Uganda: No Country for Filmmakers

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Evelyn Cindy Magara knows all too well the hurdles that face a filmmaker in Uganda. Fresh from Makerere University with a degree in filmmaking, she went against all odds and managed to produce her first film (Fate, 2006, 2 hours) by raising funds from family, friends and a bank loan.

Magara says that the creativity and independence of the filmmakers in the country is curtailed by lack of funds, primarily because the government does not have the will to support filmmaking. The only easily available funds are from the NGO sector and the documentaries produced there are usually campaign tools about safe water, HIV/Aids, malaria and child abuse, and so on.

Magara, now a film director and screen writer at Nyati Motion Pictures, says, "I wrote to companies and NGOs and got no reply. I was determined not to look for a job, but to make movies. My father and friends, recognising my determination, decided to contribute to my project, the bank loan and support from the business community were not enough."

"Ideally, the government is supposed to work with a filmmaker, because an artist portrays and markets the country. The people's identity is told or kept by the artist.

"Unfortunately, filmmakers in Uganda and in East Africa in general, are struggling on our own to tell our stories, which are supposed to entertain as well as educate society.

"Our government doesn't show any interest in cinema and I don't know how much funding the Ministry of Culture has set aside for producing it."

Fate, a low budget drama feature film, is the story of Kate, a successful city woman, fresh from university and loaded with money, who seems to be out of options about what to do with her wealth. It is currently showing on DStv's Africa Magic channel.

The role of governments in the region in the promotion of culture came under the spotlight during the 5th Congress on East African Cinema at the just concluded 5th Amakula Kampala International Film Festival, held from May 1-11 at the National Theatre.

It was noted that culture is part of the development agenda and that governments in the region should not ignore it. Although some governments were commended for supporting the cultural sector others were criticised for only looking at culture as music, dance and drama.

Where policies exist, they are not clear in scope, even though they should promote culture in its entirety.

During previous congresses, filmmakers have debated, shared experiences and given recommendations. However, these recommendations have never been implemented. "Of course, there are some positive developments," says a statement from the Amakula Festival. "One of the issues of concern was the lack of a copyright law in Uganda, which was passed last year.

"We have also seen increased production of local films in the different community countries, regional collaboration and an improvement in the quality of films.

"There is more networking among regional film professionals. More television stations have opened themselves to local content, providing more audience access and market for film makers," said the statement.

In order for the film industry as much as the cultural sector at large to play a role in our societies, there is a need for our governments to actively support it - through the development of an effective infrastructure for training, production, distribution as well as establishment of venues for exhibition and the provision of grants to cultural organisations and individuals.

"The private sector is an equally crucial partner in the promotion of film production through financing of the industry," said the statement.

Sarah Nsigaye, co-ordinator of the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival, says, "Uganda's cultural policy is not clear on a number of issues like committing government to develop the cultural sector, venues to exhibit the arts and the general infrastructure.

"The government thinks of culture as handicrafts, music, dance and drama. But it shouldn't leave creativity to profit and commercialism," she adds.

The East African (Nairobi) 26 May 2008