Over the years, a Ugandan story in films has been boxed to look and sound a certain way – in fact in simple words, they are stories about a man, his wife and a side dish.
A simple story that usually sees a woman abused, raped and in some cases even killed – this tired story could have been the reason why a scorn at such issues made Arnold Aganze’s directorial debut NGO such a breath of fresh air.
Aptly titled NGO: Nothing Going On, the film walks the mucky waters of addressing African problems alongside what many believe should be the saviour.
Shot in Jinja, NGO is a free spirit film that mostly features non actors in most of the roles, the rawness they bring to the screen aids in both comical relief as well as realness – they are not perfect and they never try to be, they stay true to themselves yet at it, they address as many issues true to the relations the country has internationally.
For a first time writer and director, Aganze, a Congolese/Ugandan film maker didn’t deliberately pull off something but was mostly lucky they fell in place.
He tells a story of two youths that struggle daily to make it in a tourism active town, one survives as a bar tender while the other does what most men with dreadlocks in such towns do, hunt for white women.
In the quest of being someone, when he finally finds a white woman he accidentally lies about helping women in the community make a life – a lie he finds himself having to make a reality when she promises to get him funds.
What follows a blatant lies that cement what many people already know – NGO are a bunch of paper work with Nothing really Going On.
We follow the boys build their non existent organization from a team of two to five strategically; “We need a woman on the team, it makes us gender sensitive and sincere…….” one of the characters says.
And just like that, the team grows to include a white woman, a volunteer, whose initial role is to make them believable, “When they see a white person on board, they will believe you’re genuine.”
Like that, the film had debunked some of the NGOs whose works in the country has never been defined – but while on it, addressing a number of stereo types both Ugandans and expatriates have about each other.
The film boosts of brilliant storytelling that had many laughable moments thanks to the one liners and bankable jokes; “There’s no racism in Africa, we are to poor for that…” says a character in one of the scenes.
Surprising, the whole shaming of NGOs that Aganze says is partly inspired by real life events happened at what you can consider a sold out première and much of the audience, especially the VIP auditorium were expatriates.
It was easy to imagine their discomfort as the reel rolled to subtly look at sex tourism or NGO proposal formats that have crammed the use of statements like ‘empower’ or ‘capacity building’.
“The film was a slap in the face but this wake up call is needed,” said one of the expats in the audience adding that in her office, they’ve funded people that have at times failed to implement the programs on ground.
What makes the film special is the different topic they choose to talk about, they choose to tell the world what has always been know but rarely addressed – that NGOs are basically creating employment for a few but never improving lives.
Shot in about six months NGO is mostly shot in real time with non actors, for instance, market scenes are mostly done by real market vendors while scenes of Nyege Nyege too were shot at the festival.
It’s that style of breaking all the film rules and getting away with it that makes the film more than just a movie but both an art and political statement.