Journalism in the service of society

Uganda… An emerging inspiring film centre in Africa

(Being text of an interview with Femi Odugbemi, Jury President, Uganda Film Festival 2023, by the Festival Communication unit)

Uganda film festival
Uganda... An emerging inspiring film centre in Africa 3

‘I see an exciting future for Ugandan films and filmmakers. The creative energy and the pool of extremely talented writers, storytellers, directors and producers is huge. So content will continue to be an economic driver of the emerging creative economy. Storytelling is the new gold and Uganda’s rich heritage, culture and beautiful locations will make it emerge as an international attraction for filmmaking’

WHAT are your experiences of Uganda’s film industry?

I have had the privilege to be part of the Uganda Film Festival Jury a few times in the course of the last 10 years and that has given me the opportunity to see the best and brightest of Uganda’s indigenous films and filmmakers flourish and grow into emerging global brands. The transformation of the industry in terms of quality of product is really exciting. Names like Matt Bish, Jayant Maru, Kudzu Isaac, Nisha Kalema, Isaac Namwana of Ramon films, Rehema Nanfuka, Mariam Ndagire, and many others have become familiar across africa now because of their work. We have also seen Ugandan films nominated at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards and other international awards. And of course now you also have the cable broadcasters and international streaming platforms paying attention to stories, films and TV series out of Uganda, so we can say we are living in the golden age of opportunity and growth for Uganda’s storytellers and filmmakers. And for me that is very fulfilling because it means the work of the UCC and its mission in creating and sustaining the Uganda Film Festival in the last 10 years has been successful and rewarding.

To what extent has the UCC transformed Uganda’s film industry?

I think the UCC’s support of the film industry has been vital to growth. First, it has signalled to filmmakers that government takes their creative talent and their films seriously and that the nation believe in that talent enough to consider it as an important economic asset that can contribute to Uganda’s economy. Of course the Uganda Film festival itself is a huge platform to recognize excellence and to reward superior talent so that the average quality of product can rise. It means as well that the film industry is merit-driven. Making quality films becomes everybody’s motivation. Along with that comes opportunities for the best filmmakers to collaborate and co-produce projects that can represent Uganda even more strongly internationally. And of course now many people come to Uganda or know about Uganda’s cinema because of the UFF and the films that have been showcased here. But the most important thing is that the UCC’s intervention is creating opportunities for training, for capacity building and that in the long term is critical to sustaining the success of the industry and building a legacy of excellence. The UCC has done commendable work and invested massively to be able to sustain these initiatives for 10years and I heartily congratulate the leadership and team who have worked tirelessly to achieve this success.

Where do you see Uganda’s film industry in the next five years?

I see an exciting future for Ugandan films and filmmakers. The creative energy and the pool of extremely talented writers, storytellers, directors and producers is huge. So content will continue to be an economic driver of the emerging creative economy. Storytelling is the new gold and Uganda’s rich heritage, culture and beautiful locations will make it emerge as an international attraction for filmmaking.

The future of Uganda’s industry will also be about technology. Technology in distribution  especially. Quite a lot of the telco and mobile phone operators across Africa are beginning to see the penetration of smartphones into many rural areas as opportunity to also stream entertainment content. So there will be opportunities for educational programming and entertainment content which will offer an new eco-system for filmmakers. 

Of course you also must realize how much the future of filmmaking will be impacted everywhere by emerging virtual technologies and things like Artificial Intelligence, ChatGBT, CospLay etc. The future is exciting because it will move us all into the imagination economy.

But the engine of it will continue to be storytelling and the cultural tales of our heritage and that is a place where Uganda will always have competitive advantage. Of course like every other industry, the film industry here must must intensify training and capacity building particularly in specialized skill positions like production design, cinematogarphy, sound, animation, colour grade etc. There must bigger opportunityy and access to financing. government and financial institutions must create bespoke financing packages that support the film industry. And government must create policies that promote Uganda internationally to attract projects to Uganda. These can include tax exemptions moratoriums on lending, import duty waivers on equipment resources, co-production agreements with other film-friendly countries to expand access to audiences etc., and of course, investment in technology access points to allow films reach audiences virtually. Streaming is the most viable distribution channel for african filmmakers but it needs cheaper data and faster speeds.

Please tell us how you have supported some of Ugandan films? 

I have in the last decade simply been a voice for the Uganda film industry in international spaces. I have encouraged many international festivals with which I am associated to always select films from Uganda. Of course whilst working with the AMVCA awards I encouraged films and filmmakers from Uganda to be invited and films like ‘KY3’ by Jayant Maru and Nisha Kalema’s ‘Veronica’s Wish’ I recall particularly. I have also encouraged top Filmmakers from Uganda to be selected to the Jury of the AMVCA and other award events. I feel like my support for the industry in Uganda is justified and important to create visibility for the good work that is emerging and to showcase the growth and amazing stories coming out of this beautiful country.

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Femi Odugbemi

‘…Writer, storyteller, content creator’

TAKE us through your career in the film industry?

Well, I am a writer, filmmaker and TV Producer and I have created content in Nigeria and across the continent for about 30years. I studied cinematography at Montana State University and I have been a voting member of the Oscars since 2018. and also a voting member of the Emmys since last year. I am priviledged to be one of very few filmmakers in the continent who is elected to both the Film and TV international academies. I am one of the founding Producers of Tinsel the longest running TV soap-opera in Africa with over 3,500 episodes. I have also created a few popular drama series including ‘Battleground,’ ‘Brethren,’ ‘Movement,’and I am currently producing Covenant which you can see on the channels of DSTV. I have also produced feature films and many documentaries as well.

I was pioneer Academy Director of the Multichoice Talent Factory in West Africa (2018-2022) and I currently  facilitate trainings for NYU Abu Dhabi, Pan-Atlantic University and a few other Institutions across the continent. I am CEO/Executive Producer of Zuri24 Media Lagos.

*Odugbemi is a Voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences and also a Member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He will be serving as Jury President of the 10th Uganda Film Festival holding from  22nd May-3rd June 2023.

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