ACROSS BORDERS. The "Youth & Film Uganda" project is working to create a film culture in Uganda that gives young people an opportunity to watch, make and critically relate to film. It's important for democracy to give young Ugandans a voice, says Charlotte Giese, head of Children & Youth at the Danish Film Institute, a key partner on the project..
This is where we can really make a difference: using film screenings to promote dialogue – Charlotte Giese, Head of Children & Youth
"Youth & Film Uganda" is a film programme combining mobile cinemas, film festivals, master classes for professional filmmakers and training in film production. Working with the Danish Embassy in Uganda and the local partner Maisha Film Lab, the Danish Film Institute is the key Danish partner in this endeavor to build a film culture for Ugandan youth, including in formerly war-torn northern Uganda.
"Youth & Film Uganda" is part of a larger initiative, the Uganda Youth Cultures Project, launched by the Danish Embassy in Uganda. The project aims to unify the Ugandan youth through cultural approaches and to give young Ugandans various opportunities to express themselves through art, which in turn aims to foster social cohesion and strengthen the local economy. The Embassy works in close collaboration with the Danish Center for Culture and Development (DCCD) under the Foreign Ministry.
The Uganda Youth Cultures Project runs 2010-2013 and is concentrated in the three areas film, theatre and hip-hop, thus centering its attention on young people.
"Through new forms of artistic expression Ugandan youth will be able to cope with cultural diversity and develop their own personal and social potentials – and to create sustainable economic opportunities for a new generation," says Vibeke Munk Petersen, Head of Cultural and Development Programmes, DCCD.
No Existing Film Opportunities for Teens
An important part of "Youth & Film Uganda" is to establish mobile cinemas and film clubs. The capital city, Kampala, has just two movie theatres and only the middle classes can afford to pay the admission price of six American dollars. Instead, most Ugandans watch films for a few shillings at local video arcades running Hollywood action movies and Nollywood films. The country has no major film schools, no government film funding and no films specifically for young audiences. Even though half the Ugandan population is under the age of 15, there are no real film options for young people.
The new mobile film club visits five cities – Kampala, Gulu, Moroto, Mbale and Mbarara – every other month, giving young people of every social background a chance to see films in their local community. Just as important, they get a space to discuss what they are seeing. For that purpose, "Youth & Film Uganda" has trained a local facilitator to screen the films and discuss their content as well as their cinematic language with the kids.
"The youth are beginning to find their voices in the film club. They are comfortable sharing their thoughts and engaging in debates with their fellow youth without the fear of reprimand from an elder who might deem it as 'talking too much' or being disrespectful. It's important that they learn self-confidence and begin to speak for their communities without of course being disrespectful to both elders and peers," says Denis Pato, Programme Coordinator for "Youth & Film Uganda".
Films Promote Dialogue
Most young people in Uganda aren't used to critically relating to art. They aren't schooled to have their own opinions but to do as they are told, generally living by the creed that you don't question your family, nor your society, nor your teacher.
"The vast majority of young people in Africa have never been asked for their opinion," says Charlotte Giese, Head of Children & Youth at the Danish Film Institute. "This is where we can really make a difference: using film screenings to promote dialogue. Films can do a lot of things. One is opening up conversations that young people aren't used to having – about love, gender roles, authority and AIDS. Young Ugandans have plenty to contend with. But fiction can give hope and inspire people to find other ways out of their problems."
"Sometimes the kids are very quiet to begin with, but when they first get started they are really engaged. We showed 'We Shall Overcome' and 'Fighter', two Danish films about questioning authority: Should you listen to your parents or follow your heart's desire? This is emphatically a subject that young Ugandans can relate to."
This is one way where cinema potentially can play a role in developing democracy, Giese says.
"Films provide opportunities for artistic reflection and open up a dialogue about cultural and societal problems. When young people discuss what they are seeing – and when they make their own films – they raise their self-esteem, their realisation of their own potential, their understanding of the world around them and their awareness of human rights."
Strengthening the Local Film Industry
The film slate, programmed by the DFI, is not limited to Danish films. It's important for these young people to watch films from Uganda and other countries as well, so we're not just missionising, Giese says. The project puts a premium on training local instructors and organising master classes for local professional filmmakers to power up local production of youth films. In one case, the Danish director Rumle Hammerich gave a master class to 35 Ugandan directors and screenwriters on what makes good cinema for kids and teens.
Moreover, the initiatives could prove to have a favourable long-term commercial impact, since development of the professional film industry would also stimulate the economy.
In addition to watching films, teens also get a chance to make their own films. Station Next, a Danish film school for young people, is organising film labs in Kampala and Gulu. Their goal is to develop a concept that would enable the local organisation, Maisha Film Lab, to take over the project. Read more about the film labs
See films made by young Ugandans
Click here to see a few of the films made in collaboration with Station Next.