Everything ran late, of course; the boys didn’t ask any questions; and we spent about four hours on I don’t know how many buses. But I think it was worth it.
First, we had to get the filming done – by now though, I can delegate most of it to the students, who get to practise focusing and close-ups while the schoolkids wiggle their little hips yet again to that same school song, grimacing worriedly at the camera because all the teachers keep commanding them to SMILE!
Next, to Makerere Art Gallery, inside the wonderfully peaceful grounds of one of the oldest universities in Africa. Abdul, a young Ugandan photographer met us there, and kindly showed the guys around the exhibition. Abdul won a prize for his photo story about one of the only female motorbike drivers in the city. What a character for a story – not only does she thrive in the chauvinistic world of the bodaboda stands, she also looks after five kids, including one who’s HIV positive, and has another job as a cleaner – and she’s just 26.
Abdul – who’s also a dancer – was really encouraging, telling the guys they should just get out there and shoot pictures, and that Uganda needs this younger generation to bring something new, something fresh to urban, street photography. More importantly, perhaps, he’s also quite positive about the potential to make a career out of photography here – something I’d been a bit concerned about (is it right to encourage young people to dedicate time to a vocation that, even in Europe, is precarious and badly-paid?). Abdul seems to think so: apart from studio and wedding photography, there’s also demand now from companies and NGOs for more creative, original perspectives of Africa.
Next stop, after the rainstorm had passed, was Naguru, a slum on the other side of the city where Nes, a filmmaker, has recently started up his pet project, the Ghetto Film Project. Under a tree next to a school booming out music for an end-of-term party, we joined Ness’s scriptwriting workshop. It was a lecture, really, a world away from the whole ‘participatory’ thing I’ve been trying to do – i.e., let them make mistakes and figure things out for themselves. None of the students – his or mine – dared ask any questions, nor did he encourage any discussion. He talked about using the right software for scriptwriting, about the need to use a different lens for each shot, about working with a 3D graphic designer for your special effects, about what your first assistant director should do. And I thought: oh great, the guys are going to be confused and discouraged.
But I was wrong. At the end, one of them turned to me and said: how did you know about this guy?! And another: Anna, we’re coming every Saturday, aren’t we?
Maybe it was the 10-minute explanation on how to fake a bullet wound (coffee, tomato sauce, tissue paper, water, glue, etc., plus ‘a chick’s make-up set’). Or maybe it was his assumption that these young people, despite their backgrounds – have the potential to make really good films, and so we’d better aim damn high. Ugandan films are so substandard, Ness kept saying, because in every scene the character says out loud what he’s thinking. Good films are more subtle. Ugandan films are so rubbish because they take four hours to tell a story, because the director needs to make sure his name is on screen for half a minute, because they want to involve everyone in the village and make a cast of a 100, because they blame a lack of budget while being too lazy to improvise (fake wounds included). He showed examples and demonstrated the kind of stuff that I knew but hadn’t managed to explain, back in Kazo.
Ness – who’s in his early 20s – talks with a cockiness that’s probably inevitable in a young man who’s survived some bad stuff and made it out the other side to become someone successful. But kids respect him, and they want to learn more.
And if that – wanting to learn – continues, all those dusty bus journeys were worth it.