In a remote village setting in Kiboga, a film crew settles for up to three months, delving into the life of what the people of northern Uganda have endured after 20 years of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army war. It is the story of Yat Madit (big tree), a small village resettling war returnees, ex-soldiers and civilians.
“Having seen people living in the Internally Displaced People’s camps and how the war impacted their lives, I am much cognisant of the aftermath, despite the fact that the situation seems to have normalised and people are back in the villages, there seems to be some scars; visible or invisible,” said Carol Ort from Interchurch Cooperative for Development Cooperation, who is running the fund from European Union.
This film project follows Media Focus on Africa’s (MFA) creative research conducted through community dialogues prior to writing the script. Therefore, the stories that Yat Madit shall be telling are based on real life experiences of the people of northern Uganda and surrounding regions.
“It has input from the community, how they relate, how they feel... there are many sentiments that came out from those dialogues,” says MFA executive producer, Mburugu Gikunda.
At the location, the crew is doing its final shooting stages of the series. There are three grass-thatched huts of mud walls, no electricity and an expanse of green savannah and rock. The journey there is through muddy paths they created and what a bumpy drive one can have! Settling in a place like this should have been numbing and challenging both for crew and cast.
Irene Kulabako, the director of Yat Madit under Tri Vision explains the location, arguing that because they were not able to go to northern Uganda, “we were looking for places that resonate and would apply; so when a person from the North sees the setting, they would believe it is next door. And in this particular region, there are people from northern Uganda...”
This series brings a new dimension to television drama. The story line is like no other on television, currently.
Micheal Wawuyo Junior, who plays Opio, a troublesome villain in Yat Madit, says TV is marred with usual love conflicts, but this has characters that are so deep and amazing, yet so different.
The set, the props and how the characters blend into their environment, is something to look forward to watching.
Characters. What is going to make Yat Madit a hit is the exceptional cast. The set has award-winning acts from Uganda Film Festival, including Michael Wawuyo Senior and Nisha Kalema, the muti-talented Rehema Nanfuka, Gladys Oyenbot and the impressive Patrick Nkakalukanyi.
While the problems in this little village spring because of Opio (Wawuyo Jr), Susana (Nanfuka), the prostitute/bar owner; a manipulative woman, also seeks to destroy the peace in this community. But there are struggling individuals like Zena (Brenda Awor), a refugee who resettles in Yat Madit with a bunch of siblings to take care of.
Nkakalukanyi (Benji) defines his character as a “mama’s boy, at a period in his life where he is trying to find himself... their relationship is kind of on and off. He is in love with Konsi, and together with Ali, his best friend, they end up the rascals of the village,” he says.
It is a village with different kinds of people that audiences will easily relate to, share emotional empathy and in doing justice to the untold stories of these people, reunite individuals in togetherness and help returnees feel safe back home. One might draw empathy from the controversy of how Micheal (Shaba), a disabled returnee ex-child soldier, is tormented by Opio. Is he worth forgiving?
Other actors on the cast include Gloria Namboozo, Edwin Mukalazi and Kevin Termer Mugisha. Irene Kulabako, the film director, describes it as a mix of both professional and upcoming crew and actors.
Leverage. It is an intense story that should in a way be represented by the people who lived the experience. Nkakalukanyi believes pulling off Benji, a disillusioned character because his books were burnt along with his school, and returns semi-learned with loads of frustrations and disappointment, is a task.
The characters credit their delivery to Kulabako’s brilliance as director. “She gives you chance to explore yourself, encourages you to do the slate-that makes me camera assistant for the day,” says Nkakalukanyi, who resounds Wawuyo Jr’s thoughts. Both describe it as a professional set like no other.
While some actors got scarred in the months’ long get away and some found it tiring or fell home sick, they braced themselves for their roles “looking at the bigger picture- it is worth it,” said Oyenbot. While they relive stories of the people in Northern Uganda, their suffering is nothing compared to a film set where they are fed and paid.