When you get woken up in the middle of the night by a film maker friend saying you MUST watch this, you wake up and you watch it. This was how I was introduced to Wakaliwood, the slum filmmakers from Uganda.
Absolutely everyone has heard of Hollywood, most would known Bollywood and for those slightly more into film you may even know Nollywood, but Wakaliwood?
What is Wakaliwood?
In the heart of a Kampala slum like no other lies a world of zombies, ninjas, secret agents and very bad special affects – welcome to Wakaliwood.
This world belongs to a company called Ramon Pictures and its founder Nabwana Isaac. He is the founder and lead director of the company based in the Ugandan slum of Wakaliga, AKA Wakaliwood. Named because it was the slum and had a wood at the end. No need to reinvent the wheel here. Ramon Pictures meanwhile is named after Isaac’s two grandmothers, Rachel and Monica.
Isaac and his brother grew up watching the great action films of the 1980’s, such as Rambo and the like, Bruce Lee and of course toughest man in the world Chuck Norris. They would then come home and painstakingly recreate the best scenes from the movies (without cameras), before deciding that perhaps they could be movie makers.
If you want to know more about Wakaliwood, be sure to check out their wonderfully insane website.
The Start of Wakaliwood
Though Isaac was sold on getting involved in the movie making, his business his family were not as convinced of the merits of film making putting food on the table. Pretty much everyone from his grandmother to all siblings said it was a bad idea, but this was not to put him off.
Undeterred by the fact that, as his brother put it, movies “take millions” to make he started anyway. And this is where technology has to some extent ‘democratised’ filmmaking. So long as you have a camera and a laptop anyone can make a movie, to an extent.
Against all odds Isaac has made over 40 movies, with many more “in the works”. And with the other democratizing factor being global reach his films now have a cult following.
American film buff Alan Hofamis turned up in Wakaliwood 6 years ago and has since immersed himself in the scene, usually acting as the token white guy. Original films were shot with budgets of just a few hundred dollars, and whilst some might cost in the thousands now, this is still grassroots guerrilla film making at its best.
Are Wakaliwood Films Any Good?
This is a very open ended and hard to answer question. If you want to compare them to the latest romper stomper from James Cameron, one might argue that they do not have the highest quality effects (to an almost amusing level), nor do they have the acting levels we might expect from Hollywood. Yet this is not what is about, it is the campness and whole over the top attitude that has made Wakaliwood the true cult success that it is today.
“Who Killed Captain Alex” for example has over 5 million views on YouTube, which you can sample below:
The Cultural Angle
But all of these ignores the pure humanity of this story, a guy literally in a nasty Kampala slum that has created a cottage industry employing family, friends and locals doing the thing he likes best, making movies.
You really can’t argue with that….