FILM REVIEW: THE MASTER AND THE MOVIE DOCTOR

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Reviewed by Lise Watson

 

‘The Master and the Movie Doctor’ marks the debut of the exciting young African documentary filmmaker, Nikissi Serumaga-Jamo.  Shot in January, 2013 in Kampala, Uganda, this is a fascinating 12 minute documentary giving us a glimpse into the local film community where residents crowd into video halls featuring the latest in Ugandan films.  We meet VJ Ronnie (aka The Master) and VJ Sammie-Lee (aka The Movie Doctor) who buy Ugandan films made in English and translate them into local languages, such as Luganda, in the video halls.  They also dub the translations and copy and distribute the altered movies.

VJ Ronnie takes us on a picturesque tour of the market streets of Kampala that ends at Majestic Plaza where he plans to buy films for that night.  He flips through the titles and pulls out a sample, “Tebesigwa: Intimate Stranger.” He says, “People like it because the action is good, the story is good and it is touching.”  These films have subjects with which most can relate as they are about people like them, their families, their traditions and behaviours. Ronnie compares them to Western films which feature ‘war and karate’ and other things they don’t see in day to day life in Kampala.

We next switch to a group of men debating the pros and cons of the VJs like The Master and the Movie Doctor.  A film producer expresses his resentment of the pirating of his films which makes it difficult to make a decent living.  Engineer Bonny M. of the Ugandan Copyright Association excitedly agrees but then interjects that despite this pirating problem video hall owners and VJs have played a major role in promoting local film, making them exciting and popular, and suggests they should be recognized for their contributions.  Such a conundrum with no easy answers. As in many parts of the world, copyright infringement in music and film is rampant in many African countries.  But just as this film was being made Uganda was introducing new laws to combat the problem.

We soon meet a woman working in a video shop who feels optimistic about the changes in the film industry and who admires the many film producers and actors who persist in making films about their people in spite of the difficulties, bypassing what she calls ‘degrading jobs’ in order to practice their crafts.

This film is an ambitious project considering the complexity of the issues and the short length of the film, but Serumaga-Jamo has done a fine job of encapsulating the information and drawing us in quickly.  The cinematography features intimate close ups that make for a very warm and engaging experience for the viewer. We are invited into a colourful and familiar world. These are people I wanted to get to know, and I am left feeling curious to see some of these films and to learn more. And the music throughout is wonderful.

Serumaga-Jamo comes by her creativity and love of Africa honestly.  She comes from creative families on both her mother’s and father’s sides.  Born in Canada, her maternal grandfather was a respected Ugandan playwright best known for his metaphorical political commentary and the use of movement and dance in his work, and for his exploration of the art of African storytelling. Her father was a Mozambican-born musician.

Serumaga-Jamo is a graduate of York University’s film program, where she received much support for this project from her mentors and colleagues.  She also credits the Kampala Film School and a whole lot of indiegogo supporters. Ambitious and passionate, Serumaga-Jamo is currently based in Uganda where she hopes to make a name for herself in African film.  She is one to watch for sure as she finds her way.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

 

Film credits:

Cinematography: Scott Johnson

Director: Nikissi Serumaga-Jamo

Editing: Nikissi Serumaga-Jamo and Nathaneal Shelton-Richards

Location Sound: Moses Bwayo

Post Production Sound: Tanner Zurkoski

Translation:  Brian Bwesigye   Rose Kangabe

Song: Twategede – Snapier Musonso

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Serumaga-Jamo plans to have the film play the festival circuit this year but if you are a TWAS reader and interested in watching the film, please email nserumaga@gmail.com for a vimeo link and password.

 

 

 

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