The Observer (Kampala)

22 November 2012

Uganda: Kugonza Quit Teaching for Cinematography

As a cheeky student at the then Gayaza-based Highfield High School, Isaac Kugonza was so excited by an altercation between a teacher and a student. He decided to replicate it on video.

He borrowed an old small camcorder and gathered a bunch of other naughty boys to re-enact the incident as he taped them. The resulting footage, which he could not immediately put on DVD because he was broke, became a hit at school.

"It was only a five-minute amateur video but everyone seemed to like it, even the teachers," Kugonza recalls.

What Kugonza didn't know however, was that the video laid a foundation for what he has become - a professional and one of the finest Ugandan cinematographers.

Prolific work:

A highly ranking position on a film set, cinematographers (commonly known as Director of Photography (DOP) or simply cameramen) are responsible for capturing the footage onto tape.

Cinematographers are also tasked with determining camera angles as well as scene-lighting, something the 25-year-old dark and lanky Kugonza has mastered. As of today, Kugonza boasts of over 10 credits in a career that only took off two years back when the youngster joined the Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre (MNFPAC).

"I started out in the sound management class but later switched to the cinematography class after one student failed to show up," Kugonza recalls, praising Mariam Ndagire for shaping him into the prolific technician he has since become.

Some of Kugonza's most notable works include short films The Booty and Obstinate, TV shows Because of U and Uganda's Next Music Icon as well as a couple of commissioned documentaries. His 2011 short film The Coach won him the Super Student award at the MNFPAC festival.

Ditching teaching:

Before joining MNFPAC, Kugonza had been a Commerce, Entrepreneurship and Economics teacher at the city-based Abu-Bakr Swadiq College. But his passion for film soon caught up with him.

"I still get a few teaching gigs once in a while but it is cinematography which pays my bills," says the young filmmaker, whom I found preparing for a forthcoming job on a Kenyan set.

Broken family:

Though Kugonza has clearly not yet attained celebrity status like some of his colleagues in the film industry, he is grateful for what he has achieved so far, especially given his background.

"I was raised in a poor family by a single mother," he says, explaining he has had to hassle to pay his school fees and cater for his own needs since he was 16. He didn't complete his diploma course in IT at Datamine Institute for lack of tuition.

Challenges:

But like in any other job, Kugonza says he faces a number of challenges as a cinematographer. Top on the list is the poor pay and the high cost of equipment.

"I am only paid an average of Shs 85,000 per week, which means I have to take on more than one project at a time to make ends meet. This can affect the quality of my work," he laments, advising Ugandan filmmakers to get an education so as to be able to produce quality works.

Upping his game:

But despite the shortcomings, Kugonza says he is here to stay, the reason he dedicates much of his free time surfing the internet for knowledge about cinematography just so he can stay ahead of his game.

Love:

Kugonza, whose name loosely translates as 'to love' in Rutooro, reserves some time to chill out with his fiancée of six years. The lovebirds hope to get married by 2014.

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