Expect The Unexpectable with ‘ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA’ [SXSW 2020]

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA, directed by Cathryne Czubek with co-director Hugo Perez, follows the birth and progression of Wakaliwood and Ramon Productions, a unique Ugandan homespun group of filmmakers led by Nabwana I.G.G. (aka Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey) who have produced 40 films in less than 15 years. This inspiring documentary shines a light on the cinematic innovation borne out of a slum neighborhood Wakaliga devoid of resources the Western world takes for granted, like electricity and plumbing. Nabwana shared a trailer for his feature film, WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX on Youtube and caught the unlikely eye of Alan Hofmanis and inspired the native New York film programmer to upturn his life and head to Uganda.

Hofmanis’ journey to Wakaliga was far from expected. The locals assumed the mzungu (Bantu for white person) must be a missionary—but in fact Alan was on a pilgrimage of a different nature. The goal to aid Ramon Productions in bringing their films to a wider international audience by utilizing his publicity experience and passion. Nabwana quickly welcomed Hofmanis with open arms in 2011 and thus began the partnership with the Long Island expat who moved in and fully committed to the cause.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA (2020) utility players wearing multiple hats

Wakaliwood films have a very distinct feel. The budgets are the epitome of microscopic at less than $500 each, but are incredibly rich in action. Nabwana grew up on a steady diet of action movies starring the likes of Bruce Lee, Bud Spencer, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris. This is incredibly apparent as the Wakali commando style is packed to the brim with kung fu, explosions, and endless gun battles.

The narration of each title is championed by VJ (video joker) Emmie who provides comedic delivery in the vein of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Master Pancake. Though the flicks are ultra violent, Nabwana’s clear aim is for the audience to have a rip roaring good time. For the price of the budget of EL MARIACHI, Nabwana can make more than 14 feature films.

Nabwana and Ramon Productions have enriched their community in more ways than one. The actors, while unpaid, share in the profits when DVDs are sold door-to-door immediately after the movie is cut. The stunt team with Bruce U (Uganda’s Bruce Lee) created Waka Stars, a martial arts school for kids instilling discipline and grooming the next wave of Wakali Van Dammes. Their ever-evolving group of cottage industries functioning as daycare and free film school.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA (2020) innovation knows no borders

One of the most fascinating aspects of Wakaliwood—that I wish were given more time in ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA—is the prop department headed by Bisaso Dauda. Dauda has managed to create dozens of weapons and military equipment from scrap metal with incredible results. A master of DIY welding, he’s created fully rotating miniguns from parts acquired from lawnmowers, speakers, and motorcycles. Ramon Productions isn’t going to a rental house to procure jibs; instead Dauda is creating 16-foot working models with his bare hands and a blowtorch.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA (2020) Da Best of Da Best

Cathryne Czubek’s documentary leans into the Wakali-style by peppering in action sequences into ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA itself. It’s hard not to smile at the resourcefulness of Nabwana IGG and Ramon Productions. While they haven’t yet received cash injections from larger studios, Ramon Productions ran a Kickstarter campaign for a few hundred dollars and received over $13,000. The media attention aided by Hofmanis’ PR work on reaching out to media outlets afforded Wakaliwood coverage on dozens of publications including Playboy, Vice, and the Wall Street Journal.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA (2020) the gate is clean!

As uncertain of a time as it might be throughout the film production world, Wakaliwood is living proof that films can be made through great adversity. ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA is an inspiration to frugal filmmakers and artists. You don’t have to be rich to make da best of da best action movies.

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