Once Upon a Time in Uganda
Billed as Uganda’s first action film, Who Killed Captain Alex? has become a coveted cult gem since its trailer was posted online. Though its shoestring budget of just $200 may give the impression that it’s “so-bad-it’s-good” in the same vein as The Room, it’s the tangible passion from filmmaker Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey that makes this film so entertainingly insane. It was seeing this trailer that spurred New Yorker Alan Hofmanis to leave for Uganda and seek Isaac out. They began working on films together, and documentary One Upon a Time in Uganda tells their story with as much heart as any of Isaac’s films.
At its core, Once Upon a Time in Uganda is a triumphant celebration of a shared love of cinema. Throughout the course of the snappy runtime, viewers watch how Isaac puts together his scenes with a handful of volunteer actors and a collection of props that have quite literally been built from scraps. Wakaliwood is as close to grassroots filmmaking as it gets. There’s really nothing else like these movies out there.
Filmmaker Cathryne Czubek embraces the silliness of Isaac’s style at the start of the doc. The opening credits even feature a video joker (a commentator who riffs on what’s happening onscreen) to give audiences a clear impression of the flavour of his films. Somewhat disappointingly, however, is that this aesthetic is dropped soon after to give way to a more traditional documentary structure.
Scenes of shooting a cannibal movie with one of the least convincing stunt doubles in the history of cinema soon evolve into a more personal story of Isaac trying to get recognition in his home country and the subsequent schism that forms between him and Alan. While the frayed partnership between the two men is easily the least interesting part of the documentary, the rest of the feature opens up into a broader discussion about the Ugandan film industry and the hardships of making ends meet as an independent filmmaker.
Though Isaac’s films lack the polish of Hollywood, they nevertheless ignite an excitement of the art form that’s shared around the globe. Whether it’s a scene of children looking on in awe as Isaac constructs a makeshift projector or the thunderous applause from festival audiences, this documentary is proof that cinema has the power to unite people with its magic.
Once Upon a Time in Uganda is released in select cinemas on 5th September 2023.
Watch the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Uganda here: