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Foreign Investment vs. Local Investment: Where Should I Go?
Foreign Investment vs. Local Investment: Where Should I Go?
Foreign Investment vs. Local Investment: Where Should I Go?

I recently argued with someone about why Ugandan musicians have not tried to go continental on the African continent or global. Why is there so little effort towards that? We didn’t have an answer. However, there seems to be a reason why Ugandan creatives are comfortable with their local audience. In the film industry, it's even worse because they don’t even have a significant Ugandan audience. I want to compare this to filmmakers sourcing money from investors. What is smarter? To go out or stay local?

First of all, who is a Film Investor?

A film investor is basically an individual or entity that provides financial backing for film productions. They could be motivated by the potential for profit, a passion for film, or a desire to support certain themes or filmmakers. I'm going to classify them into four categories to make it easier for you to know where you can find them.

1. Government and Public Funds

This includes something like the Ugandan Communications Commission's Content Development Support Program, or any other fund set up by the government to help creatives. It's already happening in Uganda, and UCC has spent close to two billion Ugandan shillings on funding film projects. They have also created smaller tiers for newcomers to compete in regional film competitions. These funds are usually easier to handle as the money from these funds is not typically demanded back from the creators. So, if you see such an opportunity, grab it because very few investors don’t operate that way.

This can be classified as local investment, and I encourage anyone to participate if there is an opportunity. I will not discuss the effectiveness of these funds in helping the industry because, as is always the case with the public sector, ticking boxes is often prioritized over creating real change, especially in Africa. We’ll talk about that another time.

2. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Cultural Organizations

Other organizations that may not give you a headache when it comes to return on investment are NGOs. They will, however, influence your creativity as they will demand what they want to push as an agenda. NGOs fund content for social reasons and use that content to teach, and advocate for changes either in society as a whole or in the public sector. Usually, executives in NGOs are not creatives and rarely put in the effort to hire creatives to represent them. They will always try to influence the content to ensure “the message is as clear as possible”.

There are also NGOs focused on arts and culture, and these tend to be better when it comes to the creativity of the content you produce since they have creatives in their administrations. I will pair these with cultural organizations like kingdoms. These also fund film projects, an example being Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, UNESCO, which funded the African Folktales Reimagined, Buganda Kingdom, and other arts and culture institutions. We have many NGOs in Uganda that have funded content programs, but they can also be international. Most NGOs currently funding film content in Uganda are international.

3. Institutional Investors.

These might or might not be on your neck for return on investment depending on the agreements you make with them. Institutions like production companies may provide funding for a movie they want to market and sell, and your only responsibility will be to produce the film. These are easy to deal with as there is no pressure to sell the movie. Examples include entities like Netflix, MultiChoice, and StarTimes.

Some institutions will give you money but want their money back with profits. In Uganda, I have not seen them yet, and I hope they don’t think they can make that bet here, as the audience is scarce. I don't want to see a filmmaker in jail over unpaid profits from a film.

These investors can be both local or international depending on how good your pitch is. Institutional investors are good because they are businessmen who want to make money off the content you’re producing. They will use all their necessary structures to make that happen, saving you the hassle of marketing. In Uganda, since we have a very limited number of these, I could even say it’s only one who is serious, the industry and filmmakers have not really benefited on a grand scale as we would expect from such huge investment. This is because monopoly breeds complacency, resulting in low-quality movies. Additionally, their distribution is so poor that we never get to watch these movies. If they are losing money, that's on them. However, it would be great if we had these movies screened through known channels for Ugandan audiences to build from there.

Nevertheless, our lone institutional investor is doing better than anyone (or none), and we hope, as filmmakers, you’ve had your chance of getting paid by them

​​​​​​​4. Individual Investors

Finally, some individuals decide to fund movies. These can be for-profit or non-profit depending on their reasons for funding. For example, when you crowdfund for a movie, the people who donate may not expect profits in return. It’s not common in Uganda to crowdfund for a movie, but I have seen one movie do that and get some money – the short film Nambi, which got close to 5k USD.

Other individual film funders will likely want to make money on the movie to recoup their investment. So, if you’re considering going to them for money, make sure you can pay them back. There are also individual arrangements where the filmmaker doesn’t need to pay the money back; always go for those.

So, Where Should You Go?

Should you go international or stay local? Even though there is so much money in international funding, it’s much harder to get funding from there. The only known international funding in Uganda so far was Loukman Ali’s Katera of the Punishment Island, which was funded by UNESCO and Netflix as part of the six-part short anthology series African Folktales: Reimagined. Should you aim for the big leagues? Absolutely. But should you focus solely on them? I wouldn’t advise that. It’s hard out there. The easy ones will always need you to compromise your creativity, which should be a big deal for you as a filmmaker.

There are a couple of opportunities that can work easily for you on the local scene, even though there aren't many. Diversify your efforts, and if that's a hard pill to swallow, collaborate with fellow filmmakers and self-fund. That is always the easier way out, although it seems hard for most Ugandan filmmakers.

For musicians, there is nothing that should stop you from aiming as high as possible. The audiences and opportunities are very different for music and film, and you can make it if you put in the effort. Joshua Baraka can testify to that.

Written by Martin Kabagambe.