Monday, June 29, 2009

Movie industry is hopeful, but first we fix the hopelessness

On July 15th, my teacher and mentor, Sr. Dr. Dipio Dominic, the head of the Makerere University Literature Department, will launch her first feature film titled “A meal to forget” at the National Theatre.
Based on a true story of a man who killed his two children after failing to fend for them, the film explores issues of child welfare in the context of the challenging economic situation.
For the amiable Dr Dipio, with whom I worked as a respondent in the shooting of the documentary “Etiquette in Makerere” in 2006, the launch of her first feature film should be a cause for joy and celebration. And indeed it will be, albeit briefly.
For any movie-maker in Uganda, the nightmare of producing a work that you know will be pirated the next minute has never been any less. Ugandans have made it a habit to look for movies on the black market.
Last week, our NMG training honcho, Dr Peter Mwesige, recommended that I watch “State of Play”, the Russell Crowe movie on investigative journalism. Unable to quickly marshal the Shs12,000 needed at Cineplex Cinema, a friend offered to get it for me from Wandegeya. And God, for Shs2,000, I had the pirated version!
So, dear Dr Dipio will have her movie probably on the black market. But worse still, is the pain that when arrested, whoever is pirating the movie will be charged with “trespass” and fined some few coins! The Copyright Bill, remember has never been assented to into law. The same afflicts musicians and writers.
And yet, the movie industry if well-managed would be one of the greatest revenue earners for this country. The government has realised this and to try and stem the spiraling unemployment among the youth, during the reading of the budget recently announced a tax waiver on television, digital and video cameras. The thinking is that by making these gadgets more accessible, the industry should be able to flourish.
But it is pure foolhardy to imagine that only tax waivers shall spur growth of the film industry. I have already mentioned the question of the copyright law. It is crucial to protect people’s creative work and make it very punishable to pirate work. It is not fair that after others have shed sweat and blood to get their products out, others merely photocopy that work and reap benefits.
In Uganda for example, the distributors pay a paltry Shs3 million to Shs5 million for films that go for not less than Shs10 million during production. The movie-producers are therefore double looted; by the distributors and the pirates.
But beyond that, the players themselves need to style up. This morning, I tried to get information on the industry from the president of the Uganda Federation of the Movie Industry on how many players are in the market—and he confessed ignorance. That surely speaks volumes about the managers of the industry. All he could estimate was some 1,200 distribution outlets around Kampala.
Failure to harmonise the players explains why for example their quest to enter a partnership with Uganda Revenue Authority on taxation is failing. The movie-makers had hoped that by letting URA tax them and give them tax PINs, it could help fight piracy, since then the stakes would be higher. But a disorganised sector means such negotiations can’t take place. No wonder the government reluctance because they get nothing in return (read taxes) from the industry.
Importantly though, the makers of the films must understand the interests of the market. Their colleagues in the music sector have mastered this, explaining its tremendous growth. Movies should have local appeal and closer-to-home themes. We may not mind the sound and picture, but surely the themes can strike a chord with us. I mean, millions of Ugandans today watch poorly shot, heavily-accented Nigerian movies—why? Because of the messages. I am sure good content can still appeal, irrespective of the container.
Thirteen years ago, Nollywood was at the same point Ugawood is today. But they chose to get some basics right and today; Nollywood is worth $250 million, the second biggest income earning sector next to oil. Why shouldn’t Uganda pull off similar success??


Muhumuza said...

Don, I watched that movie twice and it's real stuff, man. The authorities, and everyone should watch it. It's the kind of movie that wins awards, if not, at least for the insights and the things it teaches us.

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