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Battle over film money in Uganda

UCC ED Godfrey Mutabazi (R) hands over a cheque to film actors of yet to be launched Freedom at the Kampala Serena Hotel during the Uganda Film Festival held on Aug. 26, 2016. INdependent /Isaac Khisa
UCC ED Godfrey Mutabazi (R) hands over a cheque to film actors of yet to be launched Freedom at the Kampala Serena Hotel during the Uganda Film Festival held on Aug. 26, 2016. INdependent /Isaac Khisa

Uganda’s film industry has five faces – and almost everyone is in it for the money. Unfortunately, as their interests clash, the industry suffers.

Take Cindy Magara, a film producer with a company called Nyati Motion Pictures. Her biggest quarrel is about film producers being left to fund what she says are “very expensive ventures”.

She says it is sad that the Ugandan film maker is left to struggle alone on a complex stage; a stage that has no systems, no specific ministry of government body to run to for a holistic answer, a stage that faces competition from pirated films, and a stage that has bad attitude from the primary consumersthe Ugandan. “The few corporate companies whom everyone runs to for funding prefer music to film,” she concludes.

Movie producers, viewers see different images of same scene

To make a bad situation worse, the market is awash with people determined to pirate the films rather than buy the original DVD’s that tend to be priced slightly up.

“This vice has ultimately eaten into our incomes, making the film industry remain stagnant,” says Matt Bish, a director at the Bish Films, the firm behind the productions like `Silent Sentencing’ and `TheAthlete’.

Currently, pirated DVDs go for as low as Shs5, 000 (Approx. US$1.5) on the street. Uganda has a copyright law but it is rarely enforced.

However, Magara’s vitriol appears targeted at the TV sector which is the dominant face of the local film industry but is not interested in airing local productions.

Under the National Broadcasting Policy, TV stations must show 70% locally-made programmes. The policy aims promoting national culture, pluralism, diversity, creating employment, and developing the local film industry. But no station meets the target.

Instead, a report published in the first quarter of 2015, by the film sector regulator; the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) showed that the TV station with the biggest share of local content was showing just about 46.6%.


Shoe-string industry

As a result, the local film industry operates on lean tight budgets, using obsolete equipment and low skills.

It is a shoe-string industry. On average, it costs between U.S$ 3,000 and U.S$ 30,000 to produce a film, according to producers. Many actors/actresses are paid between U.S$200 and US$1,000 per film production.

Those rates are far below the cost of producing a film in Nigeria which is between U.S$ 25,000 and U.S$70,000, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The West African nation generates an impressive $590million in films annually.

George Kihumbah, the film director at NTV and the person behind a local drama called `Deception’ represents the face of the would-be buyer of local productions. He says even if the Uganda costs appear low they are in fact high, and make a section of television stations look for cheap foreign content.

“So, you can have a good film but there are no sponsors for that show yet we are all aiming at doing business,” Kihumbah says.

Kihumbah says there are many other considerations in buying local contents to air, including products that reflect the culture of the local population, which local producers fail at. HassanMageye, the director at the NewCinema Production, has seen the worst of TV’s attitude to local production. His firm is behind one of the top winners at this year’s Uganda FilmAwards which were held inAugust. Mageye won Best Actor for his role in his film `The Invisible Cuffs’.

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