BY Daniel Drayson
SINCE the early film days, Hollywood USA has been the place to go for mainstream films. With success comes copycats, most famously Bollywood, which launched India into filmmaking success and Nigeria’s Nollywood, which has had huge success in Africa with a cult following abroad. Since the 2010s, an unlikely new studio has been on the rise from the slums of Wakaliga in Kampala, Uganda: Wakaliwood.
Nabwana IGG. started his production in Wakaliga in 2010 with the film WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? The film was extremely low budget and was made for the village’s own enjoyment. The trailer was uploaded to YouTube and started to gain attention, most notably by American actor and festival director Alan Hofmanis who offered to help Nabwana with producing the film. Hofmanis moved to Uganda, leaving the US industry behind him. With Hofmanis and Nabwana, Wakaliwood was born and WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? was released on YouTube in 2015 with a later screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada that year.
WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? is predominantly an all-out unapologetic action film with elements of romance, comedy, and mystery within. It follows Captain Alex (Kakule William), a commando tasked to take out the "Tigger Mafia", but mysteriously dies in the process. His brother (Bukenya “Bruce U” Charles) fights the tiger mafia, who he blames for his brother’s death. The film gained a cult following in the west, due to the filmmaker’s ability to be so creative with such a small budget, working in one of the world’s poorest countries. WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX created a form of escapism with its high action craziness, while also in the background commenting on real Ugandan issues such as criminal gangs and police militarism leftover by the IDI Amin regime.
Thanks to Wakaliwood, audiences were introduced and fell in love with parts of Ugandan film culture such as the Video Joker, who is a film commentator and comedian often appearing live in Ugandan Video Halls, a type of movie theatre in Uganda that shows films at a cheap price. In WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? VJ Emmie is on the mic and is the first known Video Joker to perform in English. Various highlights of Emmie’s commentary include him shouting various words such as “Hello” and “movie” during action scenes to add to the chaos and fire up the audience. Other jokes are made during dialogue scenes: Emmie talks over the actors, improvises his own dialogue for on screen characters, and even changes the narrative at some points. One such example is when Natasha (Faizat Muhammed), the wife of Tiger Mafia leader Richard (Sserunya Ernest), gets locked up for betraying the Tiger Mafia. Emmie says it is because she has been watching too much Nollywood instead of watching Wakaliwood.
Following its online success, the film screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada. Wakaliwood started getting mainstream attention from the likes of the BBC, who commended the impressive nature of the production in spite of such a small budget, labelling Nabwana "Uganda's Tarantino". With Nabwana’s creative genius and Hofmanis’s industry knowledge, they produced more features together, each one arguably better than the last. So far, however, only two of these features have been released outside of Uganda: CRAZY WORLD (2014) and BAD BLACK (2016).
BAD BLACK was first shown at the 2016 Fantastic Fest Austin, Texas and was later shown at festivals in the Netherlands, South Korea, India and Spain. The film got a wide online release in 2019 while also becoming available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray, alongside WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX. BAD BLACK is an unapologetic, action-filled revenge flick that makes little sense but does not need to. Even VJ Emmie admitted to being confused by the ending, noting: “even I am confused, and I’m Ugandan”. This suggests the confusion may be intentional. BAD BLACK shows that Wakaliwood wants to break all the rules set out by Hollywood. This is suggested not just by the film but also by the post-credit scene of the Wakaliwood helicopter crushing buildings named “Alamo” and “Hollywood”. WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? might have made Wakaliwood successful but BAD BLACK creates a sense that it wants more, even though this segment was made for humour, it still shows determination to become a Hollywood alternative.
Despite being made before BAD BLACK, CRAZY WORLD is the most recent western release debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 before an internet release as part of the 2020 We Are One Film Festival. CRAZY WORLD stars “Da Waka Starz”, the children of Wakaliwood, who in the film get kidnapped by mobsters led by Mr Big (Mukiibi Alex), who also looks like a child himself. The kids manage to fight their way out with help from some conspiracy theorists. The film breaks even more rules than BAD BLACK, not just breaking the fourth wall but complete demolition of the fourth wall. Throughout the film, the “Piracy Hunters” address the audience, warning them not to pirate the film, interrupting the film several times, going around the world to search for people pirating the film, all of whom are real-life Wakaliwood fans who recorded themselves for the film. Another person the hunters find is the director Nabwana IGG himself, showing his film to his children. They eventually take him to jail for pirating his own film.
The rise of Wakaliwood from nothing is an incredible story and proves that no matter your background, no matter your budget, you can still make successful films and reinvent the industry.
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