Uganda Communications Commission (UCC)
The Uganda Communications Commission (the Commission) is a statutory body tasked with the regulation of the communications industry in Uganda. The mandated areas of responsibility include telecoms, postal, internet, broadcasting – radio and TV, and ensuring that the growth of the audio-visual industry takes place in a streamlined manner.
Regulating the film industry in Uganda
Essentially, Uganda’s film industry is managed by three major government entities. The Media Council is responsible for classification and censoring of all films for dissemination to the public in Uganda, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) is responsible for enforcing copyrights, the Payment of royalties is managed by a Collecting Management Society (CMO) mainly for its members, URSB manages the CMO and deals with issues around piracy.
The Commission deals primarily with regulation of end-point users that is film distributors and exhibitors that include cinemas, and video libraries and any vendors that sell films for public consumption. To engage in film exhibition or distribution, a trader should have undergone the processes of classification and copyright registration.
Section 37 of the Uganda Communications Act of 2013 mandates the Commission to licence cinematography theatres and video libraries while Section 5(1)(x) empowers the Commission to set standards, monitor, and enforce compliance relating to content.
The film industry in Uganda is still young and growing when compared to Kenya, South Africa or Nigeria film industries. Kampala has six high-end cinemas, mainly in the city centre and there are over 1,000 video halls and libraries in Kampala alone, mostly in the city centre and downtown locations. These are mostly community and privately-owned establishments. The role of the Commission is to ensure that what is being distributed and screened to the public conforms to set standards to protect the public from inappropriate content that may be contrary to public morality.
Local content quotas for television
In 2014, the Commission established a local content quota system that requires Ugandan television stations to broadcast 70 per cent local content, and of this, 40 per cent should be independent productions. There are compliance challenges, and the desired targets are yet to be achieved.
The local content quota also serves to encourage television broadcasters to buy content from local producers, which would boost local filmmakers and stimulate the film industry overall. The quota system is also a mechanism to present more local stories to television audiences, and to develop a greater public appreciation for our local stories.
Uganda Film Festival (UFF)
In 2013, the Commission inaugurated the Uganda Film Festival (UFF) to promote the local film industry. Principal objectives of the UFF are to stimulate, popularise, encourage and give a spotlight to the Film and Video industry. To build capacity, to promote business linkages, to facilitate local and international networking, and to showcase Ugandan films.
The festival takes place annually at the end of August; it is a five-day event with three main strands; capacity building workshops, a film market, a screening programme which culminates into an Awards Gala for best films.
Capacity-building takes the form of Masterclasses and Beginners’ classes through training workshops and forums informed by current needs. For example, in the first edition of UFF, sound and lighting were identified as a significant shortcoming in local films, and those issues became a focus for the training programme. Improvement in these areas was observed in the films submitted in the subsequent festival according to the Judges’ report. The workshops take place at different venues such as Kampala Film School and other identified partner locations. Training is carried out by both local and international trainers.
The exhibition market is usually hosted at the National Theatre, providing stalls for 65 to 75 exhibitors every year. It is a three-day opportunity to bring filmmakers, distributors, service providers and content buyers, together to showcase the film products and services. Generally, the market aims at promoting business linkages.
The screening programme at the festival has received over 1000 films for both screening and competition in the last editions. The submissions are screened during the festival week and include features, documentaries, student and short films. Screenings of local films take place at various cinemas during the festival week. All screenings are free to the public. Indoor screening is complemented with outdoor screenings in public areas around the city and downtown venues. Attendance figures have grown steady increases annually from over 2500 in 2013 to over 6000 today
The festival week begins with an opening ceremony and climaxes into the Awards Gala night in Kampala where fifteen awards are presented in front of an invited audience of between 500-700 guests. The awards are selected by a panel of independent judges and are an essential way to honour local filmmakers and an encouragement to others. All the awards receive trophies and prizes. The prizes range from fully paid trips to international festivals of their choice, or cash prizes.
The Commission’s efforts to build the capacity have contributed to the noticeable improvement in the quality of films submitted to the UFF in recent times. Public interest is growing, attested to by increased audiences, alongside, an increase in productions/movies. There is now greater recognition of Ugandan films presented at international festivals. The Commission has supported some of the winning UFF filmmakers to trips at international festivals like the Cannes Film Festival in France, the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, the Riverwood Film Awards in Kenya with opportunities to network and establish business linkages at international levels.
Pay TVs have adopted channels for only local productions. Over 100 local films have been aired on their platforms, and this is indicative of the significant improvement in the quality of films. This shows that there is a market for Ugandan film.
“Piracy is a big challenge in Uganda much as it is a form of income for many people. We recognise the problem of piracy and are embracing joint efforts with the Uganda Registration Service Bureau that directly deals with issues of copyrights. Filmmakers are urged to report piracy issues with evidence to the Bureau or even police.
The Commission has developed standards for distributors and exhibitors, which should ensure that authorised content is distributed and exhibited. Through capacity building workshops, The Commission also tries to equip filmmakers with knowledge on the right business channels and protecting their works.
An Umbrella Body
It has been proposed that there be the formation of an umbrella body (Ugandan Film Council) that would bring together the existing film-related organisations and associations. It is a way to unite the filmmaking community, give them greater visibility, and a stronger collective voice. A more organised sector will bring greater recognition and increase the bargaining power of the stakeholders.
Growing the future
There is enormous potential to create employment and new revenue streams through the film industry. The majority of filmmakers in Uganda are informal, most of them are young, they have not had the opportunity of being exposed to training, and this is why production quality is still low. They need training support, but they also need financial assistance. It is challenging to develop on their own, so the government needs to come on board to develop the industry and incentivise filmmaking, and support access to necessary training institutions and financing. Currently, the government does not have a budget for the film industry; it is one of the gaps that need to be addressed.
There is a need to undertake the necessary research to map the film sector, to better understand what exists and where the gaps are. It urged that progress is difficult without a Film Fund. The Commission is in the early stages of conceptualising a proposal for an Audio-Visual Content Fund. However, in addition to government efforts, we need to identify development partners that will help drive the process forward.
The local content quota system has had a positive impact. There is much higher attention on local Ugandan films now; viewers are not just concentrating on foreign films. Ugandan content should be able to compete with international content, and this is already evidenced by the inclusion of Ugandan films in international festivals. There is a cause for optimism that the film industry in Uganda is growing.