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Uganda Film Festival, 11 editions later...

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ICT Minister Chris Baryomunsi and Deputy Prime Minister Rebecca Kadaga hand over a Shs15m dummy cheque to the cast of Makula, which won Best Feature Film. Photos | Andrew Kaggwa

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) supported the Uganda Film Festival (UFF), which had its finale gala on Friday.

The gala, which is also an award night, was the climax of three weeks of film exhibitions, masterclasses and general industry repositioning.

Of course, a lot has happened in the 12 years UCC has been organising this festival. MultiChoice has become a cornerstone partner of the industry, commissioning more than 600 episodes of TV dramas every year as well as nominating some Ugandan films for their Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards. Also, in the past 12 years, the number of filmmakers has increased; some of these are straight out of the box, that is how Uganda has managed to have two projects on Netflix.

Michael Wawuyo Snr took home the Lifetime Achievement Award.

But above all the things that have happened in these years, nothing beats Covid-19. The pandemic had a closed lifestyle for nearly two years, and part of the things that were hit the most was the cinema industry.

It has always been an infant industry in Uganda; however, the culture has been fast growing. When the pandemic set in, it took the industry a few steps back. In fact, it is because of the pandemic that UFF is 12 years old with only 11 editions. This year’s edition exhibited a lot of growth from UCC as organisers, there were changes in the way they curated the award show and cinema screenings. Unlike the past years where films screened at unfavourable times of the day, these screened at 7pm, the peak time of many cinemas, and a less bloated screening schedule was available as well.

For the past three weeks, local films, especially those nominated in the different categories of the festival awards, have been showing at the cinema.

Actor Nisha Kalema receives a certificate from UCC boss Nyombi Thembo

Makula, written and directed by Nisha Kalema, was the most nominated film, with 12 nominations. The film had nominations in categories such as Best Actress, Best Indigenous Film, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Feature Film, among others.

Of course, they did not disappoint, Kalema and team won at least four of the awards they were nominated for, including Best Director and Best Feature Film.

Kalema could easily be Uganda’s most decorated actress and probably actor as far as the awards are concerned. She has won both as an actor, writer, producer and now as a director.

Makula is a film about a woman who finds herself trapped in an organ and human trafficking family’s home where she thought she was coming for a marriage.

This was Kalema’s second Best Feature Film win at UFF, after winning the same award for her debut project as the producer of Veronica’s Wish.

Doreen Mirembe Best Actress in a TV drama for her role in Damalie.

Other winners included Omukululo for Viewers’ Choice Award, Edris Lubega collecting the Best Actor Award for his role in Half Life, newcomer Peninah Nampanga as expected won the Best Actress award for her role as Maria in the Nana Kagga directed film of thr same title while the highlight of the night was Michael Wawuyo Snr recieving the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The veteran actor has been part of the industry for a long time but has managed to morph between casting, acting and special effects.

Today, he is a specialist in special effects and has taught a good number of Uganda’s special effects artists.

The TV category as it has been for the past years was dominated by Pearl Magic Prime shows Prestige and Damalie. Prestige’s Simon Base Kalema walked away with the Best Actor in a TV drama while Damalie carried the Best TV drama and Best Actress in a TV drama for Doreen Mirembe.

However, even when actors had a superb night, thanks to the show producers, TNS, the general concern is that this year’s nominated films were wanting.

The stories could have been better, the cinematography could have been more telling…generally more could have been done with many if not all the films awarded.

Eleven editions later, it was clear UCC has finally mastered the art of putting together a festival gala, the filmmakers however, still have a long way to go.