Makerere University turns to film for teaching

Monday November 16 2020
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Some of the film and animation team poses with by Rev Sister Dr. Dominic Dipio, the head of Department of Literature, School of Languages, Literature and Communication, College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere University Kampala. PHOTO/ STEPHEN OTAGE

By Stephen Otage

Makerere University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, says the introduction of film and animation as a medium of educational instruction, is a major breakthrough to unlocking Uganda’s cultural diversity.

While recently launching the first Ugandan folk tales that the Makerere University Department of literature has animated into film, Prof Nawangwe said the innovation is extremely important because it is going to help Ugandans show the world the way things in Uganda look like.

“This is what makes a university. We should be doing our own research to show how things look like. Uganda is one of the most diverse country in the world. Africa is concentrated in Uganda and we have one of the richest diversity of music and dance in the world,” he said.

For a long time, Africa and Uganda in particular abandoned the responsibility to tell their stories to the west.

As a result, the stories told are often based on the storyteller’s knowledge that appears to be largely based on race.

It, therefore, comes as no surprise when local events are analysed in comparison to Western culture instead of their actual impact, which has resulted in an image problem.

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For instance, Uganda has been packaged as a voiceless, struggling country plagued by civil wars, hunger and Aids. 
But according to Rev Sister Dr. Dominic Dipio, the head of  Department of Literature, School of Languages, Literature and Communication, College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere University Kampala, there are other stories that are as important to tell. There are other stories beyond poverty, violence, malaria and misery. 

In an effort to address this problem, the Makerere University College of humanities and social sciences, last month launched two animated films of Uganda’s traditional folklore Njabala and Hidden Riches.

Sr Dipio says the project aims at collecting and adapting Ugandan folktales into animation films for the educational and recreational purposes of children and the youth. 

“We produced four animation films, on topical issues, based on tales collected from different regions of Uganda. They were creatively interpreted and animated to fit into the contemporary mentorship and recreational needs of, particularly, Ugandan youth,” she said.

Asked what is specifically unique about the project, she explained that the research addresses the problem of scarcity of cultural-based educational and recreational materials for young people and yet cultural artifacts are repositories of a community’s memory. 

“Folktales are a community’s shared values that may be both culture-specific and cross-cultural. This project addresses the problem of cultural over-dependency on foreign content and identity crisis in the global context. Uganda needs to contribute its share of intangible cultural heritage folktales, myths, legends, and traditional wisdoms to expand the scope of global knowledge production and consumption,” she says.

To illustrate its importance, Sr Dipio says the project brought together an interdisciplinary body of scholars and talent from the Schools of Languages, Literature and Communication; Liberal and Performing Arts and Film; and practising animators from the industry.

She said since they are targeting youth as their primary target, they plan to involve the National Curriculum Development Centre, the culture sectors such as the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and the Uganda Communications Commission as partners.

Dr Susan Kiguli, one of the researchers, says they chose to use film for this project because in the African traditional setting, storytelling used to happen in local languages around the fireplace, which now morphed into television.

“Film and literature are related. Film is not just for entertainment. With film, the narrative becomes visual and in motion. It is delivered in a different way that is why film is taught in literature department. Cartoons interest and excite children so we are bringing folktales in modern technology,” she said.

The major project objectives include generating media and cultural content that is relevant for the educational and recreational needs of Ugandan youth.

They also envisage contributing towards Uganda’s creative and cultural industry, through production of content that could be distributed beyond the country, thereby increasing awareness among Ugandans about the relationship of arts with national and cultural identity.

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