Ugandan film ‘Freedom’ set for UK stage debut

Ray Shell (L) and George Hargreaves during the interview with this blog in Southampton, UK last week

A veteran British producer credited for launching the careers of some of the country’s biggest 80s popstars has adapted the award-winning Ugandan film Freedom for stage.

George Hargreaves, a film distributor and evangelist who once produced and managed a host of pioneering Black British entertainers including Sinitta and Five Star, will premiere the stage version of the hit film in the UK later this August.

Speaking to this blog in an exclusive interview recently, Hargreaves revealed that the play will debut at the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in London between August 15-26th.

According to the tentative programme line-up of the 70th annual edition of the Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, the hour-long play will be showcased at St John’s Church in the heart of Edinburgh city on August 15, 16, 22 and 26.

“The London show will take place on August 18 and 19, and will particularly aim to spotlight our lead actress Nisha Kalema,” Hargreaves said of the theatre production that will be helmed by acclaimed American-British actor and author Ray Shell.

Victoria University

“We will also screen three Ugandan films [The Tailor, Galz About Town and Jinxed] that cast Nisha in the lead role at the Bernie Grant centre. We want to introduce her to the western audiences as part of our plan to groom her into the international film star that she deserves to be,” noted the 60-year-old producer who also serves as Kalema’s manager.

Both Shell and Hargraves say the play is part of a rather ambitious campaign that will apparently culminate in a remake of the film with the hope of having it compete for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2019 with 23-year-old Kalema as its driving force.

According to Academy rules, for a film to qualify for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, it has got to be made in a predominantly non-English language by a local team of filmmakers, and first released in its home country. It should also be approved by a national Oscar committee, which is tasked with nominating a single film to represent the country every year.

As it stands now, the original Freedom, directed by Richard Mulindwa, does not fulfil any of the foreign language Oscar criteria. The feature film nonetheless captivated Ugandan audiences with its shocking violence and staller performances upon release last year.  So impressive was the English language picture that it took home a total of six accolades and Shs37m in cash rewards at the 2016 Uganda Film Festival (UFF) awards.

The writer with producer George Hargreaves during the interview with Polly Kamukama in Southampton, UK

Set in the 80s political anarchy of Uganda, the low-budget film tells the harrowing story of an orphaned girl who suffers despicable abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.

Kalema, a single mother of one who has enjoyed meteoric success since bursting onto the local film scene three years ago, won the UFF Best Actress award for her heart-breaking performance as lead character Amelia.

The Galz About Town actress will reprise her role in Hargreaves’ stage adaptation, and so will veteran dramatist Raymond Rushabiro whose screen performance as Amelia’s villainous father was hailed as outstanding.

African Movie Academy Award (AMAA) 2017 nominee Samuel Kizito Saviour, Queen of Katwe actress Irene Nalubega and UK-based Ugandan actor Richard Kays are also part of the play’s small all-Ugandan cast.

But while Freedom the film details Amelia’s distressing journey from an adored child to a sex slave, the one-hour play can only allow for much detail. Shell, who says he will be working from a script penned by Kalema and not the actual film itself, admits it was a tough decision knocking off some of the parts that made Mulindwa’s directorial effort impressive.

“We will focus on Amelia’s adult life as a tortured woman and her subsequent quest for freedom,” 65-year-old Shell explained, expressing his hopes that the play’s themes of betrayal, violence and self-discovery strike a chord with British audiences in the wake of terror attacks and political uncertainty.

The African American writer will fly to Uganda with Hargreaves in the coming weeks to meet and rehearse with the cast ahead of the August showcase.

Meanwhile, Kalema has described her impending grand stage debut as a “lifetime opportunity and by far my most definitive moment” in her young career. She thanked Hargreaves, whom she now considers a mentor and a true friend despite only having met him ten months ago, for giving her an opportunity to showcase her talent to the world.



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