Uganda: Local Film Distributors Raise the Flag for Kinauganda Films


Godfrey Kaweesi, the proprietor of Hills Videography, a film distribution centre at Majestic Plaza, looks at the Ugandan film industry with a lot of optimism. The 26-year-old businessman was one of the first distributors to cash in on film makers who came to him for support.

Kagolo in action shooting a scene in a local movie."In 2006, Osman Matovu of Jellystone Films came to me and proposed that I finance his film Eky'ekango Mu Mukwano," Kaweesi narrates how he jumped out of his comfort zone to venture into promoting local films.

"The movie did not make profits but I was happy I had made that step," he recalls, as he boasts of having sponsored more than seven titles in the past two years and buying distribution rights of 15 other titles. Though films from elsewhere still have a hold on Uganda, distributors say the time has come for Ugandan films to rule.

You can say, one African country that has worked on its distribution network is Nigeria, and credit goes to their system, which has ensured that most of their actors and actresses are well known faces here in Uganda and the world over. For a vibrant film industry to take root, forget the blockbuster directors, actors and actresses; it is the distribution network that will ensure that screen princesses and princes get their reward.

The film industry relies on distributors to survive and at the mention of that, what comes to mind is the four distributors in town without whom no film can get to the ground, let alone survive piracy. The four are; HK Movie Industry, Video World Entertainment Centre, Twinex Videos, and Hills Videography, all located in downtown Kampala in an area which if you want, you can call Ugawood.

Majestic Plaza for example has become a one-stop centre for all films coming to Uganda, ranging from Indian to European, among others. But the phenomenon that has overtaken these distribution centres is that film distributors are now buying Ugandan movies.

With so many film makers and so few serious distributors, the latter now call the shots as it is them who determine the price. Distributors say, though, that what comes to the market is better than what it was three years ago. There is however a lot lacking in terms of more quality products.

So many film makers cry foul when distributors rubbish their film works, sometimes offering half or a quarter of what they spent on making their films. But as you will realise, the film distribution process is not a charitable organisation but one influenced by the market forces. However, for those who see a chicken in an egg, the speed at which the film industry is taking root in Uganda is reason to believe that the entertainment platform has expanded and there is no going back.

The owners of these distribution centres have also gone another mile in getting involved in financing film makers; they have become, in film language, the executive producers of several titles, while some have set up their own film making companies.

HK and Video World for instance have film companies, while Hills Videography pays local film companies to make films. These distributors have become godfathers of sorts for Uganda's nascent film industry, which apparently is not only short of cash but also technical and skilled people.

So, distributors control the industry by pulling their resources and passion to bring out quality film works on the market, therefore helping to get to consumers through their distribution chains around the country.

When three years ago Ugandans started to take film making serious, they were faced with one obstacle; who would sell their films? And indeed, among the first film makers in the country was Hussain Kagolo, now the president of the Uganda Federation of Movie Industry (UFMI), who decided to set up a distribution centre - HK Movie Industry at Maria's Galleria on Luwum, to sell his movies.

"When we shot Abakyala Bagala Ki, I feared that with so many people pirating movies, my work would go the same road. I decided to start a shop to sell films, local and foreign," Kagola narrates how he entered into the film distribution business. "Then, local films were not making much profit," he says, "But because my first film was a good one, the demand was high and it attracted more people to venture into this business."

Kagolo has since left the distribution network to his family and concentrated on shooting films and organising film makers into joining together to make a body that would propel the industry to take root. "Beginnings are always difficult, but I can assure you, we are at the point of no return," Kagolo says with an air of confidence. "We have discovered as Indians did, that making films in local languages will take us a step ahead especially when we win over the local fans."

Kaweesi also says the evening drives around the suburbs are more than selling gimmicks for films as it is a way to create awareness among film fans that Ugandans are in the business for real. He is supported by Hassan Wasswa of Twinex Videos, another distributor of titles like Ashraf Ssemwogerere's Honourable and The Passion of Uganda Martyrs, Kiwani: the Movie of Henry Ssali, Too Late of Dan Kiggundu.

Wasswa, among others, has taken a little risk in venturing into buying English titles, unlike other distributors who look at them as a bit too risky for business. He says he has been in the business for 10 years, and as long as the film is good, it will fetch its buyers. He dares film makers to invest more in the business because the market is waiting for a breakthrough film that will become the talk of time.

Yasin Kasumba, popularly known as Video World, who probably owns the biggest film distribution shop in town, says the time has come for film makers to dream big. "When three years ago we went into buying and making films, the quality was poor," he recalls, "With the sensitisation we have made through the film federation, we have made strides and now we can say good films are coming on the market, and we have a variety to choose from."

Wasswa, who distributes titles like Down this road I walk of Mariam Ndagire, Hidden Truth, Enkwezenge and Murder in the City of Ssemwogerere, has himself set up a fully fledged film company -Video World Entertainment Centre. He says the demand for good local films is insatiable.

Almost all distributors agree that for a Ugandan movie to make some profits, it should not exceed a Shs10m (US$5,822) budget. Video World's Kasumba explains that with piracy still the biggest vice affecting the industry, it is unlikely that a film can sell beyond three months before its duplicated.

"When one shoots a film at Shs8m, we pay shs12m and are left to gamble on making a Shs3m profit margin, if we are lucky," Kasumba adds. Wasswa is quick to add, "A good movie will sell itself - whether in English or any other language, but the danger is in shooting a big budget film of quality not much different from those around."

Kagolo delivers the point home, "At this point, film makers ought to do their homework and study the forces at play before they venture into the project." As the industry grows to another level, distributors want their share of the cake; it is not just the passion to make a good movie but a good distribution chain that ensures that film makers get back their money with profits. And here's where these distributors are making their mark.