OPINION: More people should know about Ngalabi Short Film Festival
Today, on the 1st of September 2023, I had the pleasure of attending the Ngalabi Short Film Festival, taking place at Design Hub on the 5th Industrial Area. For those who might not be aware, this festival kicked off today and will continue until Sunday, the 3rd of September. The screenings start at 5 PM EAT and conclude at 10 PM. It's safe to say that it's a fantastic way to usher in the month of September.
Now, let's delve into my experience today. The Ngalabi Short Film Festival has been a physical event every year since 2017 (with exceptions in 2020 when it didn't happen and 2021 when it went online). It screens short films from mostly Uganda, Africa, and Europe. I personally attended the 2022 edition held at the University of East Africa. However, upon attending today's event, I realized that there's something about this festival that isn't receiving the recognition it deserves – the remarkable quality of film selection.
People watching movies at Design Hub 5th Street Industrial Area during the 2023 Ngalabi Short Film Festival. Courtesy Photo.
As I watched, I had the privilege of sitting next to a fellow filmmaker who specializes in animation. While enjoying some delicious eats and drinks, we both agreed on one thing: the films showcased in this festival have consistently maintained a high level of quality right from the beginning. I fondly recalled the first film I watched at the festival, "Heaven Sounds Boring" by Patience Nitumwesiga. It tells the compelling story of a father (portrayed by Daniel Omala) and his 7-year-old daughter (played by Acheng Nadia), who cling desperately to each other and their faith when faced with the possibility of never seeing each other again. From the storytelling to the acting and production, it was a truly unique and exceptionally well-crafted piece.
Of course, we couldn't help but speculate about what sets Ngalabi Shorts apart from the movies we often see in other Ugandan festivals. One theory we discussed was that Ngalabi might have a smaller pool of high-quality content to choose from, making it easier and quicker to select the best of the best. This, is in contrast to other festivals like UFF, which sometimes have to sift through a lot of subpar submissions, leading to less impressive selections.
However, this theory was challenged by the fact that a film we watched today, "Ttula" by Mwesigwa Benjamin, was submitted to nearly all festivals and awards this year. While it received nominations, it did not secure a screening or victory compared to what took home the awards in those competitions. So, it's not just about the quality of submissions; the curation process plays a pivotal role in determining which films grace the screens of these festivals. Perhaps other festivals should place more emphasis on selecting the very best films available.
Another assumption, and one that seems highly plausible, is that short films require fewer resources to create artistically and creatively outstanding works. More creative time and resources can be dedicated to these films, resulting in exceptional end products.
To be clear, I'm primarily discussing Ugandan films here, but today's event also featured movies from Germany and Kenya.
Now, let's dive into the films I had the pleasure of viewing today. I'll start with my favorite of the night, which was the last one I watched (though I might be slightly biased due to recency): "I Eat What I Like" by Shari Mwanika. This film delves into themes of sex, family drama, hypocrisy, and religion. When you look at these four themes, you realize that they mirror the everyday life of an African. The film beautifully tells the story of 19-year-old Sasha played by Tracy Kababiito and her mother played by Oyenbot, who, in hindsight, lead equally complicated lives. However, the latter wears the mask of a devout Christian while dating a much younger man and having a sex therapist. The resulting drama, coupled with the hypocrisy of their fellow "Jehovah's Witnesses," is simply captivating. The movie relates to the average person with wit and charm, leaving you yearning for more.