Uganda loses multi-million film deal to Rwanda

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A Rwandese cultural dancer entertaining guests during the festival’s opening ceremony on Sunday

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Rwanda has in the past few years built its brand as a potential filmmaking powerhouse, thanks to its attractive investment policies, state funding and picturesque landscape.

And now, the country has given yet another huge boost to its emerging audio-visual sector after signing multiple co-production deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the ongoing Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco) in Burkina Faso.

Although no specific details have been divulged, officials at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the national body charged with overseeing the country’s investment plans, have told this blog that the deals will take effect immediately.

“What I can confirm to you now is that we have so far secured agreements to co-produce 15 international films in Rwanda starting this year,” said Félix Siboniyo, the Head of Single Project Implementation Unit (SPIU) at RDB.

“We cannot wait to showcase to the world what Rwanda has to offer in terms of its film potential and tourism while also creating jobs for our youths,” he added.

Siboniyo is part of an 80-member Rwandan contingent comprising of top government officials which is currently stationed at Fespaco with the sole purpose of marketing the country as a tourist and filmmaking destination.

The team from Rwanda is among the main exhibitors at Fespaco’s famed film co-production and financing market, known simply as Mica, which attracts thousands of film professionals from across the world to Ouagadougou every year.

The tiny country’s big coup at this year’s Fespaco comes at the expense of Uganda after it has been revealed the latter turned down an opportunity to participate at the biggest cinema showcase in Africa, which Rwanda then gladly grabbed and ran with.

In a bid to foster synergies between Francophone and Anglophone filmmakers, Fespaco this year extended special invitations to a select number of countries, Uganda inclusive, to participate in its various programmes.

In a letter dated Jan 04, 2019, which this writer has seen, the Fespaco director, Ardiouma Soma, writes to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi inviting the communications and film regulatory body to send a delegation to Ouagadougou.

Efforts by the festival’s liaisons in Kampala to follow up on the request with UCC fell through. It is not known whether Mutabazi wrote back to Fespaco declining the generous offer, although it is now obvious Uganda was short-sighted in envisioning the immense benefits Rwanda is now enjoying from Fespaco.

The filmmaking community in Uganda will also be irked to learn that the Rwanda invite came in at the eleventh hour after Uganda showed no interest, but nonetheless authorities in the fast-developing country saw the big picture and hurriedly sent an impressive team of ministers, filmmakers, pop stars and PR specialists to Ouagadougou.

President Paul Kagame himself is expected to officiate over the festival’s awards gala due tomorrow at the Ouagadougou Municipal Stadium where the acclaimed Rwandan war drama, The Mercy of the Jungle, by director Joel Karekezi is tipped for glory.

Rwanda, one of the only two French-speaking countries in East Africa, already has blossoming bilateral ties with West Africa, and its participation at Fespaco is seen by many as a move to open up new markets for its cultural products.

Despite having the youngest film industry in East Africa, Rwanda is already well on its way to overtaking Kenya and Uganda as the region’s dominant filmmaking hub following a series of government interventions.

The government for instance established the Rwanda Film Agency (RFA) last year to provide funds and training to the country’s creatives while the RDB has been outstanding in lobbying for foreign investment into the local sector.

The government of Rwanda, which already has co-production agreements with France and South Africa, is also now encouraging its filmmakers to depart from the clichéd narrative of the 1994 genocide so as to paint a more positive image of the country.

Indeed, all the three films representing Rwanda at Fespaco this year – Mercy of the JungleInanga and Icyasha – tell narratives of hope and beauty about a country that is up to today still recovering from the horrors of the genocide tragedy.

Themed ‘Confronting Our Memory to Shape the Future of a Pan-African Cinema’, this year’s Fespaco marks the 50th anniversary since the world-renowned festival was launched by the great Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara as a cultural tool aimed at fronting authentic African narratives in the face of colonialism.

Now in its 26th edition, the biannual festival’s position as the ‘Mecca of African cinema’ has largely remained unchallenged except for a few criticisms regarding its Francophone-inclined programming and inability to nurture balanced growth of the film industry across the continent.

The weeklong cinema showcase features diverse programming including film screenings, the Mica, workshops and many other industry events. This year’s ultimate prize, the prestigious Golden Stallion of Yennenga, has pitted 16 of the best African films with Mercy of the Jungle and Kenya’s lesbian love story Rafikiconsidered among the front runners.

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