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How the Ugandan Film Industry Can Learn from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria to take its industry to the next level?
How the Ugandan Film Industry Can Learn from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria to take its industry to the next level?
How the Ugandan Film Industry Can Learn from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria to take its industry to the next level?

How the Ugandan Film Industry can Learn from Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria to take its industry to the next level?

The Ugandan film industry is growing at a commendable pace, with both the quantity and quality of movies improving day by day. The Uganda Communications Commission reported receiving over 300 films for its 11th edition of the Ugandan Film Festival, the majority of which were made in Uganda. This equates to roughly one movie produced per day in Uganda, highlighting a significant output in terms of quantity.

However, when it comes to quality, there are still many areas needing improvement, from acting to technical roles within the industry. Additionally, the industry itself is somewhat fragmented and appears to be surviving on a precarious footing, lacking the structural efficiency seen in more developed film industries.

In a well-structured, well-functioning film industry, one would expect the influx of movies to correlate with the number of movies premiering in cinemas. This would entail a well-functioning production industry, a robust marketing sector, and an effective distribution network. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Uganda. While we might have a functioning production industry, the marketing and distribution sectors are still underdeveloped.

Our neighbors to the east, Kenyans, and our distant neighbors in West Africa (Nigeria) and South Africa seem to be doing better than us in these areas. So, what can we learn from them? A lot.

Let’s explain.

Government Support.

The South African government has provided tax incentives to many international film production companies to shoot their films in South Africa. This is one of the reasons why many international films, such as Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Maze Runner, The Kissing Booth, and many more, were filmed there. These incentives help grow technical talent and increase equipment availability for movie productions. Currently, any camera needed for any shoot can be sourced from South Africa, as many big productions leave their equipment behind as a quid-pro-quo for the incentives provided. While Kenya has implemented similar incentives on a smaller scale, Nigeria has not done so to the same extent (We’ll come back to that in a bit).

In contrast, in Uganda, most international film productions are seen as revenue sources and are often overtaxed, causing them to consider alternative countries, even for stories connected to Uganda. For example, the 2018 movie 7 Days in Entebbe was supposed to be shot in Uganda, but Malta offered better financial incentives for shooting, so the movie was ultimately filmed there using their airport. This was a loss of money, skills, technology, and limelight for the Ugandan film industry.

This issue extends to the importation of much-needed equipment to improve our quality. Speaking on Twitter Spaces about government intervention, filmmaker Loukman Ali decried the heavy taxes levied on film equipment being imported into the country. This makes it hard and expensive to increase the equipment capacity in the film industry. Although it’s difficult to blame the film industry for such policies, it’s something that needs to be addressed at a national level if we are to compete with the best markets on the African continent.

So what can we learn from Nigeria:

We cannot solely rely on government support, as governments, especially in Africa, are often slow to innovate and support creativity. This is where the case study of Nigeria comes in. If you have been involved in discussions with Nigerian filmmakers and actors, you would realize that they face issues similar to those faced by Ugandan filmmakers regarding government intervention. However, they have built a larger industry from scratch using their efforts as creators. Nigerians recognized their strengths and capitalized on them to grow their organic audience, helping them become the second largest film industry in the world by volume.

You might wonder where all these movies are going and how they are making money despite the competition. Nigerians have built their audience over time. There is a saying from Arts and Culture Journalist Andrew Kaggwa Mayiga that; “You cannot build a film industry without a strong cinema-going culture,” and Nigerians have understood this better than anyone else on the continent. Despite their less structured industry, they have managed to create a way for Nigerians to watch their movies, which has not yet happened in Uganda. Ugandan filmmakers have many excuses for why this isn’t happening as quickly as they would like, but if they can find a way to navigate these excuses and create an organic, consistent audience, it would be a better start than even relying on Multichoice.

Consider this: Nigeria grossed close to 17 million USD at the box office in 2023, with only about 1 million USD coming from international films. This figure excludes movie budgets and non-professionally screened films not using box office counters. This translates to approximately 61 billion Ugandan shillings from local films going into Nigerian filmmakers’ pockets from their organic audience. Sacrifices have to be made.

What can we learn from Kenya? Kenya, apart from being an East African economic giant with a support system beyond the film industry, doesn’t have much to threaten us in terms of film. However, they are still doing better than us in professionalism and making money from film through investors. Kenya benefits from being the East African economic powerhouse, which looks attractive to many international film investors. As their economy grows, so does the number of capable entertainment buyers. Although Kenya doesn’t have a big film audience compared to South Africa and Nigeria, as seen in the latest Netflix audience statistics of 2023,  it has still managed to stay in the top three for film funding and investment.

Apart from their larger economy, we can learn professionalism from Kenyan creators. Professionalism goes beyond being creative in writing and delivering content. It includes how you handle your cast, manage your finances, pitch your ideas, and document your bids. Kenya has been better at this for a long time. This is why when we pitch to Multichoice, we pitch to Kenyan executives, and why most international streaming platforms prefer Kenya over us for investments, as seen with Netflix. We should strive to be as professional as possible to gain the trust of larger investors in the film industry. We’ve had about three big projects recently handled by international streaming giants; we need at least two more each year to learn how to deal with international investors and lobby from them.

There is much we can learn from these three industries, but today we’ve singled out these aspects. If we can get them right, we’ll move from the takeoff stage we’ve been in since 2018 to a more significant stage in the film industry.

Written by Martin Kabagambe.