African cinema has for some time been at the footnote of the entertainment industry.
Not that there are no good films coming out of the continent, but the makers are yet to convince a Hollywood bent audience that a film from Uganda, let alone Africa at large, is worth a second look.
In 2013 though, Multichoice with their flagship channel Africa Magic tried to create some shine for the best of African film by starting the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCAs).
Bringing together film makers from all walks of life, the platform did not find the Ugandan industry ready, that even when our lone nominee, Matthew Nabwiso, went on to beat Nigeria’s Fabian Lojede for the coveted Best Supporting Actor accolade, the shine did not sink in back home.
In an earlier interview, Nabwiso said Uganda not having an established industry, he did not get to benefit or milk the win the same way Nigerians, Ghanaians or South Africans that have won after him have.
And as fate would have it, as the AMVCAs grew bigger, the playground for Ugandans became smaller. At the event in 2015, for example, not a single Ugandan film, actor or crew person got a nomination in all the award categories.
The years that followed only saw the industry celebrating solo nominations that never resulted in wins.
These were nominations for films such as Invisible Cuffs by Hassan Mageye, House Arrest by Joseph Ssebaggala and Nana Kagga’s TV show Beneath the Lies.
Of course the AMVCAs are not the flagship celebration of the audio visual sector on the continent, but a fact that they have TV and regions in the mix, the show that always takes place in Nigeria easily comes off as our equivalent of the Golden Globes.
But because of the background Uganda has had with the awards, you could understand why the announcement of this year’s nominees on June 30 took many local film makers by surprise.
For the first time in the history of the awards, Uganda did not receive a solo token nomination, but a whooping five productions got nominated with more than five crew people and actors also getting noticed.
And here are the Ugandan nominees….
The Forbidden is probably the most successful Ugandan film released this year. It follows the story of a young girl whose financial challenges force her to start looking for the father she never grew up with. On this journey, she falls in love, finds hard times and eventually finds the father, though it was already too late.
It was the first Ugandan film to win Best Feature Film at the Kampala Amakula International Film Festival earlier this year and went on to scoop 13 nominations at Ghana’s première academy awards, the Golden Movie Awards Africa, winning only one. Last week, the film was among those selected and showcased at the Real Time International Film Festival in Nigeria, where they picked up a Best Themed Film award.
It is one of the films in competition for the Golden Dhow Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival that are currently going on in Zanzibar.
Starring Leilah Nakabira, Meddy Musinguzi (who passed on after production), Nodryn Evanci and Trevor Kaye, among others, the film is the second directorial effort by Samuel Saviour Kizito.
In the AMVCAs, The Forbidden is in the Best Film East Africa category against other Ugandan films; Devil’s Chest, The Torture, Bella and Rain.
This could be Uganda’s most nominated film at the AMVCAs, scoring a director nomination for Richard Mulindwa, a writing nomination, cinematography and Best Actor and Actress for Raymond Rushabiro and Joan Agaba, respectively.
The film was one of the most nominated at last year’s Uganda Film Festival, although only managed two accolades for the actor and actress and lost the rest to Hassan Mageye’s Devil’s Chest.
The Torture follows a story of a man who falls for a younger woman, only to realise later that she only wanted him for the financial support. After going through heartache, he captures her and avenges with torture.
This is not Mulindwa’s début in a directorial role, as he has in the past been part of projects such as The Only Son and his 2016 award winning film Freedom, starring Rushabiro and Nisha Kalema.
She is a relatively new face on the local film scene. Describing herself as one person passionate about the art, Joan Agaba has only been given two credits in Galz About Town and The Torture. She says she said yes to the script because she thought it was a challenging role that had to take a lot from her.
In her view, acting is about loving and marrying the character even before intense shooting or production starts.
Agaba won the Best Actress accolade for her role in The Torture at the Uganda Film Festival Awards, a feat she would later redo when nominated in the same category at the Festicab International Festival of cinema in Burundi. In the AMVCAs, she is nominated for Best Actress.
Before becoming a regular fixture with Fun Factory and the Ugandan film industry, Raymond Rushabiro was that guy who acted mostly with The Ebonies.
Although before that, he made his acting début while a student at Namasagali. Rushabiro has in the past appeared in plays and films, including Any Cow Will Do, Bala Bala Sese, The Only Son, Situka, and 5@Home, which airs on Fox Life.
Cinderella Sanyu alias Cindy
An energetic performer since her days as part of Blu*3, Cindy has cemented her position on the local music scene and in Bella, she seemed to venture into new waters as a homeless girl that sings for lunch on the city streets.For an artiste doing it for the first time, Cindy was a natural! Her innocence and the emotions she invested in Bella was believable.
Being an artiste already, you could think she was only going to sell us the old Cindy we are used to, yet she somehow ventured into a whole new dream-chasing naive girl dying to see her face on posters.
Cindy will fight off competition from Joan Agaba, a fellow Ugandan from The Torture as well as Nigerians Omotola Jalade for her role in Alter Ego and Miriam Kayode from Children of Mud, among others.
Bella, a story about a homeless girl whose singing talent is discovered by a sex worker whose life she saved.
There is much more to the film though – it was released last year at the Kampala Serena Hotel to mark 10 years since director Matt Bish released his first film Battle of Souls.
Apparently, Battle of Souls was directly inspired by Roger Mugisha (Matt’s brother)’s underworld thriller, and of course, since they are siblings, Mugisha has had cameo roles in most films the brother has directed.
With a cast including Mugisha, Judith Heard, Stella Nantumbwe, Simon Base Kalema, Joel Okuyo and of course the lead, Cindy Sanyu as Bella, the film tries to sell a story that many of our female artistes are familiar with – rags to riches.
The film at the AMVCAs is nominated in three categories; Best Original Soundtrack, Best Film East African and Best Actress.
Rain is the first production project by acting duo and couple Matthew and Eleanor Nabwiso, since their Hostel days.
It is a film about a girl with big dreams of becoming a star in Kampala. However, the dreams are cut short when a DJ from town leaves her pregnant and infected with HIV.Unknowingly, she goes on to infect other people, even some of those she was staying with.
Rain has achieved success in Uganda and beyond, winning for its crisp writing at the Uganda Film Festival and Pearl International Film Festival. The film was also selected for the Kampala Amakula International Festival and later entered in competition for the Golden Impala award.
Rain stars Eleanor Nabwiso, Matthew Nabwiso, Joel Okuyo, Philip Luswata, Joanita Bewulira and Michael Wawuyo Jr, among others.
At the AMVCAs, Rain is nominated for Best Film East Africa alongside four other Ugandan films, and 18 Hours, a Kenyan thriller inspired by real life events that saw Brian Odhiambo, a paramedic that did all he could to save an accident victim 18 hours after the accident.
Other Ugandan nominees include Andrew Ahuura for his efforts on the Bella soundtrack and Rwamusigazi Kyakunzire, the cinematographer for The Torture.
Hassan Mageye’s Devil’s Chest almost won everything they were nominated for at the Uganda Film Festival last year.
A film about a mother trapped in one of Joseph Kony’s camps and later forced to become one of the wives as a way of protecting her daughter. Starring Roger Masaba as Kony and Hasifa Nakitende, the film has enjoyed much success since its release, being selected in the annual Kampala Amakula International Film Festival and premiering in the US.
In the AMVCAs, Devil’s Chest is nominated in two categories; Best Film East Africa and Best African Film.