Saturday 12 March 2022

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA - Glasgow Film Festival review

Growing up watching the Sly Stallone and Chuck Norris action films of the 1980s, Isaac Nabwana dreamt of one day making his own films in his home town of Wakaliga, Uganda. Armed with a digital camera and his own ingenuity building sets, props and camera jibs, as well as drafting in locals to stars for his super low budget action extravaganzas, his films soon found a dedicating cult following online. Among those fans was New York based filmmaker Alan Hofmanis who, after seeing Isaac's film, Who Killed Captain Alex? back in 2012, decided to move to Uganda to help build this emerging film industry, better known as Wakaliwood.

Directed by Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez, this documentary explores Isaac's filmmaking techniques on little to no budget (estimates for the overall production cost for Who Killed Captain Alex? range from $85 up to $200), and Alan's efforts to launch Isaac to a wider global audience, acting as producer, promoter, boom operator, as well as getting roped into appearing in some films as the only Muzungu (white man) in the area, and therefore the perfect casting for a specific Ugandan movie trope - "beat up the white man". The only problem is finding him a suitable stunt double - something they get around by 'whiting up' a black actor.

In what many would deem to be an act of madness, this doc effectively captures why Hofmanis would be willing to uproot his entire life for this emerging film industry. A struggling filmmaker himself, it's quite touching how sincere his appreciation for Isaac's films is despite their clear budgetary limitations, and his non-wavering belief that he could be the next big thing if audiences are given the opportunity to see such films as Crazy World, Bad Black, and the upcoming Ebola Hunter. There's a great dynamic between the two men, and despite their cultural differences the only real signs of artistic discontent appear when a high profile local media mogul offers Isaac the opportunity to make a Captain Alex TV series for his network, something Alan feels will distract from his efforts to launch Isaac's films internationally, with the prospect that the Toronto International Film Festival will be willing to feature his latest film at one of their legendary and influential Midnight Madness screenings.

Wakaliwood is proper low budget, DIY filmmaking that makes Troma or The Asylum look like a 300 million Michael Bay production, offering something so pure and unjaded about the filmmaking process that Isaac and Alan are easy figures to root for. It's open for debate as to whether Isaac is the next big action movie director or more akin to Tommy Wiseau or Neil Breen, but you can't dispute his commitment to filmmaking and making it an integral part of his community, going so far as to train the local kids in martial arts so they can one day appear in one of his films.

Radiating with a love for action movies, Once Upon a Time in Uganda is a fascinating look at what collaboration and the filmmaking process can create, showing how a lack of budget can't get in the way of the joy of bringing people together through cinema.



Once Upon a Time in Uganda screened as part of this year's Glasgow Film Festival. More information about the festival can be found here.

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