Lailah shines as UFF 2019 ends on a high

KAMPALA – Lailah was the biggest winner of the evening as the Uganda Film Festival (UFF) came to a glamorous climax last Friday.

Lailah is the title of a Richard Mulindwa movie, which scooped five awards; Best Post Production, Best Feature Film, Best Actor in a Feature Film and Viewer’s Choice.

The festival, which was held at the Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology (UICT) Nakawa, lived up to its growing billing as Uganda’s version of the celebrated Oscars.

The pomp, the décor, the entertainment, the excitement, were all a fitting finale to the week-long festival that involved several activities, including film screening, capacity building workshops and training.

It was a worthy celebration of the best of local talent, with a guest list littered with who is who in Uganda’s film industry, Minister of State for Works Katumba Wamala, President Museveni’s daughter Natasha Karugire, the chief guest Italian Ambassador Massimiliano Mazzanti, not to mention the host UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi.

As promised, the award prizes were bigger, bolder and better, with winners taking away millions in cash, training and international exposure compared to the last festival, where the biggest prize was a single Shs 20m cash prize.

Here, every single nominee, including the winners, got a minimum of incubator training worth Shs 5m courtesy of Stanbic Bank. Other major prizes included Shs 5m in cash, camera equipment worth Shs 20m, four winners each with an international training programme worth Shs 20m, and four winners each awarded with international exposure at a reputable International Film Festival worth Shs 20m.

The Italian Ambassador spiced up the prizes even further, offering some Italian actors to grace next year’s festival and training in Italy for selected filmmakers from Uganda.

To many people, the choice of UICT grounds was a curious one as they had gotten used to the Kampala Serena Hotel where the UFF gala has been held for a couple of years. However, this needn’t have raised eyebrows as UCC is the statutory manager of the UICT.

In the end, apart from the ground that was still a little brittle following that morning’s downpour, giving some women in high heels a bit of a challenge, going to UICT turned out to be a very inspired decision.

The contracted events companies had done their part to liven up the venue, with the giant tents, red carpet, the walk-way, the décor and sound, combining well to give the occasion a splendid feel.

In her welcome remarks, the Director Industry Affairs and Content at UCC Ms Julianne Mweheire noted that Uganda’s film industry is steadily coming of stage, pointing to the strong recognition at international film festivals.

“In 2019 alone, the Uganda film industry has won 15 international festival awards in the US, UK, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya. We congratulate the winners and have no doubt that they will continue to do us proud,” she said.

On his part, Mr Mutabazi who has nursed the UFF like a baby since its infancy in 2013 spoke of positioning film to rival oil as Uganda’s next source of wealth.

Besides Lailah, for which Patrick Nkakalukanyi won Best Actor, other outstanding winners were Bed of Thorns, which saw Malaika Nyanzi winning Best Actress in a Feature Film, and veteran actor Philip Luswata, who won the Life Achievement Award.

The evening’s entertainment was taken care of by musicians Vinka and Ykee Benda while the MCs of the night were Gaetano Kaggwa and Siima Sabiiti. The party went on up to late with dancing and drinking as the film fraternity let their hair down.

Exactly one week later, on Friday, December 6, the organisers and sponsors met over breakfast at the UCC head office in Bugolobi to take stock of the event and plan for the future.

The meeting, during which UCC gave out plaques to sponsors in appreciation of their support, left no one in doubt that the only way for UFF is up, with sponsors already indicating readiness to not only stay the course but also raise the level of their support.

As UCC ED Mr Mutabazi pointed out, this was the first time UFF was getting sponsorship of this magnitude from the likes of Stanbic Bank, MTN Uganda, Multichoice Uganda, Uganda Tourism Board and Roke Telecom. The value of Stanbic’s sponsorship alone was Shs 350m, Mr Mutabazi revealed.

Yet for the sponsors, as the Multichoice Uganda Managing Director Mr Hassan Saleh who spoke on their behalf said, this year’s “very successful” event is only the beginning.

“This year is not a one-off, it’s the beginning. We are committed to this industry,” he said, representing all the major sponsors of UFF 2019, including StarTimes, State Wide Insurance and Citi Bank.  

Emboldened by the massive support by sponsors and promises of much more next year, Mr Mutabazi declared: “Next year it’s going to get better, I promise you.”

On the balance of evidence from UFF 2019, you can’t bet against that assertion.

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