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Uganda’s ‘Wakaliwood’ gains international acclaim

Uganda's capital Kampala is home to a group of filmmakers making action-packed movies in an area called Wakaliwood. The ultra-violent films cover themes like Ebola and conflict, and can be filled with car chases, kung fu, zombies and murderous pumpkins. After dozens of films, Wakaliwood is gaining the world's attention. Special correspondent Benedict Moran and video journalist Jorgen Samso report.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The world of action filmmaking has grown a little larger in recent years, thanks in part to movies from the Central African nation of Uganda.The budgets are low, but the movies are dynamic, and the world of cinema is taking notice. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Benedict Moran and videographer Jorgen Samso have our story.

  • Benedict Moran:

    You've heard of Hollywood. You may have heard of Bollywood. But have you ever heard of Wakaliwood? These are the outskirts of the Ugandan Capital Kampala, in the slums of the neighborhood Wakaliga. But the grime doesn't prevent some of its residents from making it a city of dreams. Wakaliwood is the engine of Uganda's tiny film industry. And the place where Uganda's first ever action movie was made. 2010's 'Who Killed Captain Alex, directed and produced by Isaac Nabwana. He's considered the founder of Wakaliwood. His film studio is, Ramon Productions. He grew up here.

  • Isaac Nabwana:

    Right now, where I grew up, where we used to live and plant yams, maize, is where my studio is, right now. And in fact, sometimes I know behind here is where I learnt how to somersault.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Nabwana produced and directed more than 40 movies released over the last decade. With titles like Ugandan Expendables, Tebaatusasula: Ebola, and Rescue Team. Before leaping into the world of cinema, Nabwana worked as a bricklayer. With the money he earned, he bought his first camera, and taught himself how to edit. Then he ventured into directing. He says his inspirations are the international action stars he watched while growing up.

  • Isaac Nabwana:

    Rambo, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Wang Yu and others. They are all, you know, action stars. My best actor is Chuck Norris. We used to see the cinema halls, they had the big signs, posters, of Chuck Norris, he was holding a big gun and he had a cap on his head.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Movies here are made with miniscule budgets. The all-time biggest was less than 200 US dollars. The entire Wakaliwood studio operation takes place here, at Isaac's house. This is where the edit suite is, to my left is the props studio. And behind is where they have rehearsals.

  • Benedict Moran:

    All the movies are tied together by two main ingredients.

  • Isaac Nabwana:

    The first ingredient is action. If you put in maybe kung fu, or if it's a horror, it has to be with a lot of action in it and comedy. Those two, if you spice them, if you mix them then they make a Wakaliwood movie.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Nabwana says the action and violence are his attempt to reach a global audience.

  • Isaac Nabwana:

    Action is an international language. So if I want to speak with everyone the best movie I can make is an action movie."

  • Benedict Moran:

    Much of the "action" in Uganda in recent generations has been anything but fictional. Since its independence in 1962, this East African country has endured military coups, civil war, and rebel attacks. And Wakaliwood's storylines are often pulled from the country's recent history. The style of the edit is also typically Ugandan. Like using voice over narration from what they call a "VJ" or a Video Joker. The VJ gives comedic commentary and is edited into the film. Another theme is intense violence. That's something the filmmakers say is inspired by Uganda's real past, but also by the international actions films they grew up watching. To keep costs low, everything on set is homemade. Props are fashioned from scraps found in one of Kampala's dumps.

  • Dauda Bisaso:

    Ok, let me show you my equipment.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Dauda bisaso is wakaliwood's props master.

  • Dauda Bisaso:

    Parts from radio, parts from cars, parts from microwave. You can find like this in the scrapyard. For me I like it because I can modify a bomb.

  • Benedict Moran:

    It takes him a week to make a mock shotgun, like this one. This gatling gun made from a broken lawnmower is one of his favorite creations. And then there's Bisaso's biggest project so far, this helicopter made out of scrap metal.

  • Dauda Bisaso:

    It's not yet finished. There is something missing: a propeller, an engine, interior, doors, and the glass. This is going to be here.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Bisaso says, he aims to finish it soon. But will it fly?

  • Dauda Bisaso:

    I'm starting to sell tickets. One way ticket. No return.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Actors here say Wakaliwood let's them be all that they can be — if even for just a few days a week. 29-Year-old Nakibuuka Nashibah is one of three female actresses in Wakaliwood. By day, she is a lawyer. But on weekends, she's an actor and stuntwoman.

  • Nakibuuka Nashibah:

    Acting is my passion, I love acting. I realized that Wakaliwood, they do what I love the most, action. Kicking and punching give me some bit of confidence and self defense, I enjoy it. I feel like I'm in control.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Apollo Asiimwe works in a market selling vegetables. But on his days off, he's here, working as a stuntman apprentice. His dream is to make it big.

  • Apollo Asiimwe:

    Of course, I think I should feature in one of the biggest movies like in Hollywood movies or Bollywood. That's my dream to become a stunt man like in the big movies.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Today, the crew is shooting a scene for a film about the illegal trade in exotic wildlife. American Alan Hofmanis works in the studio. He often plays the bad guy. Eight years ago, Hofmanis lived in Brooklyn. He says, one day a friend showed him a Wakaliwood movie trailer.

  • Alan Hofmanis:

    It's self evident, it's action comedy, it's freaking awesome.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Hofmanis sold everything he owned, bought a plane ticket to Uganda, and has lived here in Wakaliga ever since. Today, he's as an actor, co-producer and promoter.

  • Alan Hofmanis:

    It reminds you why you love movies in the first place. Isaac is introducing the idea of say third world cinema or third world action cinema. And I think he's an artist who's communicating on a worldwide level.

  • Benedict Moran:

    After dozens of movies, the world of cinema is taking notice of Wakaliwood. Every week the crew takes time off to sign movie posters, which are sold to fans around the world. In May a Wakaliwood film, "Bad Black, " had its world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It's about a doctor who is taught commando vengeance by a kid named Wesley Snipes, after the American actor. The movie is also being screened in the famous Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.

  • Isaac Nabwana:

    I believe that it deserves to go there, to the modern museum because it is art, pure art in it. There is a lot of art and there is a lot of new ideas.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Nabwana says he dreams of working with big Hollywood style budgets. So he can build a bigger movie studio and in turn, help more Ugandans become movie stars.

  • Isaac Nabwana:

    Wakaliwood is a family, which is in love with action, action movies, and where everyone can come and become a commando, an action — an action star.

  • Benedict Moran:

    Even visiting journalists are encouraged to take part in the action. If only for fifteen seconds of fame. Wakaliwood style.

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