Problems facing Ugandan film are not going away tomorrow, especially with the fact that like all other arts, they are yet to be recognized or protected by authorities.
2016 has not been one of the best years, but definitely one of those that film looked beyond making films, and actually more or less compelled Ugandans to watch the films.
The year had promised a lot, especially with a number of coming-soon pictures, but it all proved to be a fluff, starting with the lackluster premiere of a half-baked Rena Ndibasa at the National Theatre. The film didn’t raise any dust as there was literally nothing to it to write home about.
But it is what happened after this premiere that may shape 2017 for the better. For instance, filmmakers did work on presenting more films, like they were on a vengeance. Apparently, they had been irked by a 2015 yearly review that described the year as a lazy one due to the lack of presentations.
But they still struggled to create a culture of retaining the audience. This was because they had a consistence problem in that Uganda films come unannounced, as opposed to having a cinema calendar that would station itself in the minds of the possible audience.
For instance, whenever they have a local film premiere, it would take them more than two months before another film was ready, thus always struggling to keep an audience.
The move to have and keep an audience started with the African Movie Night, a monthly showcase that exhibits African films at the National Theatre and Yasigi Beer Garden. The showcase that started screening films in January with Veve, a Kenyan political drama, has since gone on to show more thrilling stories from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda, among others.
The objective of the night, according to organizers, was to allow Ugandans experience African stories, something commercial cinemas had denied them.
It was during one of these nights that a Kampala Short Film Festival was created and executed. The public response and success of the short film do was proof that there was hunger for local content, even when people had no idea of where to find it.
And that is what would later inspire the creation of the Uganda Cinema Night, which operated just like its progenitor, only that it concentrated on local films.
Happening on the first Wednesday of the month, the Uganda version looks at giving local movies a lease of life by screening them to an audience that could have missed their premieres or didn’t know where to buy them.
Created in the image of the later, the night was to work on the many consistencies and ensure that fans marked a day during the month as one for Ugandan film screening.
The attempt at consistency paid off by building a humble traffic for both film nights and is expected to grow if it continues into 2017.
In 2016, the oldest film festival, Kampala Amakula, was revived under guidance of the Bayimba Foundation. This time round the festival was moved to the Uganda Museum and designed to link filmmakers to distributors and producers.
There have always been efforts to get the industry to unite, especially by mergers between filmmakers, and last year it paid off with filmmakers mostly labeled as ‘downtown’ working with their ‘uptown’ peers, expanding the fan base for the two parties.
The biggest problem the local film industry is now facing is the storytelling. Even with very admirable cinematography as seen in Beneath The Lies or the local music videos, the storylines are still failing to capture the imagination of a possible film following.
For example, it was absolutely insulting to many for NTV to adopt a South American TV storyline from Second Chance and redoing it with Ugandans mimicking what everyone already knows. Most viewers thought it was the biggest manifestation of the lack of confidence in the writing skills of Ugandans. Luckily, this perception was redeemed by Yat Madit, an original story about a community trying to cope with the aftereffects of war.
At the rate Ugandans are demanding for local content, more money may be sunk into the industry by fortune seekers. For instance, more festivals may come in to compete with UFF, opening the way for more productions.
If the past years are anything to go by, the quality of films Ugandans make is going to improve with the country’s technological adaptations. We are likely to experience better pictures, better sound, and may even give our Kenyan brothers a run for their money, even when the story won’t be changing that much.
In 2017, the story in a typical Ugandan film may still be reading like a poorly written boy-meets-girl tale.
First published in The Observer