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Features

Musiimenta is fitting stories to her silent world

Parton Musiimenta is hard of hearing and says she was inspired to pursue filmmaking after watching When You Become Me, a film that chose to use actors with hearing impairment.

Some of the creatives from the iKon fellowship with Humphrey Nabimanya (in sweatshirt). Photos/courtesy/Sauti Plus

Every few years, a film shows up and changes people’s perspective on art. These are films such as Avatar, which basically popularised a new technology; The Godfather, which defined an era of film and brought a new spark and toughness to films that Hollywood had been desperately needing; and the 1950s’ Rashomon, the first Japanese film to receive significant international attention and acclaim. The film played with multiple perspectives on the single story.

Now called the Rashomon effect, it is a storytelling and writing method in cinema in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved, thereby providing different perspectives and points of view of the same incident.
The technique has over the years inspired films such as Gone Girl, Usual Suspects, Vintage Point, and Ridley Scot’s The Last Duel, among others.
In Uganda, most of our films follow formats and technology already popularised by the West, though to the credit of Ugandan filmmakers, there are films that have changed narratives, such as Nisha Kalema’s Veronica’s Wish, which started a revolution of female directors, and, of course, Matthew Nabwiso’s When You Become Me in 2023.

The film was an affirmative action that put a spotlight on the relationship between able-bodied people and those living with impairments. Written by Aganza Kisaka, the film follows an insecure editorial assistant, Africa (yes, that is what they called her), who seeks to change the narrative while confronting family rejection, true love, and self-doubt.

Unlike many Ugandan films where able-bodied actors are hired to depict people with impairment, the film chose to work with people experiencing this, and thus, most of them were first-time actors.
“Never in my life as a director had I imagined that I would work with an actor; I could not give directions directly, so it was challenging at first,” Nabwiso said in a press conference.
Doreck Ankunda, the girl who portrayed Africa, is hard of hearing, what most people call deaf. She, too, had never imagined herself as an actor, but above all, she was happy that there was a story where people like her were not written as needy.

That is where Parton Musiimenta, an actress and budding filmmaker, comes in. During the just-concluded iKon Film and Television Awards, Musiimenta was one of the iKon fellows of 2024 who were introduced on stage.
The Fellowship selects individuals in the creative industry to undergo a series of one-on-one sessions, webinars, online courses, and summits delivered by professionals in the film industry, in addition to receiving $500 grants to produce five to 10-minute short films.
Musiimenta is hard of hearing and says she was inspired to pursue filmmaking after watching When You Become Me: “When you see the film, it shows you that a person with hearing impairments can do anything” .

She adds that after the film, it opened up doors for people like her in the film industry, where there seem to be a number of opportunities now. However, even when there are improvements, she says awareness is still needed. For instance, she says most directors still do not know how to work with them, and others do not want to pay for a sign language interpreter.
She also notes that some unknowingly use derogatory terms towards them.
Her reason for joining the film industry is because people like her are still left out and rarely get a chance to get their story told from their perspective.

As part of the fellowship, Musiimenta is working on a film. The yet-to-be titled film follows a young deaf girl who, after becoming pregnant, is abandoned by the father of her unborn child.
She wrote the short film and hopes to write more films rather than act in other people’s films in the future.
“I prefer writing because I want to change the narrative,” she says.
Before the annual iKon Film and Television Awards were held by Sauti Plus last month, the fellows were undergoing a week-long boot camp filled with masterclasses.

Some of these were with established Ugandan actors, while others were with African actors such as Chris Ode. She learnt a lot about resilience, especially in the creative world, which does not pay off immediately.
“Chris told us it is important to have a side business alongside film, but I see myself going far,” she says.

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