When it comes to filmmaking, I’ve always been a proponent for making do with what you’ve got! The less resources available to you, the more resourceful and creative you must become. You may not make your masterpiece, but I think it’s better to remain active, constantly writing, shooting, directing, editing, etc, by any means necessary, than to spend years in a search for funds that may, or may never come.
And while Ugandan filmmaker Isaac Nabwana likely won’t be winning any Oscars soon for his work, you’ve got to be inspired by his energy, his drive, his resourcefulness, his will to succeed in pursuing his dreams of becoming an action movie director. With 40 or so features to his credit, long time readers of this blog will probably remember his most popular work which was dubbed Uganda’s first action film, titled "Who Killed Captain Alex" – the insanely fun, and hilarious flick that was loaded with nutty action sequences, and entry-level special effects.
We were amused, but also intrigued, as apparently many others were. Since he uploaded the film’s trailer to YouTube, it’s been played over 2.2 million times! That’s a lot of views! And his second film, "Red Ban," has been played 1.8 million times. I certainly hope that he signed up for Google’s YouTube ad revenue sharing program, because, with that many views, certainly there’s some money there to be made. Collectively, all his YouTube videos have about 5 million plays.
And thanks to his growing popularity, Nabwana became the subject of a feature length documentary, which we also shared on this site!
The short story goes… Nabwana founded his Uganda-based Ramon Film Productions, a team of nearly 100 actors, filmmakers, and technicians – all volunteers – dedicated to building an independent film industry in that country. Filmmaking is difficult in any environment, but the squalid Ugandan locales where Nabwana and company operate, presents several added challenges like the struggle for basic utilities that many around the world, take for granted.
The team has to essentially invent all their equipment, while relying on ingenuity and available materials. For example, their tripod is a modified car jack, and props are typically welded from scrap metal and used car parts. Isaac personally built the computer he uses for editing, sound mixing, and special effects, although, due to Uganda’s climate, it overheats regularly. And the fact that Isaac’s video camera has a busted viewfinder, and his only battery is held together with string, hasn’t slowed him down one bit.
The only remuneration the cast and crew receive is a share of the profits from DVDs they sell at street corners and local markets. But distribution is a race against time as the films are quickly pirated, and revenue plummets after only a couple weeks.
Film festival programmer Alan Hofmanis felt compelled to travel to Uganda and meet Isaac Nabwana after watching the trailer for the aforementioned "Who Killed Captain Alex," and, inspired by Ramon Film Productions, Alan returned to the United States where he recruited independent film producer/distributor/filmmaker Ben Barenholtz, and cinematographer Andreas von Scheele, who, weeks later, returned to Uganda to document Ramon Film Productions – especially the life, struggles, and creative process of filmmaker Isaac Nabwana.
The film, titled "Wakaliwood: The Documentary," had its world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2012. SnagFilms (parent company of Indiewire) eventually made the film available on iTunes, both as a rental and for purchase.
And last month, Nabwana, whose films are hits around Kampala, Uganda, with the help of Alan Hofmanis, who has relocated to Uganda (and is now a partner in Ramon Film Productions), took to Kickstarter to raise funds to help build a proper film studio, with better equipment, so that he can upgrade his filmmaking abilities and produce higher quality content that will travel. They also needed the funds to be able to have full control over how the studio’s films are distributed, including reaching a global audience, which starts with building a dependable website on which the films will reside, likely in a pay-per-view type of streaming service.
In essence, the goal is to build a film production and distribution studio in the heart of Uganda; and, as I learned today, their Kickstarter campaign was successful, blowing past their requested amount, and raising over $13,000, which may not seem like much to the American eye (especially if trying to build a mini film studio), but, can go quite far elsewhere. And, keep in mind that this is just the beginning of a longer term endeavor, not a one-and-done deal. I look forward to seeing what Ramon Film Productions looks like in another 5 to 10 years, especially as the company, via the work it produces, as well as the sheer determination and creativity of the man at the top of it – Nabwana – continues to attract attention and interest from around the world.
Most recently, Vice/HBO visited Wakaliwood, and produced a short documentary report on the industry, which of course included the contributions of Ramon Film Productions. Watch it below: