s film industry growing at a snail’s pace?
Nabwana: The local film industry is dominated by unskilled practitioners who know very little about what they are doing. Producers, directors, actors, etc – all depend on trial and error.

We are also subjected to unfair competition by unscrupulous distributors of foreign movies. On top of translating and popularizing foreign movies, VJs (video jockeys or commentators) download such movies freely from the internet and sell copies so cheaply – each at sh. 700 – because they don’t put in money. Whenever we try to stop this blatant violation of copyright, the VJs run to General Elly Tumwine who intervenes in their favour because of his personal interests.

CJ. Why don’t you unite with other film producers and collectively defend your interests?
Nabwana: We have two associations that are ever at war with each other: the Uganda Federation of Movies Industry to which I belong, and Uganda Film Network. Members of Uganda Film Network, especially Kato Lubwama, are committed to frustrating our aspirations. Kato Lubwama goes around decampaining our action movies, saying that we use pipes instead of guns. He claims Uganda is not yet ready to produce action films.

He doesn’t realize that the beginning is not always perfect. He is also blind to the improvements we have registered in the recent past. The Kato Lubwamas of this world should stop thinking that they own Uganda’s film industry.

CJ: What kind of support do you get from the government?
Nabwana: The government is totally ignorant about the film industry and it doesn’t recognize us. In fact, we don’t even pay taxes. We don’t mind if it collected taxes and in turn accorded us the recognition and legal protection we deserve.
Besides, the Police keep on interrupting our filming, interrogating us on the use of police uniform even after we have shown them the letter of authorization from the Inspector General of Police.

I remember reporting a case to the Central Police Station in Kampala involving a video vendor who illegally made copies out of and sold my movie. I was shocked to hear from the Police that they didn’t think making copies out of someone’s film was an offense. The Police need sensitization.

CJ: Tell us more about the challenges you face in the market
Nabwana: We have still failed to penetrate the corporate class or the upper middle class partly because our movies are produced in the local Luganda language. Yet, this category of Ugandans associates itself almost solely with English.

To address this challenge, we have started involving members of the middle class in our films. We managed to sell 100 copies of Rescue Team at the Ministry of Public Service alone because an employee of the ministry featured in the movie.
We also think that if the President talks about our movies, we would sell more copies to the middle class, which has the money to spend. 

CJ: Why don’t you act in English?
Nabwana: Ugandan English films are confused with Nigerian movies. You have to do a lot of work to convince the public that they are not Nigerian.

CJ: Besides using YouTube and other social media, how do you publicise your products?
Nabwana: We don’t advertise because we do not have money. People don’t know that we exist. We tried the media but journalists have not been cooperative – they want money to write about our movies. We call them but they don’t come.

The only Ugandan journalist – Frank Kisakye of the Observer – who has written about us couldn’t even set foot in our office. He only interviewed me on phone and wrote a shallow story about Who Killed Captain Alex. He even misspelled my name. 

CJ: What do you envisage of Ramon Film Productions?
Nabwana: I want Ramon to be the Hollywood of Uganda.

CJ: Your final word
Nabwana: I appeal to Ugandans to watch genuine copies of our movies and shun fake ones. Our genuine CDs are distinguished by their Uganda Federation of Movies Industry sticker.

I also appeal to the President and all Ugandans in positions of influence to watch local movies and publicly comment about them. This would attract more viewers.



0 #1 afande kereker 2012-05-14 17:38
When looking at people always keep in mind that they c'ld all have heads but not all heads have brains....... don't give up keep yo head high.
0 #2 kung Fu School,ug 2012-05-18 13:22
We like wakaliwood Movies because its the reason we exist and love it's works
0 #3 outa 2012-09-17 14:50
what can i do if i want support on the movie am just about to release but limited with funds to finish it.
0 #4 Emruun hakeam 2012-12-02 11:36
Despite it was law quality movie (captain alex) i really enjoyed it, guys dont give up.
As freelance writter i can provide you with movie scripts at lower prices.
Kato lubwama is worried soon your popularity is overwhelming them.
I can supply you with plastic guns and other materials.

Please count on me for any help coz am really proud of you guys.
Keep it up. Good luck

hakeam emruun s (facebook & twitter)
0 #5 #shafic shy genious 2014-06-22 07:46
thanx fo that spirit man, inspire us we students of film making sothat we be able to add value to the existing Uganda Film industry sothat we all prosper
0 #6 NICHOLAS 2014-07-31 20:50
Keep up.. thanks
0 #7 angel 2016-09-15 05:28
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0 #8 faith muwanguzi 2016-11-20 19:43
would love to join the movie industry tho