Not Yet Uhuru for Ugandan Film

Although the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has held a successful second edition of the Uganda Film Festival 2014, the filmmakers observe that the industry is still bedevilled by a number of challenges in order to register meaningful growth, writes Bamuturaki Musinguzi.

After the successful maiden Uganda Film festival in 2013, UCC held this year’s edition under the theme: “Empowering Ugandans through film” with film screenings at four major cinema halls in Kampala from August 26 to 28. And for many, this alone is reason to celebrate.

The director of the Kampala-based Audiovisual Production Company, Matt Bish, points out that Uganda has had many festivals here in Uganda that came and went – as Ugandans are wont to say – just like that.

“This particular festival’s ability to appreciate the efforts of filmmakers is a clear indication of what the government would want from its local producers which is to continue to excel,” Bish says. “Recognition is by itself an incentive to propelling your ability to work even harder in this industry.”

He sees filmmakers in Uganda as part of a movement that should see more Ugandan films on local and international broadcast stations as opposed to the usual Ki-Nigeria (Nollywood) taking the larger share of the same.

Young people:

“There are more films being produced today than before and this is also engaging more young people into the industry. The goal of this movement is to see a self-sustaining industry with all the necessary infrastructure in place and their audiences welcoming their works with open arms,” Bish says.

One problem he sees with Ugandan film, though, is lack of specialization, with one person writing, directingroducing, and marketing their own films.

“They are worried too much [about] making losses if someone else took on the distribution. I believe in either finding a good distributor, agree on terms and let him go ahead and do his work,” Bish says, although he understands why one can try to do it all. “But again because we have unfaithful people out there, you will likely be cheated and the end result is making losses.”

UCC has licensed 60 television stations and twenty are in operation today. Television stations are supposed to air 60 per cent local content but the filmmakers contend that the stations are not buying local content.

” [They are] claiming that they do not have a budget and our films are expensive. This is discouraging the filmmakers who should be screening more of their films on local television stations,” the programmes director, Uganda Film club, Ali Mutaka Byansi said.

TV stations, on the other hand, argue that many Ugandan films are of low quality.

“For how long has the Ugandan film industry been in existence? They should not compare or judge us with the other film industries in the world. We are heading there. We are improving day by day. Today we are using better cameras and software. The film industry is much better than 15 or 20 years ago,” Byansi argues.

There is the challenge of exhibiting, marketing and distribution of films in Uganda, Byansi acknowledged, adding: “The marketing and promotion budget is usually higher than the actual shooting of the film. If we are having problems with the shooting itself, how are we going to market the film? The market is dominated by cheap pirated Nollywood Ds and other films that have been dubbed by video jockeys (VJs). Ugandans will always buy foreign items. Uganda being a multi-lingual society it is difficult to make films in a single language.”

Bish is equally disappointed, wondering why producers should spend so much money putting together a production yet there isn’t a formidable platform to showcase it. According to Alex Mulwa, a marketing consultant and marketing director at the Kenya Film Commission, producing a film is only half the job.

Commercial success:

“The other half is getting it out to the world through marketing and distribution. In the film industry, to ensure commercial success, you need a successful marketing campaign – this costs money – and this is organised by a distributor and sales agent,” Mulwa said in a paper he presented at the film forum at the National theatre in Kampala on August 27, 2014.

According to Mulwa, there is a difference between a sales agent and a distributor. Sales agents deal with the trade, taking the film to the core festivals and markets and promoting it to broadcasters, media, cinemas. On the other hand, the distributors are responsible for getting the film to the audience.”

The film forum was held under the topic “How to market and distribute films?”. Mulwa said filmmakers could only get a sales agent at local and international film festivals. This means that they should always enter their films into top festivals where the sales agents ply their trade.

Most filmmakers in Uganda do not know the value of their films when it comes to marketing and distribution.

“You need to understand value in the market versus above and below-the-line costs,” Mulwa said, aising filmmakers to exploit the ‘Movie Magic’ software to gauge the value of their films.

According to Mulwa, the domestic distributor and sales agent often cost-share – for example, filmmakers should negotiate with them both to go 5050 on trailer and campaign costs and save money in the long run. “You don’t want everyone doing their own trailer and poster – as it’s your money they are spending in the long run.”

Bish lists lack of schooling or training programmes from the industry professionals around the world lack of funds and skills on raising funds for productions lack of industry professionals to produce a decent film there is a lack of interest from the local audiences and lack of proper infrastructure for a sound industry to operate, as the major challenges facing the industry in Uganda.

“We do not have proper film schools. This is a craft that you have to be trained at. Most of us are self-taught through film workshops provided by Maisha Film Lab and Uganda Film Club, and a few professionals who share their skills with the rest of us,” Byansi said.

Uganda has not yet developed a film commission to regulate the industry, said Byansi, adding: “We need a film commission that is representative of all the stakeholders. The commission will lobby for the sector and also develop a film grant where high- quality film scripts are vetted and selected for funding. This will also in a way improve our script writing skills.”

The UCC film specialist, James Owaraga concurs with Byansi, saying: “A film commission will be given the mandate to regulate, promote, market and distribute local films. It will encourage international filmmakers to produce and shoot their films here in Uganda. It is the local filmmakers who should demand for the commission because it carries a lot of aantages. A film fund will only be viable when the filmmakers are organized under one umbrella organization.”

Govt support:

As to how should these challenges be addressed, Bish says, government has already started working on this by providing a film festival in which it recognizes the efforts of filmmakers. “The other should be taken up by the available media houses in all aspects from print media, radio and television. It should then be upon us the filmmakers to engage in learning the art that is available on the internet and a few film and media schools around the country.”

Bish is optimistic about the future of Uganda’s film industry and it should maintain the interest at all levels. “If the challenges mentioned above are addressed as mentioned above, then I don’t see why we should have a self-sustaining industry employing thousands of young people and improving on the tourism state of affairs.”

“I am optimistic because Ugandan filmmakers are funding their own productions amidst difficulties. You can see there is zeal to continue and they are not giving up,” Byansi observes.

Source : The Observer

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