Ugandan cinema slowly getting deserved attention

Film as an art is yet to hold its own in many African countries.
Besides Nigeria that has successfully created a market with its local base and Africa, others countries struggle to convince the locals that they even have an existing industry.
Kenya and South Africa have highly culminated their status through collaborations with Hollywood visiting producers though this has in more ways dented their brand and identity.

Film Director Lukyamuzi Bashir who has been called the Future of film in Uganda
Film Director Lukyamuzi Bashir who has been called the Future of film in Uganda

Uganda is not immune, many times the public has accused film makers of doing films that many of them do not relate to and as a result, they never see the reason to support them.
On Friday, the Ugandan capital Kampala, was abuzz as the highly anticipated Bala Bala Sese was finally hitting the large screen.
Like never before, many revelers showed up at the premiere, or so we thought!
It’s a very uncommon sight for Ugandan films to generate a lot of buzz and attention, especially in a market where piracy of Hollywood craft is almost at 90%, this was indeed history in the making.
“Ugandans have started noticing and appreciating what is truly theirs, I guess it’s a challenge for us film makers to double our efforts,” said Ali Mutaka of Film Club Uganda, a weekly gathering where film enthusiasts come together to forge a way forward.
Not that Bala Bala Sese was the greatest Ugandan film ever made, but was rather the very first Ugandan project to receive a professional marketing touch.

A scene from the Movie Bala Bala Ssese

They started off by casting one of the country’s most celebrated couples – Natasha Sinayobye, a dancer, singer, actress, model and former beauty contestant and her husband Michael kasaija, dancer and choreographer.
The fact that the two were going to reprise their home affair on screen was enough to get the country talking but they were joined by other equally talented and easily recognizable faces like Raymond Rushabiro – a stage actor with two of Uganda’s most successful drama groups.
Other stars included little known but impressive Jabal Ddungu and Ismael Ssesanga.
Bala Bala Sese is a brainchild of Ugandan music video director Bashir Lukyamuzi, populary known as Badi, the guy behind Keko’s Channel O award winning video of How we do it, alongside Radio and Weasel, the film was though written by seasoned producer Usama Mukwaya.
It’s a love story for the biggest part of the film, John (Kasaija) wants to make money and wed Margaret (Sinayobye). However, when Kasirivu (Raymond Rushabiro) loses village tycoon Zeus’s (Jabal Ddungu) goods worth millions, they decide to settle the matter like gentlemen.
Zues offers Kasirivu more cows and in return, he gives him Margret’s hand in marriage even before talking to her.
It wasn’t different in topic because many of the films in Africa are tailored around love themes since they are barely complex while shooting and financially manageable but Bala Bala Sese was wholly done in Luganda, which happens to be the most spoken local dialect.
As the 90 minute film screened, the audience could be heard laughing because they understood what the characters were talking about and in more than one way related with their quests.
The film that was beautifully lit with quite a respectable cinematography didn’t enjoy a smooth ride though, the story was enjoyable especially because of the jokes and punchlines, but the flow was messed up.
At one time we were following the two love birds and at the other time giving the attention to an HIV Aids stricken Elena (Fiona Birungi). It became very confusing that we could barely tell what and who was indeed driving the story.
But anyhow, the local crowd at the Theater auditorium were enjoying themselves in any way and they are the most important critics of the day.
“Feels like part of the story was cut out but I somehow managed to enjoy it,” said one Shakira Adams, a  University student that was attending her very first Ugandan film premiere, one of her reasons to attend was the powerful cast.
Others like Patricia Ninsiima, it was all about the soundtrack – Bala Bala Sese was the first local film to capitalize on a soundtrack to create buzz about the project. She however notes that she doesn’t regret showing up for the premiere because the film was nice.
“I think these guys should publicize to get our attention because they deserve it, this is art that shouldn’t go unnoticed.”
The song Wuuyo was released at the end of March but literally one of the hottest artistes in Uganda at the moment Apass.
The video had a pretty publicized release which introduced many people to the film for the first time.
The film also used the director’s  background to get as many artistes he has worked with to endorse the project, music being the most consumed form of art in the country, it was a great trick to get  part of their following.
Jayant Maru, also a Ugandan film maker notes that if Ugandans produce more films, there could be a reawakening of the cinema culture which was killed by the insurgencies around the country in the 1970s and buried by the increased piracy at the time.
“Today Ugandans don’t go to cinemas because they know they can get the DVD, thus the cinema going culture is one we must recreate,” he says.
Most of the times, after local films premiere to an audience of 300 or less Ugandans at the National Theater, they go into a hiatus, then wait for festivals to win some awards and screenings. This is because local cinemas are afraid of programming African films, they believe they don’t have a strong fan base and thus would mostly attract loses than profits.
The few film makers that insist to have their films showing at  cinemas for a weekend for instance have to part with at least $600 to book the location, with an unlikely market, the alternatives are festivals or selling rights to pay Tvs.
With the promising turn up at Bala Bala Sese, film makers are enthusiastic that they can build on this to get more Ugandans on cinema seats in future.
After premieres, many local films are put on DVDs and sold at the venue, this usually backfire as many people buy a simple copy that they easily dub and sell at a price ten times lower than the original price.
Bala Bala Sese is looking at touring the different districts of the country and letter release DVDs for sell at the end of the year.

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