A few weeks ago, local film industry personalities Raymond Rushabiro, Samuel Kizito Saviour, Richard Mulindwa and the couple, Matthew and Eleanor Nabwiso, travelled to Nigeria for the AMVCA in high spirits.
They, along with Cindy Sanyu, Joan Agaba and Andrew Ahuurra among others, were nominees in various categories. But despite the strong representation, all 12 nominees came up short, leaving many industry players wondering why Uganda is yet to taste any more AMVCA success at the sixth time of asking.
In reality, none was a favourite in their respective categories but there was a glimmer of hope that any triumph for a Ugandan would greatly raise the profile of the local film industry. It was not to be.
So, as Rushabiro and Co. pick up the pieces, questions remain on what could be done to propel the local film and arts industry.
In 2013, Godfrey Mutabazi, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) executive director, issued a directive to all free-to-air television stations to air 70 per cent local content.
The order was greeted with approval from several sections of the arts and film industry because, among other things, it was premised on the assumption that offering local content a wider platform would boost the local film industry through generating a bigger audience.
Five years down the road, the order has been rendered ineffective because there is hardly any television station that airs 70 per cent local content.
Little effort has been made to enforce it and, more significantly, several industry players say it is almost impossible for the local film industry to produce enough quality content.
Even before we mourn the lack of award recognition, you would be hard-pressed to find any Ugandans that actually watched the critically-acclaimed film Rain, starring Matthew and Eleanor Nabwiso. Matthew is the lone Ugandan past winner of an AMVCA, having won in 2013 for the Best Supporting Actor category.
Rain has won a number of accolades including best film at the 2017 Pearl international film festival as well as best women’s rights film award at the 2017 London Eye International festival.
Yet its 2016 premiere at Theatre La Bonita passed without the usual buzz and excitement associated with Hollywood movies.
“We still have a mindset problem in Uganda when it comes to movies because many people despise the level of the film industry,” says arts critic Eddie Sendi. “They believe the local film industry is still backward and cannot produce a movie worth spending money on.”
This is intriguing when you consider that the local music industry is enjoying a boom. So, why not film industry?
“Ugandans embraced music because it is almost free to get. You can download the song for free and play it wherever you want without restrictions but when it comes to movies, you have to go to the cinema and pay or buy a DVD. That culture of free things will take time to be erased,” he said.
Actress Mariam Ndagire has seen it all in the film industry. A writer, producer and director, Ndagire says film industry stakeholders need serious soul searching.
“There is no denying that it takes a lot of dedication and funds to succeed in film but some players are not playing their roles correctly. Many are still stuck in the past yet film is a fast-changing industry,” she says.
“From my experience, if you have something good, the TVs will come for it. The film industry is still a virgin and there are lots of opportunities but some of the work is not up to standard. So, we need professionalising.”
Meanwhile, a television station programmes director who preferred anonymity says viewership drives their choice of what to air.
“Television is a business first before anything else. So, what we air is mainly driven by advertising, not patriotism. If viewers want telenovelas, it is what we will go with,” he says.
“We constantly do research and follow feedback from viewers and it is from those findings that we base our content. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of local films and soaps that cut the grade for television.”