Unlocking the Potential: An Insider's View of the Ugandan Film Industry.
The world of cinema is a realm that weaves tales, captivates audiences, and transcends borders. In Uganda, this realm has been steadily growing, thanks to the dedicated efforts of filmmakers, and champions of the art of storytelling. I sat down with Mzee Bwanika Julius a prominent filmmaker and a driving force behind the scenes and we delved deep into the Ugandan film industry. His insights provide a unique window into the past, present, and future of Ugandan cinema but most importantly the film business side of the industry.
Background of Mzee Bwanika.
Mzee Bwanika's journey in Uganda's film industry began as an actor, writer, and director of stage plays, transitioning to film production in 2005. His educational background spans ICT, Film and Television Production, and Financial & Business Computing. As the founder and CEO of Vortex Films, he excels in writing, editing, directing, and producing, earning accolades for films like "NALIWO" and "Last Verdict."
Bwanika's impact extends beyond filmmaking; he served as an Information and Data Analyst for the Uganda Federation of Movie Industry (UFMI) and was Vice President of the UFMI Producers’ Guild. He chairs the YALI Uganda Central Cluster and co-founded Pearlwood, uniting Uganda's film guilds.
Pearlwood, an umbrella organization, unites guilds like the Actors Guild and Producers Guild to advance Uganda's film industry. Its vision is to build Africa's next film capital, fostering socio-economic development. Activities include managing a national digital database in partnership with NITA-U and the Ministry of Gender Labour & Social Development and launching a Video-on-Demand platform for Ugandan films in collaboration with Next Media Services. Together, they aim to revolutionize Ugandan cinema locally and globally.
Challenges Faced by the Ugandan Film Industry.
Despite the immense potential of Ugandan cinema, it is not without its share of challenges. Mzee Bwanika pinpoints a fundamental issue - the absence of a formidable film market. Unlike established industries, Uganda's film market is still in its infancy. "It's in Uganda where film promotion avenues such as TV, YouTube, and festivals are being taken as film markets," he laments.
The challenge lies in the fact that there is barely a commonplace, whether digital or physical, where the Ugandan audience can readily access Ugandan content. The primary market for any Ugandan content is Uganda itself, as all other markets have boundaries that favor their own citizens. The absence of a central film market hampers the industry's growth potential and ability to negotiate for space on international platforms.
Two factors contribute to this challenge: individualistic tendencies among filmmakers and a lack of business perspective. Many Ugandan filmmakers prefer to work alone or within smaller groups, hindering the creation of a unified national film market. Additionally, some filmmakers prioritize their passion for filmmaking over the business aspect, leading to a scramble for distribution avenues after a film is completed.
Unique Strengths and Opportunities.
Amidst these challenges, the Ugandan film industry possesses unique strengths and opportunities that can reshape its future. One of the most significant assets is the growing digital audience. Digital platforms have proven to be viable channels for reaching a wide audience, and the Ugandan market is no exception.
Furthermore, the human resources in the industry stands as an asset. Ugandan filmmakers are highly passionate and eager to learn, creating a pool of talent that can drive the industry's growth. Additionally, Uganda's rich cultural heritage offers a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told. This diverse cultural tapestry can serve as a wellspring of engaging and unique content.
Government Initiatives and Private Sector Partnerships.
The government and private sector have recognized the potential of the Ugandan film industry and have initiated various projects and partnerships to support its growth. These efforts span from policy changes to financial support and infrastructure development.
One notable example is the partnership between Pearlwood and Next Media Services to provide a Video-on-Demand platform for Ugandan films. Next Media Services, as Uganda's largest media house, offers the visibility needed to boost the sector's socio-economic well-being. With support from UNDP, Pearlwood has established a production hub to enhance the quality of films produced by its members, further demonstrating its commitment to industry growth.
Expanding Audiences Locally and Internationally.
Ugandan cinema has already demonstrated its potential to reach a wider audience, both locally and internationally. Films like "Who Killed Captain Alex" by Isaac Nabwaana have gained global recognition despite budgetary constraints. Others like The Girl in the Yellow Jumper and Katera of the Punishment Island, both by Loukman are still now streaming on Netflix. The audience is ready, the stories are rich, and the opportunity is ripe for expansion.
However, the missing piece of the puzzle lies in creating a formidable home market in Uganda. Bwanika emphasizes that by rallying audiences together, filmmakers can make future targets more achievable. A strong home market is essential for negotiating incentives, co-production opportunities, and a more significant share of the global film market.
Improving Access to Cinemas and Online Platforms
The key to expanding access to cinemas and online platforms in Uganda lies in unity and consistency. Mzee Bwanika emphasizes that filmmakers must work collectively to build sustainable systems capable of crowd-pooling audiences. In Uganda, a typical cinema-goer might only see a movie more so a Ugandan movie every four months. Filmmakers must treat their audience as a valuable and delicate entity that must not be allowed to slip away.
By coming together, filmmakers can share their strengths and weaknesses, ultimately providing more consistent and engaging content. It's not about how well an individual filmmaker can pull off a screening but how consistently they can provide content that keeps the audience coming back for more.
Recommendations for Industry Improvement
Bwanika's insights offer valuable recommendations for the improvement of the Ugandan film industry. Central to these recommendations is the creation of strong, collective film markets. Filmmakers must unite to sell and profit from their crafts, thereby fostering industry growth. As filmmakers collectively create these markets, they can advocate for the necessary policies that will support their vision.
The Future of Ugandan Cinema
What lies ahead for Ugandan cinema? The potential is boundless. As filmmakers overcome their individualistic tendencies and collectively rally audiences, the industry's fiscal status can change dramatically.
In parting words, Mzee Bwanika leaves us with a powerful reminder: "No filmmaker, world over, has been able to single-handedly create a film market. That miracle won't happen in Uganda. It's a collective effort." The path to a thriving Ugandan film industry is through unity, collaboration, and a shared vision for storytelling.
Note: This article is all brain of Mzee Bwanika Julius compiled by Martin Kabagambe.