The last time a Ugandan filmmaker promised a professionally made movie, the effort fell short. The story was wooden, the characters inane, the basics of moviemaking were flouted and there has been no buzz about the ill-fated movie since its premiere a year ago. April 2007 brings with it a promise of two professionally made movies that cinemagoers will yet again put to the test.
The titles are Divizionz, a ghetto-set story by Donald Mugisha and Roger Mugisha's highly billed Battle of the Souls, a story that weaves Pentecostal Christianity and the underworld.
Divizionz is Donald's first foray into making a full-length film and there is reason to believe this movie will fly. He has his mark on a number of music videos and his film credentials include winning the Golden Impala Award at last year's Amakula Kampala International Film Festival for his short film 610. The five-minute film is an attempt at creating a correlation between slaughtering a goat and 20th century civil strife like the Rwanda genocide and similar mayhem in Kosovo.
Divizionz is a low-budget digital feature film starring Kyagulanyi'Bobi Wine' Ssentamu, Bugembe'Buchaman' Mark, Catherine'Scarlet' Nakyanzi and Bonny'Lot' Olem.
The story revolves around four young people, Kapo, Bana Kanyankole and Mulokole played by Bobi Wine, Buchaman, Nakyanzi and Lot respectively.
They come from four regions of the country, that is Central, Eastern, Western and Northern Uganda but now live in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city.
The four are aspiring musicians and through a contact have been offered a performance slot at a pub in the city that is starting "open mic sessions" locally dubbed "karaoke." Kapo quits his job and raises some money to buy a track (instrumental) on which he and his crew of three will perform.
They are ambushed by law enforcement officers before they can get to the city and find themselves with no money and no instrumental. Their desire to get to the city and the experience therein becomes the test to their friendship and mission.
"The movie is a metaphor on how people struggle from nothing to get up there and also highlights the stereotypes our capital city is built upon," Donald explains. "People from the North are said to be aggressive, those from the West- arrogant, the ones from Central are money-minded schemers while those from the East especially the Basoga are said to be very stubborn and uncompromising."
The inspiration for the movie came in 2004 while Donald was at the Cape Town International Film Festival. It was there that he met James Tyler, a South African-based filmmaker and the two spoke about working together on a film shot in the low-cost digital video format.
After sifting through a number of ideas, Donald settled for a socio-realism film that would bring life in the ghetto to mainstream cinema audiences. The movie was shot on location in Kamwokya where leading man Bobi Wine prides himself as the self-proclaimed president of the Kamwokya ghetto.
The film's language is ghetto lingo or "luyaaye", a street offshoot of the Luganda language but the final cut will have English sub-titles. "I do not think shooting in a Ugandan language will limit the film's prospects because language is secondary in filmmaking. There are films that do not have sound but their stories are well appreciated," says the unassuming Donald.
Rather than do an open casting session, Mugisha opted to use people he was familiar with. "Bobi had told me he wanted to put his acting abilities to great use, I cast Nakyanzi in a music video and saw her immense screen presence.
Olem had so many similarities with the individual he would play while Buchaman also had an interest in acting for the camera and had tried to star in earlier film efforts," Donald says. A month-long workshop to smooth the rough acting edges any of the four may have had and shooting lasted from July to December 2006.
Mugisha will not reveal how much the movie cost to produce and only reveals that Deddac financed 80 percent of the film while Switch Media financed 20 percent. He describes this cinema effort as a guerrilla film- one where a skeleton crew is utilised and a cameraman can also double as a lighting or soundman. Donald denies the film is out to make any statement political or otherwise in light of Bobi Wine's monster-hit Ghetto. "Divizionz is about ambition, friendship and shows that one's enemies were close friends at one time- people that know you so well," he emphasises.
Donald acknowledges distribution as one of the toughest stages in filmmaking. He wants the film to first show in theatres then in the ghettos- areas where people that will relate to the movie live before showing it in the cinema. Divizionz will then hit the festival circuit showing first in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and hopefully Berlin.
"We want to show people that you can do a good film with the resources you have as long as you stick to the basics which are a good story and a great cast," says Donald.
And for all the praise the film may bring him, Donald is quick to resist any credit that may come to him as an individual. "I do not believe in filmmaking being an individual effort," he stresses. Interestingly, the film has no directing credit and Donald would rather Yes That's Us, his posse of like-minded filmmaking friends get all the credit. They comprise some of the people he met in 2000 that were passionate about filmmaking.
That year marked the turning point for Donald who traces his interest in filmmaking to the days he would play around with the family VHS video camera. He has since dropped out of his Mass Communication class at Makerere University because the programme's TV production curriculum was ill equipped with just one camera shared amongst over 200 students. With the editing software-enabled computer his mum had bought him, Donald flung himself into video production and hardly has any regrets.