Move over, Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood. Uganda may soon feature among the world's movie-producing countries. Thanks to a new crop of film clubs sprouting around the country, Ugandan youth are now venturing into this untapped industry.
Joyce Lilian Mutenyo, a high school student in Mbale town in eastern Uganda, would normally pass her vacation days roaming around with peers. But nowadays, the 18 year old spends her spare time learning cinematography. She is among 100 young people, mostly secondary school students, who have become members of the Mbale Film Club.
It's here that 13 to 19 year olds can receive training as actors, scriptwriters, producers and cinematographers. And since the club formed in February, it's here that members have met once a month to view films from around the world that feature young people. Afterwards, they trade comments with officials from the Uganda Youth Cultures Programme in order to, as the organization's website puts it, "empower the youth to express themselves and learn to enjoy their fundamental freedom of speech".
Just under a year later and the responses have been positive. "The club has helped its members to fight against idleness, watch movies with a critical mind and appreciate the skill of film-making at a tender age," says Mutenyo.
Culture of responsibility
But according to Hassan Watuwa, another student at Mbale secondary school, the club provides more than an education for cinephiles. Participants learn not just about the media, but the messages contained therein.
"As part of our training in film-making, members wrote a script and later acted a short film titled 'Nandutu', which showed how vulnerable a girl child got [from an] unwanted pregnancy that forced her drop out of school," says Watuwa. Besides sex and education, the film addresses issues such as dealing with the wrath of parents, peer pressure, a backstreet abortion and death.
"The time I have spent in the club has opened my mind to understand issues like reproductive health, human rights, education and writing stories," says fellow club member Gerald Wooli. He also suggests that this kind of intellectual involvement can dissuade students from participating in school strikes and help them acquire the entrepreneurship skills that may ultimately reduce youth unemployment.
Spotlight on Uganda
According to Youth & Film Uganda's programme coordinator, Denis Pato, although secondary school students are regularly encouraged to become scientists, those with a penchant for the arts lack career guidance. And that means those youngsters who are most likely to engage in Uganda's virgin film-making industry.
"For a long time, Ugandans have become addicted to Nigerian and other foreign movies, while no efforts were being made to develop the abundant talents of the young people while still in school," says Pato.
On a visit to the Mbale Film Club in late 2012, students watched a screening of 'The Great Debaters', a film dealing with democracy issues from a past era in the US. The piece was chosen to show how youth might get involved in the politics of their own country - Uganda being a young democracy. One message that was taken away is that a great debater holds the attention of an audience composed of both old and young people.
Meanwhile, the club has been busy writing scripts for the movies they intend to make before going in for serious film-making with technical guidance from the Maisha Film Lab foundation. Stay tuned. This year the Mbale Film Club hopes to premier its maiden movie.