Morris Mugisha. 


From Big Brother to film, Mugisha’s stain is yet to fade

What you need to know:

  • Moves. In 2011, while scouting for location, Mugisha saw a salt mine. Years later, it became a pivotal location for his career- defining film, writes Edgar R. Batte.

It is a filmmaker’s dream to have their works seen, appreciated and recognised. You could say, that at a time when cinemas have been losing traffic because of Covid-19, Morris Mugisha is a happy man. His film Stain was one of the most watched films during this year’s edition of the Uganda Film Festival and he collected a number of accolades at the gala. 

Months later, Mugisha is at it again, this time, he is getting recognition at the continent’s biggest level. Stain was last week announced as a seven time nominated film in the seventh Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).

The film was nominated for its achievements in cinematography, visual effects and screenplay on addition to a Best Film and Best Film in African Language nominations. Other nominations were for individuals such as Best Director for Mugisha and Best Actress in a Lead Role for Joan Agaba.

Agaba is just one part of a stellar cast that comprises Debbie Bakuseka, Gift Tembo (a child actor), Raymond Rushabiro and a big number of extras.

The AMMAs are slated to take place in Lagos, Nigeria on November 28, 2021. “Being nominated seven times in the AMAAs amongst powerful celebrated film producers is an already definite win because I did not expect to sit  on the ‘table of men’ for starters, then Uganda my home will come to realise and acknowledge that Ugandan film is something after all and that now is the time to embrace it,” an elated Mugisha explains.

The beginning
A face familiar to television audiences, Mugisha is known for participating in the third season of Big Brother Africa.

Currently a filmmaker, he is motivated to to tell stories that are close to the heart; moving stories that advance thematic relevancies and highlight Africanness within.

He started off as a film scholar under the auspices of film school at Makerere University where he pursued a bachelor’s degree of arts, majoring in cinema studies, communication and literature and then pursued a diploma in

Music, Dance and Drama (MDD) and another in media studies.
His film, Stain is a psychologically writhing grassroot film about a young woman from a small village Katungulu, in south western Uganda. She  battles to find a source of livelihood in the salt mines of Lake Katwe and takes on the role as breadwinner at home when tables turn.

The struggle of women resonates with Mugisha who was raised in what he describes as the calm barracks walls of Luzira where he watched wives of officers taking on tough physical chores  such as brewing local beer, tilling the land on the shores of Lake Victoria, fend for the children, and run back home in time to host their husbands who would retire at malwa joints at sundown.

Why this film
“This, for me, sunk in deeply and hit differently. As I grew older, I started to notice that as much as men did their job, the women actually broke sweat doing the same task repeatedly and perfectly. This  has never left my mind to date and as a story teller, I knew this would become a perfect recipe for a beautiful motion picture,” he recalls.

When he made up his mind to start the journey of telling the story of struggles of women, he chose to hit two birds with one stone; bring out thematic concerns but also showcase the beauty of Uganda.
“I must say that the choice of such a location is a definite revelation that I am in love with serenity, wilderness, nature, harmony and I am believer that I indeed cherish my country,” he says.

He was scouting  for locations in 2011 when the astoundingly picturesque salt lake caught his eye. The beauty of the location contributed to achievement of the great cinematography which was achieved by the Izaek Ekuka and Paul Kimera.

The sounds and sound tracks produced locally, costuming by Ronah Ninsiima Soledad and make-up by Shakira Kibirige.

The strengths
The film has astounding scenic views, beautiful escarpments and marvelous topography that the director was intentional at.  But that is not all, Mugisha further showcases the breathtaking fauna and flora of the Queen Elizabeth National Park which gave the film the work of art and eclectic finish.

The film producer believes the locations coupled with good storytelling were the strength that propelled the movie to the nomination in the continental awards. Of course, this  in sync with brave, fearless and impeccable performance of the cast despite the hardships from the harsh weather; freezing cold in the night and blazing sun during the day yet they had to walk barefooted for almost three weeks during the continuous shoot.

Rushabiro and Agaaba lead the cast and both suffered sprains because of the rocky hills on location. The shooting had to paused to let them heal.

The film crew had to move to Kasese and pitch camp on the boarders of Queen Elizabeth National park in dormitories of an institution.

That commitment left the film producer so proud of the team; their bravery and determination to brave the stings of mosquitoes, roars of hippos every morning, the biting cold and not so palatable meals and warm drinks.

He is grateful to the locals, the security organs, the park rangers in Lake Mburo, the police force in Kasese, the mayor and other leaders and not forgetting the warm hearted locals of Kasese that made the stay of the crew tolerable and enchanting.

“Stain is a life changer and I am sure will make a shift in the creative story telling and film industry in Uganda,” he adds.

But like many local filmmakers, he walks a tight rope and a foggy path because of how the film industry is perceived and the personal initiative to tell stories like was the case with Stain.

“It is financially draining and producing a film using high definition cameras, world class equipment and crew, who are rare all this takes a toll on a producer leaving you bankrupt,” the filmmaker explains.

“Uganda has beaming talent, creatives with sharp wit, awesome storytellers and I am certain that with ample incentives and proper funding, we are surely headed for the sky. In no time we shall be favourably competing with the big guns in the game such as South Africa and Nigeria, Bollywood and Hollywood,” he predicts.

What can be done
Mugisha calls on government to support competent film producers to make more films with competent funding and help the film fraternity grow by opening up film schools, support youth with free art-oriented scholarships, international exchange programmes in film, create competitive spaces and award film makers handsomely for their input.

He adds, “Also we lack access to portals, film aggregators that are willing to buy our content at reasonable rates, most of them will walk up to you offering peanuts unlike our Nigerian counterparts who sell with a grin on their faces.”

With the AMMA nominations, the biggest on the African continent, Mugisha is hopeful that filmmakers will start to be considered and given even bigger slice of the cake to produce even bigger and moving stories in film.
He has also trained in photography and is a creative director of Mo Ideas that specialises in films, documentaries and television commercials. I have been in the industry for more than 10 years.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. “Well, I hope that the film will surpass continental and go as far Netflix or any other aggregators for the world to enjoy. I pray that I get huge funding for even more bigger projects that I am already working on, Mugisha spells out his wish list.

About Morris Mugisha
Morris Mugisha is  not new on the Ugandan social scene. he started out as a model, made appearances in different products. 

He was later cast in Centre 4, a medical drama that featured other actors such as Veronica Namanda, Richard Tuwangye and Philip Luswata.

Most Ugandans though learnt about Mugisha when he represented Uganda in the third season of the hit reality show Big Brother Africa.

His film Stain was earlier this year nominated for 12 awards in the Uganda Film Festival (UFF) winning five of them including the Best Feature Film.


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