Bringing the world to Uganda and Uganda to the world
Amakula (Amakula Kampala Cultural Foundation) was founded in April 2004 by Dutch art curator Alice Smits and American filmmaker Lee Ellickson to establish a new global platform in the arts and cultural sector in Uganda. A paramount goal was to establish an international dialogue that would energize a new level of interaction and awareness from both a local and international perspective through the medium of cinema. The Amakula Kampala International Film Festival aimed to enlarge peoples’ horizons by making people familiar with both a World and an African cinema. The festival further aimed to contribute to the development of a critical voice in society as well as to raise the state of the local film industry through workshops and discussions and advance the work of local film makers. Amakula inspired new audiences and contributed to a dialogue between film makers and their audiences.
For close to a decade – between 2004 and 2012 – Amakula invested in a unique cultural dialogue through the medium of film in Uganda. The primarily vehicle for this endeavor, its annual film festival, was complemented by related programs and activities such as training workshops and discussions and a mobile cinema. The film festival brought the world to Uganda, with unique films from around the world otherwise not distributed in the country, while bringing Uganda to the world by stimulating local film production, offering Ugandan filmmakers an international network and presenting Ugandan films at international film festivals.
The Amakula spirit
Over nine years Amakula brought some of the most celebrated and pioneering African filmmakers to Uganda such as Moustapha Alassane from Niger, known as the godfather of African cinema, Gaston Kabore from Burkina Faso, Gudalla Gubara from Sudan (at age 84) along with more contemporary filmmakers like Vincent Moloi (South Africa), Kunle Afolayan (Nigeria), and John Akomfrah (UK). The festival also brought some of the most prominent critics and historians of African film like Manthia Diawara (Mali/USA) and Mbaye Cham (USA) for seminars and workshops. Amakula from its inception actively explored the state of film production and exhibition and the practitioners in the region in an area with no cinema history to speak of and brought these filmmakers together. The festival concentrated special efforts to assemble filmmakers from the east African region which was stretched to include filmmakers from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mozambique and Zambia. Every year also brought international filmmakers particularly those that had concentrated work on the African continent. Many of these filmmakers gave workshops and participated in debates. Over the years collaborations were established between local and international filmmakers which ultimately bore fruit. The annual East African Film Congress brought many east African filmmakers, producers, festivals and other film professionals to discuss new cultural infrastructures and collaborations in the region.
Another important feature of Amakula was the focus on stimulating experimental multimedia activities each year commissioning work from artists, dancers and musicians which combined the art of cinema with dance, music, storytelling and visual arts. Not only showing contemporary film but also making the history of world cinema available Amakula showed each year old classic silent films for which various music groups were commissioned to create music scores inspiring creative intercultural dialogue. Some of these projects reached international attention and were brought to festivals in The Netherlands, Denmark and England. The festival tuned into local culture by focusing on storytelling from various parts of the country and created cultural programs to bring these practices to the fore in a dynamic manner that urged audiences to readdress something they had taken for granted in their own culture. Another important aspect was to not only present the festival in the main theatres but to make the films available to everybody by bringing a program selection translated in Luganda in the video halls and touring films around the country with the Amakula Mobile Cinema.
The Revival of Amakula
One of Amakula’s goals was always the express intention to spawn a local organization which would be free to discover its own priorities and approach. Since its ninth and last edition of the film festival in November 2012 Amakula has gone through a period of reflection and reorientation in order to accomplish this important transition. An in-depth research was conducted and numerous discussions were held on how to strategically revive and reposition Amakula with a new localized organization in an increasingly vibrant and transformed sector. This reinvigorated festival is expected to continue to be able to play a significant role as a catalyst for the development of the film industry and cultural sector in Uganda. It therefore promises, true to the local meaning of its name, to be the “precious gift” it seeks to be.
What makes an Amakula film festival? Amakula International Film Festival is a curatorial driven international film festival determined to seek out world cinema from every corner of the world, including less prominent cultures, while maintaining a special focus on African and local cinema and making special efforts to seek out the best productions in the Eastern African region.
It seeks both to expand horizons for audiences as well as of filmmakers, both in terms of strong thematic content as well as cinematic techniques including a wide range of genres, from fiction to documentary, animation, experimental film, video art, both short and long. The festival strives to be accessible to a wide group of people by presenting itself in various localities.
To stimulate film industry development, the festival seeks to set a clear artistic and independent standard, while trying to be inclusive, and supports upcoming local filmmakers to reach this standard offering workshops and seminars to develop the industry further. The festival furthermore seeks to encourage collaborations within the arts, encouraging multi-disciplinary projects and productions with a view to further stimulate creativity and innovation.