Saturday September 22 2012

Ugandan films by youths selected for Chicago festival

Some of the young people who made the films with their mentors during a shoot.

Some of the young people who made the films with their mentors during a shoot. 

By Christine Wanjiru

The chances of any film entered for the Chicago film festival was one in 900, literally because around that many films were entered. For any of the four short films entered by Maisha on behalf of Youth and Film Club members from Gulu and Kampala, the odds were greater: not only were they first time entrants, the films were their first attempt at film making and that after only five days of intensive training.
But either this didn’t matter, or they had more going for them than against them when it came to making the cut of films to be shown at the festival, which runs from October 11 to 25. Two of the four submitted short films will be shown at the festival that brings film makers directors and fans from all over the world.

“Everyone is excited. We received the first response on August 31,” says Denis Pato, the programme coordinator of the youth and film project. ‘Everyone’ means the Gulu and Kampala youth film clubs, the actors in the two films, the mentors both local and from Denmark as well as the Danish embassy that funded the three-year project under which the young film makers were trained.
The Secret Note, one of the two films was made by the Gulu club while The Christmas Turkey was one of those made in Kampala by the Kampala youth. Both were shot last December and held one public showing each.

The Christmas Turkey is a short compelling tale of one boy’s quest to find Christmas dinner for his family after his alcoholic father drank the money for buying chicken. It highlights the much peddled theme (in African films at least) of poverty but goes further and depicts another reality of many impoverished African youth today: being forced to grow up when they are still children. It also manages to add a twist so the lesson laden ending doesn’t seem too obvious, all in four minutes which is the entire running time of both films. Sub-themes of talent and passion (in this case it is football), its role as a way out of poverty and how different people understand it also comes out in the film.

The Secret Note is a light take on the happenings in a classroom where one student witnesses two mates, a boy and a girl passing a note. He rats on them and sets off a chain of events. The film manages to make the four minutes devoted to this all too familiar school tale of mischief and plots to outwit the disciplinarians (who doesn’t remember those old days of sneaking notes behind the teacher and hating the class snitch?) interesting while subtly delivering a moral.

Cyrus Kahuka, who wrote The Christmas Turkey script, said in an earlier interview that the story was inspired by personal experience peppered by a little borrowing from the environment around him. “I love football, but my dad is not an alcoholic.That I added because I know it happens,” he said.

Team effort
Geoffrey Ojok wrote the classroom drama The Secret Note. But overall the movie production from the directing to the extra role, to the last bit of editing was team effort. As such bragging rights are distributed among the twenty who made the winning movies, as well as the 200 or so who are members of the clubs in Gulu and Kampala.

So what could have given these two films an edge over the other four for starters and then the hundreds that were entered?
Pato says he is not sure of the criteria used to pick the films to show, but feels the authenticity of the stories could have a lot to do with it. “The stories are original, from what the young people see and hear and that makes them unique,” he notes.

Fred Kigozi, who was the directing mentor, thought the short films stood out because of something he says was evident in all the four films; the sense of story. “The young people seemed to already have a grasp of what makes a story,” says the director, who points out that this is one thing that made teaching the club members all the more easier and ensured the movie that came out was quality.

The Secret Note and The Christmas Turkey will likely show in CineYouth a ‘festival’ within the festival that is dedicated to films by young film makers 21 years old and below, a free ticket event. But that doesn’t make getting the slot any less important.

The web site of for Chicago festival, which happens to be north America’s longest running film festival, states that this part of the festival aims at highlighting the creativity of the next generation of filmmakers. Being part of those whose films will be showing means they can be counted among the next generation of young film makers this year.

There are references of last year’s winners so it is evident there is a competition of some sort among the films entered but whether the particular films are in the line-up for the prizes is not clear. We are not very sure about the details,” says Pato, who says they are still in communication with the festival organisers on the finer details.

But even then the fact that a rag tag bunch (the youths are from different schools) at different levels of education and different walks of life could get a chance to show in such a festival at their first attempt is a feat in itself. “It is inspiring for other aspiring young filmmakers in the country,” says Pato.