Who needs mil­lions, Ugan­dans are mak­ing ac­tion movies for $200


eep in a Kampala slum, young men kick each other while a stout man with a salt-and-pep­per beard watches them, some­times nod­ding in ap­proval. With luck, a stylish blow could be­come a stunt in the lat­est ac­tion movie to emerge from this tin-roofed col­lec­tion of houses known as Wakali­wood, named af­ter this Wakaliga neigh­bour­hood.

Here is the en­gine of Uganda’s tiny film in­dus­try, the source of $200-bud­get movies and a glim­mer of fame. Later this month, the Wakali­wood film Bad Black pre­mieres at Fan­tas­tic Fest, which calls it­self the largest genre film fes­ti­val in the United States.

Its or­gan­is­ers call the film an “ex­u­ber­ant DIY ex­trav­a­ganza” from an in­dus­try whose “reck­less aban­don man­ages to in­spire more heart, grit and soul than a thou­sand Hol­ly­wood block­busters”.

A for­mer brick­layer who taught him­self to direct, Isaac Nab­wana is re­spon­si­ble for Bad Black and scores of the ac­tion movies that he sees as uniquely Ugan­dan.

Young peo­ple and even some for­eign­ers have found their way to his stu­dios in search of roles. Dozens have signed a Wakali­wood Wall of Fame, of­ten be­cause their char­ac­ters died in a film, stag­ger­ing dra­mat­i­cally as con­doms filled with fake blood spat­tered in a hail of mock bul­lets.

“They have watched so many ac­tion movies from all over the world. When they come here, they know that ap­pear­ing in a Wakali­wood movie will make you a star,” the 44-year-old Nab­wana said.

He has been mak­ing films span­ning var­i­ous gen­res since 2005, but it is the ac­tion flicks that have cap­tured the peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion. “I like Chuck Nor­ris,” Nab­wana said. “I think the other guy was Clint... Clint East­wood?”

With the help of an im­pro­vised green screen and dig­i­tal edit­ing tools, Wakali­wood ac­tors can take aim at the Eif­fel Tower or drop from the sky into the mid­dle of New York’s

Times Square.

Nab­wana said he spent less than $200 to pro­duce Who Killed Cap­tain Alex, a 2010 film that fol­lows a loose plot as the mil­i­tary bat­tles a vi­o­lent gang.

Nab­wana called the movie the “first ac­tion movie made in Africa, by Africans, on a low bud­get” – an ex­tra­or­di­nary claim con­sid­er­ing the pres­ence of Nige­ria’s long-es­tab­lished and equally rau­cous film in­dus­try, Nol­ly­wood.

Still, Moses Serugo, a long-time film critic in Uganda, said he gives Nab­wana high marks for in­no­va­tion and for mak­ing movies about the East African coun­try and star­ring Ugan­dans. Now he hopes the films can break away from Hol­ly­wood-style plots.

“It has got to come down to us telling our own sto­ries,” Serugo said.

Al­though Ugan­dans have been mak­ing more films, and more se­ri­ous ones, since a lo­cal film fes­ti­val launched in 2013, Wakali­wood’s ac­tion films re­main pop­u­lar be­cause they are “crazy, fas­ci­nat­ing”, said Do­minic Di­pio, a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture and film stud­ies at Mak­erere Uni­ver­sity.

“You can see imag­i­na­tion, fan­tasy go­ing on ram­page with­out any clear di­rec­tion,” she said, smil­ing. “There is no ev­i­dence for me that this is scripted.”

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