Trashterpiece Theater: Da Joyful Low Budget World of Wakaliwood

As a fan of low-budget b movies and "so-bad-it's-good" flicks people often ask me what I see in this type of media. For me, I love when it's apparent that the filmmakers were passionate about their product even if they didn't have the resources available to make their vision entirely come true. Nothing encapsulates this love of filming more than Wakaliwood, a film studio that is based out of Wakaliga, a slum located in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. This studio was founded by Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (IGG for short), a schoolteacher who decided to start making films with his friends. IGG took one course in computer repair in order to build himself a computer to edit films with and other that that has had no formal film making training. Everything he does is learned by trial-and-error. Despite having extremely limited resources, his passion and ingenuity shines through in his productions.

IGG in his element

Wakaliwood films are characterized by their micro budgets (usually around 200 bucks or so), high-octane action scenes, wacky violence and incomprehensible stories that combine elements from both Hollywood action films and HK kung fu flicks. One aspect that is unique to Ugandan cinema is the addition of a "Video Joker" a narrator who talks (and by "talk" I mean yells) over the entire film explaining what is going on and making jokes. Part heckler and part hype man, the VJ is hilarious and an integral part of the Wakaliwood experience. After the trailer to Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010) went viral, the rest of the world was introduced to Wakaliwood and love has poured out to the studio from all over the globe. If you would like to support these hardworking filmmakers they have a Patreon as well as a website. IGG has made over 44 feature films and I will be highlighting two of the better known ones (thanks to the efforts of AGFA and their fantastic Blu release).

Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010)

This is serious! Everybody in Uganda knows kung-fu!

--VJ Emmie

Trying to explain the insanity that is Who Killed Captain Alex? is a daunting job but I will try to convey it the best I can. So there is this dude named Captain Alex who is the head of a military organization who is tasked by the president to take down the Tiger Maffia, a group of thugs who are terrorizing the locals. Captain Alex gets murdered by a unknown assassin (I'm not counting this as a spoiler because it's in the title of the damn movie) and Alex's brother tries to locate his killer. Outside of this story summary nothing in the movie makes a damn bit of sense but when there is this much SUPA ACTION who cares about the plot? The director has admitted that even he doesn't know who killed Captain Alex. There is an action scene approximately every ten minutes, with copious amounts of explosions, shooting, and sweet ass kung fu fights.

Our guide through this mayhem is Video Joker Emmie who is nice enough to explain some of the plot points to us as well as constantly remind us what movie we are watching in case we forgot, periodically shouting YOU ARE WATCHING WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX! Every movie needs a hype man talking about how awesome shit is. Seriously though, the concept of a VJ is genius as these commentary tracks can be recorded in any language and is a much more cost effective way to make a film that caters to different cultures. It's basically like Mystery Science Theater 3000 but turned up to eleven!

On a technical front the movie obviously shows its shortcomings, but with the added context of the film crew's living situation and their abject poverty it's miraculous this movie looks as good as it does. All the props are handmade out of junk and scrap metal from the slums to include rocket launchers and an attack helicopter. It just adds to the charm of the film and they do a whole lot with limited resources. I would even venture to say that some of their fight choreography is quite good and it's not edited within an inch of its life like many modern action flicks.

Who Killed Captain Alex? is an absolute blast to watch and it's simultaneously incredibly amusing and inspiring. Art comes from the unlikeliest of places and the human spirit survives in even the most dire of situations.

Bad Black (2016)

That, my friend, was poo poo. For real. This is Uganda. Poo poo everywhere.

--VJ Emmie

Bad Black is a decidedly more serious outing from IGG, and while it still has a lot of humor infused into it there are a few poignant plot threads running through it that highlight his life experience living in Uganda. 

The story starts out following a man named Swazz (lovingly dubbed "Ugandan Schwarzenegger" by VJ Emmie) who robs a bank to acquire funds to save his dying wife. After an exhilarating SUPA ACTION scene, a wild car chase culminating in an explosion, and a cameo from Captain Alex himself, the narrative shifts to a young girl named Black (Kirabo Beatrice) who runs away from home after overhearing her family speaking ill of her. She ends up being captured by a gang of commandos who force young children to beg on the street to make them money. In all seriousness, despite the goofy tone of the opening act, this sequence is portrayed earnestly and is quite harrowing to watch. Even VJ Emmie is low-key and subdued during this part (for him).

After a ten year time jump we are now introduced to an older and wiser Black (Nalwanga Gloria) who is now a kick ass young woman who is so tough that nobody dares to cross her path. The rest of the film follows her as she tries to get revenge on the commandos who wronged her as a child.

One of the most interesting characters in this movie is a white doctor played by Alan Hofmanis who is affectionately known as "the first muzungu (westerner) action hero". His backstory is intriguing as he used to be run a film festival in the States and lived in New York. After seeing a clip of Who Killed Captain Alex? on the internet he immediately flew to Uganda to meet IGG as he wanted to help Wakaliwood get more international attention. He was also the producer for Wakaliwood: The Documentary. As an aside, his character avoids the "white savior" trope completely and is used strictly for comic relief which is refreshing. His training by the young (and by young I mean, he's probably around eight-years-old) kung fu master Wesley Snipes (!) is straight up hilarious.

VJ Emmie takes a much bigger role in this film with him even breaking the fourth wall and fast forwarding parts of the movie that he considers boring. I absolutely love how his narration combines with the actual narrative of the film to make a complete whole. It's dynamic and entertaining--one of the unique things about Wakaliwood. VJ Emmie also has a dark sense of humor and his observations can catch you off guard, like when he acts surprised that a character who is napping in a chair isn't dead. "Ooooh! I thought he was dead, this is Uganda, you know!", he quips.

Bad Black feels like a more complete execution of IGG's cinematic vision and it took him over five years to make it. It's an entertaining roller coaster ride that occasionally tackles more serious topics in a compelling way. VJ Emmie approved!

--Michelle Kisner