The long-awaited Ugandan movie Beauty to Ashes finally made its premiere over the weekend, amid all the hype it has created since production began last year.
Its makers, TriVision Productions, had raised public anxiety by labelling the Aids-themed movie 'one of a kind'. Many other local films that tried to address the pandemic that has ravaged the country for the last 30 years have not lived up to their billing.
So, even before 85-minute-long Beauty to Ashes hit the big screen for the first time at the National Theatre on Friday, it had its work cut out. Friday's screening was open to only invited guests. The auditorium in the end proved too small to handle the multitude that turned up.
When the lights went out and curtains raised, the audience was instantly hooked, thanks to the movie's sharp picture, a far cry from its paltry production budget of Shs 11m. Beauty to Ashes, which largely boasts of an untested cast, takes you on a sad and starkly detailed journey of how the incurable Aids can be transmitted to hundreds of people in a matter of days.
The film's story mainly echoes cliché themes of promiscuity and cross-generational sex but the manner in which they are told makes it unique. Naïve teenager Suzan (Brenda Awor) is happily in love with her university course mate, Andrew (Shabba Serunkuuma) until she crosses paths with wealthy HIV-positive loverman Aggrey (Patriko Mujuuka) who blinds her with his powers of seduction and lavish gifts.
Meanwhile, Andrew's HIV positive father rapes and infects his housemaid, a role perfectly executed by newcomer Monica Birwinyo. The maid later enjoys a fling with Andrew, infecting him in the process. Later on, it is revealed Suzan was born with the virus. But in between, Aggrey's sexual network catches up with his daughter who engages in a drunken orgy with a boy that has an affair with one of Aggrey's side dishes.
In the end, nearly no single character in the movie is spared. It is portrayed that cheating, promiscuity, reluctance to take a test and careless behaviour fuel HIV prevalence, which, according to a recent WHO report, is on a steady rise in Uganda. Again. Mujuuka nailed his role, thanks to his screen seniority. But it is first-timer Awor who impressed audiences most. The 20-year-old first-year student of Ndejje University says she wants to pursue a career in acting.
"I hope to appear in more of such educative movies," she said, revealing her favourite part of the movie was the passionate kiss she shared with Mujuuka, whom she considers a great actor.
Other actors, including Serunkuuma, Douglas Sebamala, Sally Namugenyi, Florence Yiga and veterans Norman Juuko and Isaac Gwayambadde, were equally impressive.
But after the screenings, director Irene Kulabako Kakembo was uncertain of the way forward, seeing as she does not have the necessary financing to distribute her movie. But educationalist and UNEB chairman Fagil Mandy came to her rescue, promising to talk to ministry of education and other government bodies into buying the film.
"This is a movie of reference. It can be used as an education material in schools," Mandy said while enjoying a post-premiere cocktail with other guests.