WCW: ‘Ugandan film stories are uniquely told first hand’ – Cissy Nalumansi.
Written by Derrick Asaba on September 8, 2021
Telling a story and it eventually gets to be treated affectionately by many, is a dream every storyteller wishes to see pass. However, as days turn into nights, it comes as clear as crystal that this dream rather needs as much prior grounding as a millet farmer would need to prepare their garden yard.
Still, I have noticed with keen adherence to various creative schemes and concluded that ‘the best story is a story once lived’. One of the writers of the popular TV series, ‘Sanyu’ agrees with me on this.
With little wonder about why movies, where her name is bolded, are a hot cake, award-winning, Script Writer and Producer, Cissy Nalumansi, says that her experience is fuelled by involvement in a story in different experiences.
Nalumansi has blended her mind on a number of movie projects, signed international deals and above all, elevated her status to a point so needing that I had to hook her up for a chat about the chief issues of her journey.
Besides the love for film, what keeps you going higher in this field?
It’s the passion for film and nothing else. Being a storyteller, a filmmaker in Uganda has got everything to do with passion. If one doesn’t have passion, they can’t stay because there is no money ― the dream money; but the desire to tell authentic, untold stories and be a part of a revolution of amazing stories told in Uganda, are some of the reasons why I am into film and what reason keeps me pushing even when I feel like dropping out and doing other things; I find myself tied back.
Based on your experience, what uniqueness can you attach Uganda films to?
I realize that people tell our stories the way they live them. For instance, if somebody is going through domestic abuse, that is what they will talk about. Certainly, as a storyteller, you tell stories that speak and resonate with you first before they do with your audience. If one never has that special attachment to it, it would be a bit hard to tell it ― you would be a stranger to that story you are telling. I realized that many of us here tell stories whose experience we have heard first hand, which is not the case in the west, India or other parts of the world. For instance, when you look at Hollywood, they tell stories not that they live them but because they are moneymaking and people want to get out of their skin and live in a new world. But here, people want to heighten their experience on the screen.
What are some of the notable achievements you have registered as a storyteller?
Notable achievements to me might be a bit different to other people but the satisfaction is the ‘ekiguy’. I have an ‘ekiguy’ ― that thing one is passionate to do and they get paid to do it. Many people don’t get this; they are instead suffering with jobs they don’t love because they don’t pay. But when you get a job that satisfies, fulfills you and your destiny, get paid for it; that’s big. In regards to the works that I have been involved in, though I hate to take full credit because it takes a whole village to make a film, some of these films have ended up blowing people off their feet and doing great in festivals and competitions. For instance ‘Ensulo’ won an award at Kalasha International Film Festival in Nairobi, ‘Promises’ won at Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards and ‘Kela’ is receiving so much reception in Film Festivals. ‘Sanyu,’ which I am one of the writers is currently the most-watched show in Uganda. It’s amazing to write something and it touches many people.
Talk to me about working on a film as juxtaposed to its reception.
There’s no story that cuts across for every person to love that story. As people are searching for this film, others are excited about another. When you get even five people that love and resonate with your film, that’s success ― it means you have reached out and resonated with them. When we screened ‘Village champion,’ my first produced film at the theatre, it was full house. It is from this film that Oxford University invited me to do a fundraising premiere in London and Oxford to raise more money to help University students who are intelligent but financially handicapped. I have received nominations, my documentary ‘Creatives under quarantine’ which revolves around the things that happened after one of our colleagues died of hunger in the hub. It received a nomination at the Uganda Film Festival.
Did you envision being where you are now or you even thought better?
No. Even though I carry a dream and vision of where I want to go now, as unclear as it is, I don’t know where I will be next. But I have this tingling feeling, faith, the excitement that reminds me that I am going to do great better than I have done. In 2017, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology and my mum had another vision. She thought I would join the army. I wanted to do film but there was no money at the moment. A few years down the road, I own a company. I didn’t think this would be at this point in time but I am really excited this is where I am. The process seems to be rather speedy and sometimes it is like a rollercoaster of emotions. I am very grateful to have this, though my vision from the start was never this.
It’s not and not even close. We have so much talent in Uganda, so many stories to tell and most of the stories are not yet told. We are looking for a creative space to tell as many stories as we can with as much ease with regards to structure, frameworks, policy, distribution deals, reception from Ugandans and the government coming on board. We are not yet there but we sure are on our way there. It’s just a matter of time, we will be there. We are not where we were five years ago; it used to be a mess. I am not as old to the industry but at least I have been here for the last six years and I have seen things happen and I know that the progress is rather continuous and very promising.
Where do you think the problem lies?
I don’t think there is a problem. Growth is gradual and not a process ― you don’t get pregnant today and give birth the next day. I believe we are experiencing a process as a Film industry and we have to respect that process. We can’t build Rome in one day and I hate to give a westernized example but we will have to get there slowly by slowly. We get challenges along the way, but, who doesn’t? I know that even in Hollywood right now there is still piracy and though we look at it in a perspective of ‘they are perfect, they have been there, they have been making movies for almost 100 years,’ they still have challenges and we still have continuity issues in bigger projects made by bigger companies. Because Ugandans have faith in movies produced outside, they overlook their challenges. And because they know we are not yet there, they attack us full on. I know that when we get our audience to believe in us more, even some of the things that hold us back will hold us back no more.
I have worked on the ‘Village Champion’, ‘Kela’, ‘Inner wars’, ‘Ensulo’, ‘Promises’, ‘Creatives under Quarantine’, ‘Umoja’, ‘Don’t dare touch’, ‘This phone era’, among others. I am working on Sanyu, Mama and me (which are TV dramas currently ongoing) and I am prepping for another production called Namuddu.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Five years is a very short time. I started a local servicing production company which when I lobby a production for example from Hollywood, the advantage is instead of them coming with foreign crew, we source local crew here. That means we get more people involved, more people paid and participating. I am working towards achieving that and making sure it comes to life and with Kela one of my films having Executive Hollywood producers, I know that I have got a link to Hollywood now. I am going to lobby as much as possible having co-productions coming back home. I believe with God’s timing, I will reach out to people or they will reach out to me.
Also, I want to travel as much as I can because my experience as a writer comes from being involved in stories and on-ground in different experiences as long as it is safe enough to travel again. I want my movies to participate in various film festivals ― I want the films that I am doing right now to have made an impact in the next five years, to have brought money, more co-production and distribution deals back home as I work towards creating and building that studio space that I want to do.
Where did you get this grand idea?
When I was working in Nigeria at Tinsel, I realized they could shoot like thirteen or fifteen scenes a day. But because it is an in-house production, you could do much with space. We are lacking space, we have very few movie recording studios where you could swing sets and work in a controlled environment. I want to create a studio but what is wrong is plenty. I know a lot of work is going to come in and we will need controlled environments and in-house productions.
Cissy Nalumansi is born and raised in Abaita Ababiri to Duncan Kayanja and Safiina Nabiranda. She went to Bwaise Primary School, MK Crown Academy, Nabweru, Caltec Academy Makerere, and Makerere University.