By Edwin Junior
The Amakula International Film Festival, now in its 11th edition, has continued to grow from strength to strength. The film festival which was founded in 2004 by Dutch film historian Alice Smits and American filmmaker Lee Elickson has however not been without its fair share of challenges.
Although it has been heralded as Uganda’s oldest independent film festival, it has over the years faced criticism for the low number of Ugandan productions.
According to Joseph Ken Ssebaggala aka Zenken, a local film director whose movie has previously been screened at the Amakula International Film Festival, Ugandan filmmakers have in the past been less involved in the festival due an unfavorable selection criteria by the organisers.
“They were not calling for local submissions because they found it hard to collaborate with local film makers.” He explained. “The production quality of Uganda filmmakers was also not that good then, but there has been a progressive improvement over the years.”
Even with the improvement in the quality of local productions, Zenken insists local filmmakers still remain reluctant in embracing the film festival due to lack of monetary motivation.
“I believe if there was a monetary reward, say a grant to the best filmmakers, maybe more Ugandan filmmakers would be encouraged to participate in the festival.” He added.
However, this seems poised to change following change in management of the Amakula International Film Festival. It returned after a four-year hiatus in 2016 under management by Bayimba Cultural Foundation, a local organization that focuses on uplifting arts and culture in Uganda. The change was welcomed with enthusiasm among the film fraternity with some industry observers noting the move would encourage more local participation.
True to this, there has been a significant increase in the number of local productions screened at the festival since their take over. This year, 19 of the total 41 films being screened are local productions.
Speaking to Herman Kabubi, the Director Programmes, Bayimba Cultural Foundation, he expressed optimism that the festival will continue to see a surge in local productions.
“Our aim is to make the film fraternity own the film festival by making them more involved through welcoming ideas from them. This is why there are many Ugandan films programmed for this year’s edition.” Herman Kabubi noted.
“We want the festival to be insightful, educative as well as entertaining. We program films that will trigger something with in the local filmmakers to start thinking about alternate ways of coming up with great films.” He added.
Meanwhile, the four-day festival kicks off today, Wednesday, March 14 at the Kampala Film School where it will be hosted for the first two days (14-15 March) and then will move to the Uganda Museum. At Kampala Film School, the festival will put focus on the students’ film culture in Uganda while at the Uganda Museum attention will be put on issues affecting the Film industry today. There will also be screening of feature films in a drive-in-cinema-setting where audiences will be watching in the comfort of their cars with silent headphones.
The festival will climax with an award ceremony where the best films will be honored in select categories that will include; Best International Feature Film, Best East Africa Short Film, Best International Documentary Film and the newly added Best East Africa Students Film.
“We have introduced a new category – the best student film category – this year to boost the morale of students who are producing content and hoping in turn they can be submitted for the festival.” Kabubi Herman said.
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