Isaac Nabwana: Meet the man who put Uganda’s Wakaliwood on the map

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Isaac Nabwana, has been described as the Tarantino and the Stephen Spielberg of Wakaliwood; Uganda’s Hollywood. Dare we say, Nabwana’s script writing gave prominence to Wakaliwood and put it on the map.

After realising Nigeria’s Nollywood films saturated his local market, Nabwana decided it’s Uganda’s time. With absolutely nothing, Isaac Nabwana started making films. Not the ordinary, just plain crazy films and the locals loved it.

“I did not go to any cinema hall when I was a kid. It was my brother who used to tell me the stories about what they used to see in the cinema halls. I remember when they were explaining the gestures they would use and I liked that.”

“I went to a person who went to a journalism school and he introduced me to the Adobe Premiere Pro software. I did not have a camera but I used to borrow one from a neighbour and with that I started.

I did not know how to write a script but I thought of how the drama actors do it, and learnt that way. I didn’t have a tripod and I wanted one so I was trying to find which equipment I should use. 

I had to go to the scrapyard and build things from there. There are so many scrap yards around us that we take advantage of to build what we need from car scraps. In one film, we built a  jeep and guns from scraps. Scraps are cheap.

The first film which never came out was ‘My School Days’ and it was about school. The second film was ‘Tebaatusasula’. By that time there were so many Nigerian movies on the market here in Uganda. So I thought of doing something similar to Nigerian movies so that I can attract the attention of the Ugandans.

It was about another person who stole his wife and he jumped out of the house. All his things also jumped out of the house; the chairs, the TV, and everything and people loved that very much.

I edit these films from my home. I divided my home into a studio and a home and chickens from the neighbourhood come in a lot. Whatever comes in here I welcome it.”

‘Who killed Captain Alex?’

In 2009, Nabwana made a film, ‘Who Killed Captain Alex’ and it went viral. The trailer alone, has got over 3 million views on YouTube.

“That is a film I made in 2009, it is about a gangster who was chased away from the town and he went into villages to hide. Authorities sent Captain Alex to look for him in the villages but in the process Captain Alex died. They had to bring a task force to find out who killed Captain Alex and also to destroy a mafia group called Tiger Mafia.

I uploaded it on youtube. I got calls from all over the world; people saying ‘your movie is selling like a hot cake here’.

I got calls from the USA, Sweden and so many more people called me.

People treat me like a celebrity when I go to a ceremony. Some companies have started using me as a brand ambassador. Though, I think my movies are more famous than me because they love Wakaliwood and the movies. 

Isaac Nabwana’s ‘Who Killed Captain Alex?’ brought fame to Wakaliwood

Nowadays there are many people around every time we make movies, especially children. I think the children coming around is a good idea because for me, I didn’t get the chance of seeing someone filming. I don’t want to chase them away because I want them to learn.

Others come to watch from all over the world. They come and they always want to die in my movie. What I do is, I always kill them and after dying they sign the wall of fame and they go happily. 

Some people look at the Ramon Film Production Wall of Fame aka ‘Wall of Deads’

If you come here, and you come from somewhere in the world, for the fun, you have to die. The slogan is ‘No one escapes Wakaliwood’ 

Inspiring the next generation

Here in Uganda it is obvious, there are so many youths who want to be in a movie and I’ve also got that on social media; people are always writing to me and telling me that they are inspired. When I was in Toronto, somebody told me that they are now making movies because of me. 

Let me tell you something, I am determined because of my grandmother. She always used to tell me that ‘you are a man, you have to believe in yourself’. In fact she told me, ‘you don’t even have to wait for anyone, you have to do it’. 

I remember when I told my brother I would make a movie in 1988, he said no, ‘you need money’ and I told him no, for me, I see the movie.

The dream 

If I could get a big plot of land, about 10 acres, I want to build a studio. That’s what I’m dreaming. I want to sit in the studio where I can also teach generations because we have a lot of jobless youths. I want to employ them and teach them how to make movies. I’m trying to encourage young filmmakers in Uganda and also produce more movies. 

Life without movies is a boring life because sometimes I tell myself to stop writing and relax for a week but I always end up writing.”

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