By Steven Tendo and Ogova Ondego
Published January 27, 2007
Caroline Kamya is arguably Uganda’s most prolific filmmaker. Although she has tried to keep under wraps, her efforts to stay below the radar have been defeated by her own productivity. STEVEN TENDO and OGOVA ONDEGO report.
Caroline Kamya’s production house, IVAD Productions, is situated at Simbamanyo House, one of the newer, more beautiful architectural pieces of Kampala. When ArtMatters.Info calls in, Kamya, in black top and matching black slacks that go well with her Afro dreadlocks, is hard at work, dispatching her lieutenants to do different chores. It is another busy day at one of Uganda’s most prolific film companies.
Kamya has the kind of personality one cannot ignore and comes across as an able combatant in the war of life.
“I want to do everything right,” she says, sitting at her desk in an adjoining office after showing a clip of her soon-to-be-made feature film, Supastar.
She explains that “SupaStar is a spiritual thriller in which a young Ugandan up-and-coming musician struggles to redefine his cultural identity against the wave of neo-colonialism in contemporary Africa.”
From its beginning as a short story in 2004, SupaStar has been developed into a full length feature screenplay. It was this screen play that earned Kamya a place in the Kampala-based Maisha Directors Lab in June 2006 from where she shot and cut three scenes from ‘SupaStar’.
Come November 2006, Kamya, who appears to be breaking away from her NGO-driven filmmaking, was on the plane to Sithengi Film & TV Market in Cape Town to pitch SupaStar.
This year, she is one of 350 talented filmmakers selected from among 3678 applicants from 129 countries to attend the prestigious 5th Berlinale Talent Campus in Germany in February 2007.
Running concurrently with the Berlin International Film Festival, talents from all over the world interact with international experts in the audiovisual media industry in the hope of honing their skills and create a critical mass in their own countries.
Kamya, 33, says she has a keen interest in people and characters.
“I enjoy initiating new stories and ideas and creating innovative approaches to each subject. I am constantly shooting and editing so I can maintain my camera and editing skills,” she says. “I enjoy brainstorming ideas and I have a good eye for detail and good stories.”
It is amazing that this talented Ugandan is almost unheard of in her own country, the Pearl of Africa. Her company, IVAD Productions, may have been set up in 1999 has been working for various organisations all along but a search on the internet or in the newspapers will not leave one the wiser.
But if she is unknown in Uganda, East Africa has almost never heard of her. For instance, when her Real Saharawi film won the Best East African Production Award and Dancing Wizard grabbed the second Best East African Production Award at the ZIFF Festival of the Dhow Countries in Zanzibar in 2006, the festival organisers announced she was from Morocco!
“IVAD started because I am impatient,” she explains. “I didn’t want to wait around for jobs. I had finished my degree in Architecture and Town Planning but I did not want to do that for a living. Even while at university, I was making short films, which we were showing at the campus. I have always loved drama.”
She laughs when asked where she’s been hiding.
“I have been around. I am just not very interested in being in the media spotlight,” she says. That is strange for a Ugandan filmmaker especially when the country has for long searched for talent like hers. Many others given her talent and the opportunities she has got would be more than eager to flaunt their achievements.
And Kamya has achieved a lot in the time she has exerted herself in the film world. For a person who was ‘forced’ to study something she did not want, her story is a challenge for aspiring filmmakers.
“I grew up in one of those typical African families,” she explains. “My parents thought they knew what I needed and I had to study architecture. I did the time and afterwards, I went to film school and learnt how to make television documentaries.”
One of five children, Kamya is a study in resilience because there are still many in Uganda who would frown upon one choosing to make films instead of earning the big money in architecture and town planning.
Over the last two years, IVAD has produced more than 30 documentaries, mostly for international Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations operating in Uganda.
Kamya’s contacts in Kenya and the United Kingdom–where she grew up and studied–have also kept their faith in her and she has been busy with projects commissioned by organisations like German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), USAid, Eskom of South Africa, Community Channel of the UK, Arts Council of England, and Uganda Tourism Board.
“Making 30 documentaries has not been easy,” she says. “In this country, one would be hard pressed to find an organisation known for efficiency and good results. To find a company that can boast of being perfect in all aspects in this country is a rarity. At IVAD, we are trying to pioneer the culture of hitting targets.”
The company has also made Life Choices, a 15-part interactive television drama for the youth of Uganda for which it won One World Media Awards and Special Award for Development Media 2006 in London.
Kamya may still be a stranger in the Ugandan media but in the international arena, she is a celebrated artist. She got a taste of this fact when at the Maisha Film Lab in the eastern town of Jinja in 2006, she got the news that she had been awarded two international prizes for two of her documentaries, The Africans and Real Saharawi.
She explains that The Africans is one of the first independent projects she worked on. It is a series of 10 short stories that portray the real lifestyles of Africans all over the globe.
“For budgetary reasons, we were restricted to Uganda for a long time,” she explains. “The Africans is very Pan African and positive. It shows Africa in the real light it should be. There are many negative stories about Africa in the international media. I felt there was need to tell the truth.”
Kamya says she does not try to counter the negative images about Africa as though what is being said is not true. She is trying to show the good side of Africa along these images so that it will not be thought that that is all there is to Africa.
Real Saharawi, a film about a refugee boy who lived in the camps in Algeria, tells of the misery and the search for meaning in all the suffering.
This search for truth makes the Maisha Lab a very good vehicle for Kamya. “Maisha was great because it was set up originally to cater for African stories. If we don’t tell our stories, no one will. I met many interesting people over there,” she says.
According to her, she came into contact with different ways of thinking from Bollywood, Hollywood, Sweden, Nigeria and many others. “The atmosphere was intense, I tell you,” she says.
Women Wake Up, a film Kamya made about a Tanzanian woman who flees an abusive relationship of 10 years to form an organisation to champion the rights of women affected by violence, won a top award at the inaugural UNFPA-sponsored Pan African Film Festival devoted to Gender Based Violence held in Dakar, Senegal, in November 2006.
Kamya has been described as controversial for treading on sensitive cultural issues. During the third Amakula Kampala International Film Festival in 2006, the government of Uganda threatened to deport festival directors Alice Smits and Lee Ellickson if they screened Kamya’s documentary on the Ugandan reaction to the controversial stage production, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues in Kampala.
“It is easy to be controversial in Uganda,” Kamya laughs in a tinkling way. “Anywhere else in the world my work wouldn’t be controversial. I am just a tool. There is a story to be told and I am just the medium through which these stories are told.”
She admires the founder of Maisha Film Lab, Mira Nair, especially since she understands the problems of Africa. Back when the Hollywood hit, Mississippi Masala was produced, Kamya was still young but that was the beginning of her fascination with Nair.
“I have met Nair. She is very down to earth and very giving,” Kamya, who says she is also interested in the works of West African filmmakers who differ from East Africans in the way they work.
“Ugandan and Kenyan directors lean more towards television production while the Francophone directors are more film oriented,” she says.
IVAD has started a media school, Uganda Arts and Media Academy where different people shall be going for training in these arts from around the world.
This strong African woman has just broken ground in Uganda. She is not stopping here, however, because her goal is not to make the kind of film that appeals to the common man in Uganda, who thinks the films from Nigeria, which have taken the nation by storm, should be the standard.
“I am looking at the global market,” she explains. “I want to make films that appeal to the international market.”
From the style of Superstar, she is definitely on her way there.