Kiwani: The Movie Premieres in Kampala
Roofings boss, Lalani buys a copy of Kiwani: The Movie after winning the auction at the premier.

Kiwani: The Movie Premieres in Kampala

From naive university girls to corporate personalities, it is a wave of greed, lies and romance, all entangled in a web orchestrated by the bafere (as conmen are commonly called in Uganda).

By Olive Eyotaru Yemima
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First published: May 2, 2008

Ugandans have a way of creating slang. These days, it usually, starts with songs or movies. When Bobi Wine, a Ugandan artist, used the word 'kiwani' in his hit song by the same title to describe the deceitful ways of many Ugandans, people across the country immediately and practically adopted kiwani into their vocabulary. From school going kids, politicians, to many an old man deep in Uganda's rural setting, kiwani has surely been integrated into the daily lingo of many Ugandans.

Not to be left out of the craze, a witty journalist decided to use the word in a more urbane manner. When Henry H. Ssali, a journalist with the Daily Monitor newspaper in Uganda decided to test the waters of the movie industry, he made a film titled Kiwani: The movie. After months of shooting, he has successfully unleashed Kiwani onto our screens. Kiwani: The movie revolves around two conmen who set out to defraud unsuspecting victims in Kampala. From na´ve university girls to corporate personalities, it is a wave of greed, lies and romance, all entangled in a web orchestrated by the bafere (as conmen are commonly called in Uganda).

The movie premiered on Saturday 12th April 2008 at the Commonwealth Resort Hotel, Munyonyo. It was a V.I.P premiere, complete with a red carpet entrance for the guests to have a feel of how it is done in Hollywood. Ultimate Media's Olive Eyotaru had the opportunity to speak to Ssali, who is both the director and producer of the latest movie to me made by local Ugandans.

Movie Director Henry Ssali and one of main actors, Hanington Bugingo present an autographed plague for auction at the movie's premier
Movie Director Henry Ssali and one of main actors, Hanington Bugingo present an autographed plague for auction at the movie's premier.

Olive: I would like to congratulate you for pulling it off.

Henry: Thank you. I think the premiere went well. I can tell you that now. I am so happy that we have finally brought Kiwani to the people. It has been so hectic for the crew and me for the past months.

Olive: How did you develop the concept for the movie?

Well, initially, I wanted to write a book. However, when I was about a quarter way done, I realized that I was targeting the wrong market. You know, Ugandans have a very poor reading culture and when I remembered this, I decided to drop the idea of writing a book. I did not want to proceed with something that I thought would eventually flop. Afterwards, I met the guys at Maisha Film Labs. When I saw what they do, in terms of movie production, I was compelled to move in that direction. I decided then, to come up with something that would appeal to the public.

What was the whole idea of Kiwani?

Well, I basically wanted to do something that would mirror what happens in our society. We have all heard of, or witnessed conmen in Kampala ripping off unsuspecting people. Basing on my experiences and tales from my friends or workmates, I thought it prudent to conceptualize the idea and finally make a movie out of it.

In brief, what is the movie about?

It revolves around two conmen who con unsuspecting people of money, land and even hearts. The lead actor, Hannington Bugingo acts as Kaggwa, a conman on Wilson Street in Kampala who applies all possible tricks and lies to con people clean. He is smooth at what he does and often gets away with it. His accomplice, Allan Tumusiime, is a 'junior' crook and Kaggwa keeps challenging him to up his game by getting more sophisticated in his operations.

Meanwhile, a single mum, acted by Juliana Kanyomozi, is lonely and desperate for a relationship. She uses the internet to hook up with Allan. Allan lies to her that he is a businessman based in the U.K and Juliana falls for him. Unfortunately, along the way, the law catches up with Allan. Kaggwa attempts to secure bail for his friend but realizes that the police officer handling the case is a person that he (Kaggwa) once defrauded. You need to watch the movie to find out what happened next.

Where did you shoot the movie?

We shot the movie right here in Kampala. Unlike other Ugandan movies that are usually shot inside houses, ours was shot mostly outdoors. We shot the main scene on Wilson Road. Other scenes included Rock Gardens, Crane Bank, Kabira Country Club, Buganda Road, Makerere University, Kamwokya, etc. The fact that it is an urban story made us pick scenes that are exactly in line with the idea of the movie.

What was it like to interact with the cast, especially the celebrities?

[Smiles]. I know people want to know what happened behind the scenes. I can assure you that everyone played their part well and all were very cooperative. Celebrities like Juliana, Hannington and Allan were so down to earth and this made our work easier. You have probably heard of actors and actresses who make lists of demands while shooting movies. This never happened with us.

