Today: April 24, 2024

Once Upon a Time in Uganda

In recent years, thanks in part to the YouTube generation and sharing of viral memes, the films of Wakaliwood – the self-proclaimed “Home of Da Best of Da Best Movies” – have taken on something of a cult following. These lovingly-crafted DIY action flicks out of Wakaliga, a slum in Uganda, are impossible to resist – and now, a new documentary looks at the feel-good story behind them.

When focusing on loveable maverick Isaac Nabwana (AKA Nabwana I.G.G.), filmmaker and founder of Wakaliwood, the film is a joyous exploration of the love of movies and a dreamer with a film camera. Sort of like an absurd Fabelmans, here is the tale of a filmmaker finding his voice against the odds. It’s charming and inspiring, especially for anyone who’s ever wanted to be a filmmaker. However, the film falters somewhat when turning the focus toward Alan Hofmanis – Isaac’s American ‘brother’ who moved to Wakaliga to join Wakaliwood – and the clearly overly manufactured interpersonal conflict between them that drives a large chunk of the film. It’s needless and tedious. A feature-length celebration of Isaac and his films would’ve been enough; trying to ham up a conflict narrative bogs the film down hugely. Whether the fault of the film/editing or his actual character, Hofmanis comes across as unlikeable – so when the film splits focus almost 50/50 with him, it’s a great shame. 

Still, taken as a love letter to Wakaliwood and Isaac Nabwana, Once Upon a Time in Uganda is a heartfelt, celebratory doc that will inspire anyone to pick up a film camera. While there’s nothing revelatory in the content – anyone who has done research into Wakaliwood or followed their crazy story since classics like Bad Black and Who Killed Captain Alex will not learn a great deal here about their production – it’s inherently sweet to just watch these guys make movies together. 

Once Upon a Time in Uganda is a joyous exploration of heart and creativity, and while it may falter considerably when focus shifts away from Isaac Nabwana, the end result is wholly inspiring. 

Once Upon a Time in Uganda is in cinemas from 5 September and will screen at Odeon cinemas nationwide on this date featuring recorded Q&A with Wakaliwood filmmaker Isaac Nabwana

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