Notorious video halls bring Ugandan films to bigger crowds

September 2008 -

Video halls in Uganda have a bad reputation. For a small fee, people can come to the shabby halls to watch a movie. However, they can also be seen as an important step towards a film culture.


Video hall in Gulu, Uganda

"Why should only the Kampala middle-class have access to Ugandan films?", Dutchman Michiel van Oosterhout wonders. He is the founder of the Uganda International Film Foundation UIFF. "An important youth culture is developing inside the video halls. That should be stimulated, and just added with some more depth to the films they watch." Since May, Van Oosterhout and his Ugandan colleague Mohammed Bagonza bring frequent visits to the north. Because there, far away from Uganda's only cinema in the capital Kampala, there are no opportunities to watch Ugandan-made films.

The marginalized north of Uganda has suffered from a 20-year conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army and the national forces. Since two years there is a cease-fire. Van Oosterhout: "We had several Ugandan films, movies with an educational touch to it, translated into the native languages of the north Luo and Lubara." Bagonza: "So not only do we stimulate watching constructive films from Ugandan soil, we also make sure the native languages of the north stay alive."

One of the films that is shown in the video halls is Trough my eyes, a UIFF production about child abuse. "For the first time this film, that was partly shot in the north, was actually shown there", says Van Oosterhout. "People in the streets suddenly recognized the main actress of the film, and started calling her 'star'." The men behind the project, which was co-founded by NCDO and Missio, hope the showing of translated movies can continue independently. Bagonza: "The owner of a video hall came up to me, and asked if it was possible for them to make translations of films themselves. The trend that we have started can hopefully be continued if it proves to be profitable for people."