Once Upon a Time in Uganda
by Rachel Willis
Cathryne Czubek’s film Once Upon a Time in Uganda might be the most fun you’ll have watching a documentary.
Centering her film around Ugandan filmmaker Isaac Nabwana (styling himself as Nabwana IGG), Czubek has fun bringing Isaac’s world to life for her audience.
Thrown into the mix is Alan Hofmanis, a New Yorker who became so enamored with Isaac’s work that he abandoned his life in New York (primarily a cat he left with his mom) and moved to Uganda.
The two struck up a partnership of sorts. Alan focuses on bringing international attention to Isaac’s films. Isaac focuses on the Ugandan side of the equation.
Once Upon a Time in Uganda’s only flaw is that it’s not sure where to fit Alan into the narrative. Though his role in Isaac’s success can’t be ignored, he has an overblown view of himself regarding Isaac’s creative process. The documentary places too much weight on Alan when this should be almost entirely Isaac’s story.
And what a story it is. A brick maker in Wakaliga, Kampala (restyled Wakaliwood by Isaac), Isaac’s dream is making action movies. The times we see Isaac behind the camera or at his computer in his living room working on special effects are a joy. His films are a community event. With a budget of $85 to $200, everyone, from the actors to the crew, volunteers to create action movies that are laugh-out-loud funny.
Also due to the low budget, the team works with what they have, welding prop guns and camera tracking arms whenever they need them. It’s a process unlike anything you’d see on a U.S. movie set, but the camaraderie of Isaac’s crew is what makes watching the documentary such a delight. It’s all hands on deck, and everyone is having a good time.
That’s not to say Isaac doesn’t have problems. Issues around money crop up from time to time. Even though it seems Isaac comes across some level of success, it isn’t monetary success. When he accepts a TV deal to create a series for Uganda’s largest media empire, it leads to strife with not only his crew, but with Alan as well.
But you will find yourself rooting for Isaac the entire time. Even if low-budget action movies aren’t your thing, Isaac’s enthusiasm for movie making is palpable. It makes Czubek’s documentary stand as one of the finest send ups to the joy that is movie making.