Road to Oscars: About two weeks ago, there was buzz about a Ugandan film being nominated for the Oscars…only thing is that Kony: Order From Above has not been nominated yet, but could be. The news is a big deal and Andrew Kaggwa writes on what this means for Ugandan film and if we are ready for the big stage.
If there is an art genre that has gained media over the past two weeks, it is definitely film. This was after news started making rounds of a Ugandan film and the Academy awards; the message was never clear, some said the film had been selected for the Oscars, while others noted it had been nominated, even when the actual nominations are coming out in February 2020.
Early this year, Uganda joined the big Academy family, becoming the newest country that can now submit a film to be considered for the biggest film awards.
Uganda joins more than 80 countries, including India, France, Italy, Spain and African countries Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa, the last African country to win at the Oscars for the film Tsotsi.
This means that Ugandan filmmakers can dare to dream of having their films compete at the single night that has validated almost every great filmmaker there has been.
Then there was word that Kony: Order From Above by actor and director Steve Ayeny had made it as Uganda’s first selection; the film that initially showcased at a festival in 2017, has been out of production with premieres previously scheduled in 2018 and early this year.
With the Oscar buzz though, the director was forced to fulfill things many local filmmakers obviously ignore. For instance, much as many easily screen their films as mp4 basic files off laptops, the academy procedure demanded a Digital Cinema Package (DCP).
This meant that unlike in the past where films would screen at the National Theatre and other alternative locations, this demanded a standard cinema screening. Even the requirements were different from anything local filmmakers had seen before.
Kony is an international figure that has inspired films such as Kony 2012, Joseph Kony and War Dance, both documentaries and locally, Hassan Mageye has done Devil’s Chest and, of course, Ayeny’s Kony: Order From Above. It is believed that Kony being an international figure whose atrocities have been documented, both films about him have gone places, for instance, Kony: Order From Above won Best East African film at the fancied Zanzibar International Film Festival and has gone on to impress local juries such as Pearl International Film Festival and Amakula International Film Festival.
Devil’s Chest, on the other hand, won all the awards they were nominated for at the Uganda Communications Commission-organised Uganda Film Festival awards in 2017. The film was later nominated for various awards at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) in Nigeria last year.
Because he is still a hot topic, it could be the reason even Kony: Order From Above may have caught the eyes of Uganda’s selection committee.
The film was considered for a possible submission and was thus pre-selected by the committee, according to a communication posted online. The film will become Uganda’s official entry if it fulfills all the needed requirements.
Ready for the big stage?
Kony: Order From Above has been showing at Century Cinemax and much as some people are amused, there are many that believe the film is a far cry from what they see contending for the Oscars.
Writer and filmmaker Dilman Dila noted that the film is lacking in many areas; with a weak script and very poor understanding of cinematic language.
“Technically, it has a steep mountain to climb to meet the requirements. I do not know how it will satisfy the 5.1 Dolby Atmos requirements before the deadline because the sound was….”
In the past few years, different local films have impressed in other countries; Matt Bish, for instance, took Africa by storm with his 2009 thriller State Research Bureau (SRB) and later did Donald Mugisha with his films Divisionz starring Robert Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine and Mark Bugembe.
Both films won a number of awards in Africa and beyond the continent, although they got little to no recognition back home.
Last year, at the annual AMVCAs, Uganda had five films vying for different awards yet on D-day in Nigeria, all these films lost out to Kenyan and Nigerian films.
“The problem is that Ugandans are trying to win out of Uganda without convincing those at home,” argued a person on social media, adding that the problem is that Uganda is yet to compete with such industries since those industries have been at it for years.
In the same line, Nathan Magoola, also a filmmaker, says Ugandans cannot start dreaming about stages as big as The Oscars before they convince big festivals.
“We are also getting ahead of ourselves with Oscar submissions. First, we need to strive to make films which are regularly selected for A list film festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto,” he says, adding that a Ugandan film cannot compete with a Mexican film such as Roma that did not only screen but won an award at Venice Film Festival.
Yet some people such as Doreen Mirembe, an actress, believe that Uganda cannot wait until they are ready to make an Oscar-worthy film: “That time may never come, at times starting is very important.”
Why the fuss?
Should Ugandans be excited about being able to submit to The Oscars?
Polly Kamukama, one of Uganda’s Oscar selection committee members, in a statement, noted that by submitting to the Academy awards, the world will be able to pay attention to the fact that Uganda, too, has an industry.
“The Best International Feature Film award always comes with the name of the country and not the director, it shades light to a country as a film destination in a way,” he says.
And of course, he is right, the world loves the Oscars. For instance, it has been said the South African industry has not been the same since the epic win with Tsotsi in 2006.
The country managed to achieve a number of co-productions after that and also created awareness among South Africans about the film scene. It has been written that after the win, director Gavin Hood was swarmed with crowds at the airport in Johannesburg.
Others have reasoned that since her win, Lupita Nyong’o has become an indirect ambassador for everything Kenyan, while since his nomination in 2018, there has been a lot of interest about Daniel Kaluuya’s country of origin.
And, of course, coming back home, it has been said Oscar nominations or even wins usually drive people to cinemas.
The excitement caused by Kony: Order From Above is visible, for instance, during the premiere on Friday, Parliament Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah could not stop tweeting about the film and so were other dignitaries in the cinema.
“At the moment, we can start by looking at the positives, it is the first time some of these politicians are even seeing a local film,” noted Godfrey Musinguzi, the proprietor of the monthly Uganda Cinema Night.
And of course, with other economies, it has been proved that the big stage can benefit films financially, for example, Slumdog Millionaire is famous for being made at $20m (Shs73.5b) but went on to gross $380m (Shs1.3 trillion) after the Oscar win.
Last year, Kenya had to unban Rafiki, a lesbian story to screen for seven days to pass the Oscar requirements and it is said the film went on to make about Shs120m after more than 5,600 people flocked cinemas, that some were turned away.
Kony: Order From Above will complete its seven-day cinematic run today, which is just one of the many requirements it has to fulfill for the selection committee to eventually submit it.
Of course, many do not expect it to get a nomination or even win come February 2020, but believe this will be a start to a greater journey.
Some such as Magoola believe Uganda may get away with this but their obsession for the future should be with A-list festivals where almost all Oscar winning films win before impressing the academy juries.
Kony: Order From Above
Directed by Steve Ayeny, the film follows a former child soldier, Otti, who keeps in touch with a childhood sweetheart Agutti. When the rebels make a raid at a girl’s school, Agutti is one of the captives whom their leader, Kony, wants to take as a wife.
A beautiful set up for intrigue that did not get the justice it needed from the writing team, the film failed to establish whether it was a Kony narrative or that of Otti and Agutti. Because of this, it stayed in between, attempting to tell stories of two love birds and that of a warlord at the same time.
But of course, its slow nature is one that we have seen with as many Oscar films and in some points, it has boldness of pictures such as Timbuktu that was nominated in 2014. Probably these qualities were the reasons the conversation about it and the Oscars started taking shape in the first place.
Can Papo: Actor died before film premiered
One story many may not know is that Can Papo, the man who acted as Kony in Kony: Order From Above, died months after shooting the film.
Before the project, Papo had never acted before, yet, his impression of the warlord, depicting his brutal and human side at the same time has impressed many that have seen the film.
It is not surprising that even in death, he has not only been nominated for awards, but has actually gone on to win some awards such as the Pearl International Film Festival award for Best Actor.
During the premiere on Friday, Steve Ayeny, the film director asked the audience to observe a moment of silence noting that Can Papo knew he was not well but gave his all to the film.