Promoting Uganda as a film production destination

Saturday March 7 2020

Forest Whitaker (C) starred in the Lat King

Forest Whitaker (C) starred in the Lat King of Scotland, a popular film shot in Uganda. NET PHOTO.  

By Eric Ntalumbwa

After the release of Disney’s Queen of Katwe in 2016, three clients of a one tour operator, Brian Mugume were inspired to visit the locations where director Mira Nair shot the film in Kampala.

The tourists watched the movie aboard KQ flights, and read about it in the Msafiri in-flight magazine. The tourists were interested in visiting the slums of Katwe.

“I no longer underestimate the power of using film as a tourism promotional tool,” he admits.
The Queen of Katwe, a biographical drama about a Ugandan chess prodigy starring Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and Madina Nalwanga as Phiona Mutesi is about a young girl from the slums of Kampala who chases her dream of becoming an international chess champion.

Brian Tebukozza, a photographer with a keen eye on Ugandan movies, argues that locations where a successful film has been shot demonstrates an increase in tourism visits over the following years
Setbacks
During a National Prayer Breakfast, President Yoweri Museveni criticised Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) over taxes imposed on the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’. URA had imposed high taxes on the movie, prompting the producers to finish their work in South Africa.
While meeting Mutesi who was in the company of her coach, Robert Katende, the President said, “I was told that because of the high taxes from URA, they were compelled to shoot the remaining part of the movie in South Africa. Shame on URA. I will return to you all the money they took from you.”

Despite URA maintaining its position that the levy on Queen of Katwe was spelt out in the law, cinematographers and tourism marketers applauded the Museveni’s reaction as a smart move in efforts to promote Uganda as a global film hub.

As funding remains a major concern for many local film makers, they appeal to government to establish a fully-fledged film bureau with tax incentives, local production services and other concessions for shipping film equipment.

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Film critic Andrew Kaggwa, says the film fraternity in Uganda has been pitching film tourism for a long time, but government agencies have failed to understand the relationship between film and tourism, and how film foster tourism.

“Unlike Uganda, South Africa offers tax holidays, waivers and even reimburses money when a film maker spends more million dollars during a film production in South Africa. Foreign filmmakers are encouraged to hire local South African talent on their production.”
Kaggwa who also sits on the Uganda Oscars Committee, says Uganda still lags in harnessing opportunities. “Seven Days at Entebbe was shot in Malta because it gave the production company tax waivers and an airport that resembled the old Entebbe Airport. We missed seeing our local dressing, aerial view of Lake Victoria and scenes of Entebbe. Most of these scenes would turn into tourism spots.”

Economic impact of film industry
Nigeria remains the biggest film producer in Africa in terms of quantity of motion pictures delivered each year. Nigeria’s film industry is among the top five biggest film industries globally, taking into account the quantity of movies discharged every year. The film business is worth more than US$3.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Media Production City established an infrastructure consisting of 64 studios and has the potential to shoot both indoors and outdoors. Though not at a very good financial position right now, due to its golden regime in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it is ranked among top 10 biggest film industries in the world.

Globally, Hollywood takes a lion’s share among film industries, grossing at more than $10 billion annually. As per the progress of movie industry across the world, it is estimated that it will reach around 49 billion US dollars this year.

Destination perception
Film tourism is a type of tourism which provides a link with the location of a film during or after the shooting. The film tourist is attracted by the first-hand experience of the locality captured on the silver screen.

The Lord of Rings serves the beautiful landscape of New Zealand to our eyes, Sex and the City popularised New York City. Game of Thrones is to Northern Ireland as Hangover is to Las Vegas. Tom Hank’s Angels and Demons brought forth the best from Vatican City. It is all about the power of film and how it has turned the shooting locations into top tourist destinations.

Uganda is a location for a few best-selling films. Before the popular $9,255,827 worldwide box office Queen of Katwe released September 23, 2016, there was Last King of Scotland (2006) starring Forest Whitaker(Idi Amin Dada), James McAvoy, and Kerry Washington.

The film shot in Uganda tells the fictional story of Nicholas Carrigan, a young Scottish doctor, who travels to Uganda and becomes the personal physician of President Idi Amin. There was the Silent Army, Escape from Uganda, and the famous Black Panther.

Untapped Benefits
Films produced and shot in Uganda offer opportunity for Uganda Tourism Board to gain access to quality content, marketing opportunities and high impact media channels to promote Uganda as a tourism destination. This has been a success with The Last King of Scotland, Escape from Uganda and also the Queen of Katwe. Wakaliwood, Uganda’s unexperienced movie business had a moment with BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera and other international media brands, but was not fully exploited.

Uganda’s Wakaliwood is carving a niche as African action film industry with elements of Chinese martial arts and old Westerns. With Who Killed Captain Alex (2010), an action film registering huge success on YouTube (the trailer has more than 2.6 million views), it could be just the start for Uganda’s film and slum tourism.

Wakaliwood is a nickname for the films developed in Wakaliga, a slum in Uganda’s capital Kampala and is best known for its low-budget films estimated at $200 each.

The movies shot in Uganda attract influential profile celebrities. Escape from Uganda, a 2013 Malayalam thriller film directed by Rajesh Nair had well established Asian cast. It was shot in Uganda and is the first Malayalam film (the principal language of the South Indian state of Kerala) to be shot extensively in Africa.

These films give the Pearl of Africa enormous leverage in public relations activities prior to, during and after each motion picture’s premiere, which is done often in our tourism source markets.
The Last King of Scotland and Queen of Katwe has Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyongo, James McAvoy as some of the highly ranked celebrities who dedicated social media posts worth millions of dollars to Uganda across the various platforms.

At the 2016 Cannes Film festival, Lupita’s green dress was inspired by an insect delicacy known as Nsenene (Grasshopper). The post fetched millions of hits and views. If without much effort, this was possible, then UTB can do much more.

The recent global selling film of Black Panther whose Kingdom of Wakanda is adopted from the scenic islands of Lake Bunyonyi in South western Uganda, enhances the image of Uganda as a great place to make films and do businesses.

Government’s role
Previously, Uganda Tourism Board has not worked in harmony with the Uganda Communications Commission and film stakeholders to explore and exploit the visual potential in tourism until recently.

UTB CEO Lilly Ajarova says film is an important facet of Uganda’s tourism and a channel through which Uganda’s beauty and tourism offering can be showcased. “We have the best filming locations and with a good road network across the country, film-makers looking to shoot in Uganda will be spoilt for choice”.

Although she believes it is a gradual process, she says the marketing agency is prepared to pitch the beauty of Uganda as a top filming destination.

Andrew Kaggwa applauds UTB’s move to support film, but is quick to note they need to understand what they are doing. “UTB should not only avail locations for filming and incentives for local film makers, but also make it cheaper for international film productions because they attract a global audience.”

Private efforts
In a bid to position Uganda as a top film destination, the government is advised to capitalise on films made in Uganda, and partner with notable movie stars to promote Uganda as an exceptional destination of choice.
Hollywood representative in Uganda Fanny Martinez is working around the clock to bring Hollywood celebrities for the Back to the Source tour. Just like local film makers, she advocates for policy change on film production.
“Uganda has the locations, but the government needs to offer tax breaks, rebates, incentives for international film makers. The incentives can be offered on the kind of movies such as cultural related movies because these are promotional,” she argues.

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