Some of the actors in the movie at the premier
Some of the actors in the movie at the premier.

How much money did you inject in the movie?

[Hesitates] Well, I can say that we spent over 16 million Uganda shillings to make the final product. We really did not have many sponsors but Sudhir Ruparelia, a property mogul in Uganda, gave us some money, which really helped us out.

Are there any organizations that contributed towards the making of the movie?

Property mogul Shudir Rupalaria looks at a copy of Kiwani the Movie at the Premier of the movie in Kampala
Property mogul Shudir Rupalaria looks at a copy of Kiwani the Movie at the Premier of the movie in Kampala.

I would like to add that Sudhir also offered us locations in which to shoot some scenes in the movie for free. It was a real blessing because it is always a hassle to get a good location in Kampala. He owns Crane Bank, Kabira Country Club and Rock Gardens. Nile Breweries Limited also contributed some money to support the making of Kiwani. Uganda Police also contributed. I wrote to the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura to avail us with uniforms, since some of our scenes depicted cops in action.

How does the movie portray our economy and society?

It addresses so many issues in our society. Fraud and cross generation sex are some of the areas we looked at. You will see a lot of desperation coming from some of the characters and we really need to ask ourselves why the likes of Mwesigye and Kaggwa con people. Many Ugandans are desperate. You know, unemployment levels in Uganda are so high and there are far too few jobs to accommodate the growing number of the nation's graduates. No prizes for guessing what some Ugandans resort to. Show me any Ugandan who has not heard about another person being conned by these bafere. Many have been victims themselves. This is real life.

Some of the Ugandans who turned up for the movie's premiere in Munyonyo
Some of the Ugandans who turned up for the movie's premiere in Munyonyo.

Has directing the movie taught you things you really had no idea about before?

Oh, I could go on and on about what I have learnt out of this experience. Honestly, when I was going into this, I had no idea what to expect. With support from the more experienced film crew and cast, I learnt a few things and I can assure you that I am now a pro... [Hard laughter]. Okay, not a real pro, but if I did another movie, I would definitely do it better.

How would you rate the movie industry in Uganda?

We have really come a long way from the plays we are used to watching. The industry is more vibrant now and people have started recognizing it. Companies are now coming on board to support the movie industry. For example, I am the second person after Mariam Ndagire, a local actress and artist, to get corporate backing for a film intended for the local audience. In the past, Ugandan companies had no budgets set aside to sponsor movies just as they always do with musicians. It was so hard to convince companies to sponsor activities in making Kiwani: The movie but Nile Breweries and Meera Investments (the later is owned by Sudhir Ruparelia) came on board. I hope other companies will follow suit.

Did you encounter any setbacks?

I can say that lot of exploitation happens in Uganda's movie industry. Actors and actresses are paid peanuts or nothing at all for a lot of input. We also lack a regulatory body to monitor the kind of movies we make in terms of quality and content. If we did, Ugandan movies would ably compete within the international movie industry.

There are rumors that a Ugandan wants to introduce movie awards to recognize actors, just as Pearl of Africa Music awards recognize musicians...

I have heard about it too. I think it is a good idea but that person needs to look at certain things. One, he or she should be experienced in reviewing Uganda's movie industry. We have seen people bring awards but with no idea what the people they are recognizing really do. Most jump in just for financial gain. Whoever is bringing these awards needs to work with people who have knowledge of the industry.

Two, the criteria for winning any awards should be credible. We do not expect awards to be given to someone who released a film with an inconsistent script, poor cinematography and lighting, horrible soundtracks capped by poor acting standards. That aside, I hope the awards come to pass. However, people should not be derailed by awards like musicians have. They are just meant to recognize good effort, not to boost people's egos.

Any plans to unleash another movie?

[Pauses]... Well, I can say that there is something going to be cooking in the kitchen, so better sharpen your knives. All I can add is that I am planning to do a movie titled Operation Wembley. It is still in its initial stages of planning. All those who wish to audition for it are welcome. I shall communicate the audition dates in the media. I have learnt a lot from the movie industry in Uganda, so I can confidently say that I am good enough.

How will the general public access your movies? Are there any distribution points?

Right now, we are still recruiting distribution agents. We are set to show the movie countrywide to the Ugandan public. Thereafter, we shall launch the movie in Scandinavian countries and parts of the US and U.K. We also want to target Ugandans in Diaspora so that they can have an idea of the day-to-day lives of the people they left in their motherland. I hope all Ugandans will like the movie and I am sure they will relate to it, one way or the other.

By Olive Eyotaru Yemima
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First published: May 2, 2008
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Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.

A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.