This video is why I came to Uganda. It was November, 2012. I was in an Irish bar on St. Marks Place, New York City, going over the details for my brother’s bachelor party with a friend. But he couldn’t focus. He had to show me a video he found on YouTube. Two weeks later I was in Africa.
I didn’t call or email – I just showed up (I did bring their number, though, just in case – it’s on the trailer). I thought I would meet someone like myself – a movie fan (albeit one who’s a little crazy) who’s got a camera and some friends. Instead I found an entire village turned studio back-lot and make-shift extended family who’s only relation is Rambo.
That first day I saw a team of no less than 60 cast and crew members, and easily as many children following their every move. The crew was speaking many different languages, often broken, having come from different tribes from all parts of Uganda. They were united by the vision of Wakaliwood founder Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (IGG), a filmmaker who at the time produced and/or directed 36 feature films from the slums of Uganda (more than 44 at the time of writing).
IGG, or Isaac as I have come to call him, was already a legend in the slums of Uganda (and beyond, thanks to Who Killed Captain Alex). He is one of a handful or filmmakers working in the local dialect, and the only one working exclusively in the ghettos. His films are one of the few places where villagers can hear their own language and see neighborhoods and characters they recognize on the screen.
The love and respect people feel for IGG is palpable. And there is also an overwhelming sense of hope. To many, especially the children, IGG and his crew of martial artists, stunt people, camera assistants, actors, and prop masters are real-life action heroes.
ABOUT THE FILM
Who Killed Captain Alex was written, produced, shot and edited in January, 2010. The iconic battle between Ugandan commandos, helicopters, and the Tiger Mafia was filmed in two hours, amidst real gun fire, the day before the film was made available for sale in Uganda. Isaac does not know how much the film cost. His best guess is between $200 – $225. In much of the world that is considered a micro budget, but in the slum it’s a year’s salary.
IGG was a child during the regime of Obote II and Uganda’s Civil War (1981-1986), one of the bloodiest periods in African history. Who Killed Captain Alex is dedicated to IGG’s grandmother, Rachael Kizito, who saw the family safely thru the violence.
PROPS AND GEAR
Uganda is an emerging film industry. Equipment is hard to come by, but in a slum it is all but impossible. All props and gear are made by hand from available materials. The guns are carved from wood or welded from scrap metal. The tripod used in Who Killed Captain Alex was a modified car jack. The blood was real.
COMPUTERS AND SPECIAL EFFECTS
Isaac builds the computers himself. Constructed from used and scrap parts, a typical computer will last two or three months, eventually falling victim to the heat, dust, and terrible power surges. At the time of shooting, Isaac was one of the very few people in Wakaliga with electricity, even if only for two or three days a week, at best. Internet is prohibitively expensive.
Isaac edits with whatever software he can find, usually Adobe Premiere and After Effects. His special effects have earned him the reputation of being a powerful witch doctor in Uganda – even by the Ugandan Police, who do not understand how he can make a bullet come from a wooden gun.
AFRICAN KUNG FU
Hong Kong action films are as popular in Uganda as they are anywhere. As children, Isaac and his friends would watch Bruce Lee movies and pretend they were Ugandan Ninjas. Isaac pursued filmmaking, but many kids in the village followed their passion for Kung Fu. Today, Isaac’s childhood friends are the first Ugandan action movie stars and founding members of Uganda’s Official Kung Fu team.
His childhood friends also founded Country Wing Kung-Fu, Uganda’s first and only Kung Fu school. Some have even been invited to travel to Henan Province, China, to study at Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Kung Fu.
Country Wing Kung Fu and Nabwana IGG are developing a distinctive form of Kung Fu based on the behavior of animals native to the African continent. This new African martial art will be showcased in Wakaliwood’s upcoming film, Ugandan Ninja.
Isaac is one of the few filmmakers working in Luganda, the dialect of the Buganda, Uganda’s largest tribe. The films are intended for his friends and neighbors, but are wildly successful beyond even the slums of Uganda. And are heavily pirated. As a result, Isaac does not know how many copies of Who Killed Captain Alex exist. Five years later he continues to receive phone calls several times a week from all over Africa, asking about Captain Alex and to see more films.
It is worth noting that Nabwana IGG and his films are largely ignored by the upper class in Uganda and the traditional film community.
Isaac uploaded the trailers to Who Killed Captain Alex: Uganda’s First Action Movie and Tebaatusasula in January, 2010 and both quickly went viral. At the time of writing (January, 2014), his YouTube channel received 4.2 million views, but blogs and websites promoting his videos have received many more. One feature alone on Ray William Johnson’s “Equals 3” received 6.1 million views (below, begins at 1:40).
Who Killed Captain Alex: Uganda’s First Action Movie
will be available for the first time outside Africa in 2015