Blessing in disguise for Uganda film festival

Monday May 17 2021
Uganda Film Festival.

Winners pose with their Ush5 million ($1,400) cheque and certificates of recognition. PHOTO | ANDREW KAGGWA

By Andrew Kaggwa

The eighth edition of the Uganda Film Festival was scheduled to take place at the end of 2020.

However, because of Covid-19-related restrictions, this did not happen. It was believed the event would be scrapped altogether since during lockdown there were no productions taking place thus there were no films to showcase or nominate.

This was not the case though. It turns out the lockdown was a blessing in disguise for some filmmakers, for instance, producer Nathan Magoola says he wrote the pilot of his Pearl Magic Prime drama — Prestige.

Rebuilding, Resilience

Other filmmakers too used the time to put together or finalise scripts that by the end of the lockdown, many were ready to make the curtain call.

Either way though, the eighth edition of the Uganda Film Festival could not take place in 2020, it had to be rescheduled in the final week of March 2021.


Set on a theme of Rebuilding a Resilient Creative Industry through the Pandemic, the edition was aimed at rebooting a culture that may have taken the biggest hits with Covid-19, cinema.

Like many other countries, in March 2020, Uganda went into total lockdown restricting movement and gatherings such as concerts, congregations, theatre and cinema.

In September though, in Uganda, cinemas were allowed to operate but with the virus still spreading at a higher rate in other regional countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, acquiring new movie titles for Ugandan cinemas became a hurdle.

“We work in collaboration with a film distributor in Nairobi, when they are down, we are down too. Since there were few new films being premiered at the cinema, the audience’s journey back to the cinemas became a slow one,” says Akram Juuko, spokesperson Century Cinemax in Kampala.

This made the 2021 edition even more important, like in the past, the festival was going to showcase local films in different cinemas across the country — since the lockdown on March 16, 2020, this was the first time many Ugandans were coming together to watch a local or even an African film.

But it was supposed to be socially distant, for every three seats, one had to be skipped to create the distance, auditoria could only admit half of their capacity and all films were expected to end before 9pm.

Prohibitive cost

Initially, it had been announced as a virtual film festival, first of the kind for Uganda, yet, at the end of it, it was only a socially distanced festival, during cocktails.

The closing gala was virtual with no guests.

During the screenings, the cinema halls were filled to capacity, some people even sat by the stairs.

Like most African countries, films easily make a splash during a festival, win awards but eventually fail to sustain a seven-day screening at cinemas because of the finances involved in keeping a film there. Thus, a festival is the only chance for film buffs to see a non-Hollywood narrative on the big screen.

This year, the festival spread its wings welcoming entries from the region.

This necessitated the formation of a Best East African Film category that attracted films, Nyara ‘The Kidnapping’ from Tanzania, Uradi, Lost in Time, Lame, Nambwa FM and the eventual winner Dream Child.

Starring Bryan Kabugi, Ebby Weyime, Eddy Kimani, Irene Ayimba and Ruth Apondi, Dream Child is the story about a teenager, Kevin who discovers a horrid and disconcerting secret he grapples to come to terms with.

Stain and Kemi shared Best Feature Film and Best Director between them. Stain is the story of Mina, a female breadwinner of her family that puts her life at risk to mine salt, only to go home to an abusive relationship.

Kemi follows a woman that seeks to turn a leaf in the village after she loses it all after the death of her husband.

Matt Bish, a filmmaker and jury member said Ugandan entries had little to write home about and that the superb entries from Kenya and Tanzania made them look amateurish.

“We need to get past this mediocrity in filmmaking. Let us not think in quantity of films made but rather the quality to win over audiences and take a shot at the Oscars, otherwise it is useless to have UFF in the first place.”


1. Best Feature Film - Stain by Morris Mugisha

2. Best Indigenous Film - Damali The African Girl Child

3. Best Director for a Feature Film - Kizito Samuel Saviour for Kemi - The Final Tragedy

4. Best Documentary Film - I Won't Kneel

5. Best TV Drama - Prestige by Nathan Magoola

6. Best Actress in Feature Film - Jojo Nitah for Stain

7. Best Actor in Feature Film - Rushabiro Raymo for Stain

8. Best Actor in TV Drama - Rushabiro Raymo for What If

9. Best Actress in TV Drama - Nana Kagga for Prestige

10. Best Viewer's Choice Award - Tecora

11. Best Short Film - The Blind Date by Loukman Ali

12. Best Student Film - Till Death Do Us Apart

13. Best Animation Film - A Thousand Fate

14. Lifetime Achievement Award - Sarah Kisauzi

15. Best Post Production (Editing) - Kizito Samuel Saviour for Catch Out

16. Best Production Design - Josephine Kabahuma for Catch Out

17. Best Cinematography - Izaek Ekuka for Stain

18. Best Sound Design - Ssali Shafik for Tecora

19. Best Costume - Ninsiima Ronah for Stain

20. Best Screenplay - Kizito Samuel Saviour and Josephine Kabahuma for Kemi

21. Best Supporting Actress in Feature Film - Keloy Loy Kemigisha for Kemi

22. Best Supporting Actor in Feature Film - Walusimbi Jefferson for Catch Out

23. Best East African Film - Dream Child