Uganda: Frenzy for Ugandan Films Grips Kampala

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Whether 'Kinna-Uganda' (films made in Uganda) means theatre plays adopted to the screen or real films, Ugandans are crazy for it. The obsession for local movies is spreading like a wild bush fire. Titus Serunjogi looks at why.

Standing on the film set for Battle Of The Souls was just like standing in the middle of a busy street.

There were cameramen, make-up arists and sound people running all over the place. It seemed all the hustle and bustle would come to no end until Matt Bishaka, the director, suddenly yelled: "Quiet on the set!"

The whole scene froze. Next up, an actor showed up holding a hoe. He was panting and seemed to be in a hurry. He dug up the earth, looked this way; then he dug again until... "Cut!" the director shouted. Six months after the first shot for Battle Of The Souls was taken, Kampala just cannot wait to see the film. Battle Of The Souls is one of the locally made films by Ugandans that are taking the market by storm. The film shall premiere at Didi's auditorium on Sunday, April 29.

Already, nearly half of the sh25,000 tickets have been booked! Popularly known as 'Kinna-Uganda', the films shot in Uganda are becoming more popular than those shot in Nigerian as Ugandans clamour for a piece of their own culture on film. It is largely owing to this trend that some Ugandan actors are recording stage plays on DVD and passing them off as films.

And they have made lots of money in this way. Some of the theatre plays that have been recorded on DVD include Abakyaala Baagala Ki, which is an urban-set drama about a man who spoilt his wife with so much love, but she murdered him. Omukazi Muka Ssebo, another of the popular stage plays-turned-film, dwells on how a lady who had formerly been selling local brew, deals with her second family.

Others like Ensitaano and Kigenya Agenya are popular TV series that started out as theatre plays. In London Shock, actor Ashraf Semogerere is a 35-year-old pupil in P.2. When the teacher sends him home for toilet paper, he comes back with leaves. The humour is crude. However, Cindy Magara, a film critic with Nyati Motion Pictures says: "When I watched the scene, I laughed and almost choked, I even do not know what happened next. This character has a big belly, big eyes and such fat cheeks. But the sight of him in khaki shorts, innocently presenting his 'toilet paper', was just more than comical."

At Video World on William Street in Kampala, one would be awed by the crowds that clamour to buy the stage plays recorded on DVDs. If Nigerian screen heartthrob Ramsey Noah was everyone's fantasy in 2001, today it is actor Patricko Mujuuka of the Ensitaano fame. But why the sudden obsession with Ugandan films? "Ugandans embrace everything they believe to be trendy.

Today, we are all fighting for Ugandan films. But tomorrow, local DVDs might pile up dust on the shelves and no one will care," says Roger Mugisha of the Muyenga-based video firm Media Pro.

However, most of the stuff on the market is meant for the stage, not the movie screen. In most screenplays, whichever actor gets angry has to dilate his pupils and swear at the top of his voice.

And when the women have to complain, they do it all day long in the same style mizigo women do. Getting drunk always means staggering and slurring; one does not sleep unless he is sprawling all over the bed and snoring aloud.

And in those stage plays on DVD, love at first sight is often elaborated by the man smirking his lips and winking at the lady. Definitely, these are tools of someone who must emphasise his point even to that person at the back of the theatre. The directors of the films feel that this is the best way to communicate to an audience, which understands actions more than thoughts.

Semogerere says there are only five real movies shot in Uganda. One is Fate, which premiered at Cineplex Cinema last year. It was about a corporate bigwig who fell in love with a good-for-nothing gold digger. Fate was dubbed 'Uganda's first professional movie' by its makers. But Feelings Struggle was the first real Ugandan film. It was about two women who compete for a man's love, until they discover that they are sisters. Battle Of the Souls is the story of what ensues after a cash-strapped young man chances upon a briefcase full of sh20,000 banknotes. Roses In The Rain was such a disappointment because it was made by Nigerians who had a poor taste of our society.

Murder In The City was the inside story, as many surmised, of how city lawyer Robina Kiyingi was murdered. You cannot believe what a hustle it takes to make a movie. Acting in a movie is always a dance with the camera. There is a lot of trial and error as the director tries to appreciate the actors' bodies and feelings before deciding which way the camera should face. So it is not unusual to finish a 10-minute scene in three months. Meanwhile, movie actors have to remember exactly at what point the director shouted: "Cut!" Was the cigarette just lit or half-smoked? Was the glass in your right hand or was it in the left? As a rule, movie sound is dubbed in after the shootings.

So, actors have to go back to the studio and talk to fit into the dumb motion picture. You can imagine what a struggle it always is for one to match his words to the movement of his lips. Little wonder that shooting a Ugandan film, like Battle Of The Souls, cost USH250,000 per day. But when a stage play is adapted to the screen, the camera and megaphone only have to follow the actors. But stage plays or films, Ugandans just take everything they can get hold of. Why else would Murder In the City have sold out at Cineplex Cinema on Easter Sunday? Doubtless, the frenzy for Ugandan films has caught on in town and local DVDs continue flying off the shelves.

(New Vision, Kampala, April 19, 2007)