Amakula: A journey of a thousand miles

A festival that has been in existence for the past 8 years is bound to suffer from a mild case of indigestion once in a while. The Amakula Kampala International Film festival, which boasts of being the first contemporary film festival in Uganda, is no different and must have a number of factors working against it despite its apparent success.

Written by Samuel Lutaaya

If one were to review various platforms of this nature the world over, one is most definitely going to find colourful histories that speak not just of the bright and beautiful moments, but also of the dark unsavoury stages of the journey.

I intend, through this article, to understand the true impact of the festival within the Ugandan film industry. Nathan Kiwere (NK), the festival manager of Amakula Kampala International Film Festival as well as the President of the Uganda Visual Artists and Designers Association and Dilman Dila (DD), a renowned filmmaker, has contributed to this article with their thoughts and suggestions.

How has Amakula evolved over the years? What should the next phase for the Amakula Foundation be?

NK: Previously the main showcase event was held at the National Theatre with additional films being shown in video halls around Kampala. The foundation wanted a change and decided to break down the festival into smaller platforms known as the Amakula Cinema Caravan. This format is more of a travelling festival platform which happens over a longer period in different venues around Uganda.

At the moment the local film industry seems to me like it is lost in translation. Where do you think the Amakula Kampala Cultural Foundation fits within the greater context of the film industry?

Nathan Kiwere

NK: The advent in 2004 of the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival as Uganda’s premier international film exhibition platform inevitably inspired a cinematic culture that was sure to impel the industry to levels that had hitherto never dreamed of. Close to a decade down the road, the culture of film has not only grown in leaps and bounds, but now the culture of film festivals has become the norm rather than the exception.

I believe that festivals such as The Maisha International Film Festival, Pearl International Film Festival as well as the Zuka Film Festival arose from an understanding of the effect the Amakula Festival has had on the audiences for contemporary film.

The response to film has changed over the years and is different for each region we visit. In Lira, for example, the response was excellent whereas in Jinja, there was a lukewarm response.

DD: I don’t know what stage Amakula is at now, but I do not think the festival is doing much for filmmakers. It is mostly fulfilling what its funders give it, but I do not see how Amakula is promoting Ugandan films within Uganda.

Also, and this is my biggest problem with the festival, I do not see what benefits I get by submitting my films to Amakula. They will show it, yes, but what impact does their showing my films have on my career? Does it have the power to compel audiences in Uganda to look out for a filmmaker?

Let me give the example of Bayimba: Some bands gain fame or success after performing at the festival. Can the same be said about films that are shown in Amakula? In other festivals, like Zanzibar, or even in Kenya, I’ve heard of distributors getting interested in the films they have seen at these festivals.

I too got interest from a distributor, way back in 2008, after Room 13 showed in Kenya IFF as part of a Maisha presentation. Musarait Kashmiri, former Director of the Maisha Film Foundation then got emails from three potential distributors, and though they did not work out, it still shows what a festival should be doing for a filmmaker. Room 13 was shown at Amakula in 2007, and apart from the audience who saw it then and applauded, nothing else happened.

Maybe other filmmakers have a different experience, and it might be that there are films that got distribution as a result of being shown at Amakula, but I believe Amakula should be working to achieve this, to get not just foreign distributors but also local TV broadcasters interested in the works it shows.

How relevant do you feel the Amakula Festival is within the Ugandan context?

NK: The wealth of inspiration for the Ugandan story is so visible that one does not have to think hard but simply open the eyes and translate. However, a lot of what eventually makes it on the film script simply falls short of this potential. When this deficit is punctuated by poor production, then you have frustration and stagnation setting in.

This is where Amakula, with the efforts of Maisha Film Lab, have again played an instrumental role in building capacity of filmmakers by organizing film production workshops that are facilitated by seasoned filmmakers from around the world. The abundance of raw talent in the form of actors and actress chasing after very few filmmakers should play to the advantage of the industry.

DD: Amakula needs to redefine its existence if it is to have a meaning to the film industry. Similar to the point I made earlier, if it was inviting distributors, or even trying to make some kind of market for Ugandan films beyond the DVD stalls it runs at the festival, then it would surely do a lot in supporting the industry. And by market I mean trying to encourage TV stations and other potential funders to visit the festival and see potential filmmakers and/or some content for their brands.

Most festivals, like IDFA in Netherlands, actively support filmmakers in this way. Although my documentary, Untouchable Love, was not selected for the official screening, it showed at Docs for Sale 2011, and immediately got a distributor who has worked hard to sell it to various TVs all over Europe. I believe this is what a festival should be doing for filmmakers.

Film makers are a dime a dozen and nowadays anyone with a camera can afford to produce a film. How do you think technology has impacted on the Ugandan film community?

DD: The availability of technology has created a lazy bunch of people who think they are filmmakers. It started with Nigeria. Just because they can shoot and record sound, they thought they did not need to study the craft. This is the problem with many in Uganda today.

Each time I recommend a book to someone to read, the response one would give me was: “Why do you always want to copy those Europeans? You can learn these things on your own!”

So every time I work on a project in Uganda, I work with people who has “learnt on their own”. It is so frustrating when you get involved in arguments that you see makes no sense simply because someone has learnt something on his own and only knows one way of doing things—which is mostly the “not so effective way”.

Amakula always has its labs, like the music thing Ssewanyana did last year, but I’m yet to see the impact of this on the industry. If it continues, and maybe giving its alumni post lab some support, we might see some quality finally.

Dilman Dila, Ugandan filmmaker.


So having heard both the insider’s and outsider’s view on filmmaking in Uganda, the question stands: “Has Amakula lived up to its name of great works or is the festival a shadow of the glory days of the beginning?”

In a short while, we might be able to answer this question with much greater authority. Nevertheless, in the words of Nathan Kiwere: “Like mentioned earlier, the emergence of more film exhibition platforms as offshoots of the pioneering Amakula Kampala International Film Festival is playing a big role in the proliferation of film production each year. The assurance by filmmakers that their work will reach an audience and possibly be rewarded is really uplifting.”

The Amakula Foundation, according to Kiwere, has done a great deal in building production. Film workshops have given many the opportunities to gain much-needed skills in the art of filmmaking.

Recently, Matt Bish (of Battle of the Souls fame) conducted a filmmaking workshop that was received very well in Lira. And this is not the only instance where Amakula has worked to build capacity in the film industry.

I was privileged to be a part of a screenwriters’ intensive workshop in November 2009 and the products of this workshop have gone on to write short films as well as contributing to local television productions. Kiwere believes that the ripple effect will be immense over the years.

Samuel Lutaaya is a freelance writer with a varying range of interests namely; dance, film, theatre, music, photography, fashion.