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"The Enemies we create are the Friends we made" - interview with Donald Mugisha
Arts, 23 Sep. 2008 - Africaserver Magazine
Still from Divizionz

During the Africa in the Picture Festival, this September in Amsterdam, the feature film Divizionz by the Ugandan collective Yes! That’s Us received a warm welcome. The film deals with four friends from a Kampala outskirt neighboorhood who try to make their way into the music scene in the city. Africaserver interviewed director Donald Mugisha about the film and the collective and on making films in Uganda.
You made a film called Divizionz, you are from Uganda and you made your film in Uganda, about young people in the city who want to realize their dream, that is to become somebody in music. What gave you the idea to make this film?

There are so many places I get inspiration from, but primarily it began, I think, with the idea of examining the concept that the enemies we create are the friends we made, of examining friendship, ambition, rivalry and the like. I’m not sure why it came at that time, it must have been a personal emotion then.
Almost everyone has this experience of having rivals, having people we do not connect quite well with. We were thinking that people like those, you were once connected to them and at the same wavelength with them, but because of incompatibility and issues arising you obviously stopped being friends. When you look at it, the two of you really know each other. If you have a friend you know him from A to Z, you know what kind of person he is, you know what he likes and dislikes. Still it can go wrong.

Those were the beginnings of Divizionz, along the way I personally also wanted to examine the divisions within my society where you have what we call the minority societies of the poor and than the middle class who are supposedly rich, and how these divisions affect society. You have a big city like Kampala, it’s huge, people live in it, it’s in the middle, then you have numerous smaller neighboorhoods, these minority societies, with the so-called poor who live around and outside the city. It’s like they have created this ring, with these it’s such an enormous city, like the South African cities and their townships.
For me, it was fascinating how in my country the people live outside the city and go into the city to interact with the people living there on a daily basis. The people from outside are the ones who drive the cars, work in the homes as maids, sell food and other things. You tend to think this is a class and they are supposed to stay there and we are supposed to stay here (in the centre). Basically, that was the beginning for Divizionz.

In the film, it looks like the friends don’t know how to work together, they all are driven by their personal ambitions. The theme of the Africa in the Picture festival is Leadership, while in the film it looks like the friends lack leadership.

The four main characters in the film currently live in one of those minority societies outside the city. Originally they come from four different regions, from the North, the West, the central part of Uganda and the East, and each of them represents a stereotype people in the city have of those groups, they have the typical characteristics their groups are supposed to have.
They say for example that people from the North have lots of esteem and they are not outgoing, and that people from the central part are street-smart and very sharp and then you have the people from the West who are arrogant and bold and then those from the East who are slow and not very clever.

Also, all these characters became the way they are because of the way they were brought up. The personalities of the two main characters were also meant to show how this works. Kapo, who is currently the leader of this small gang, somehwat represents the guided group, the group that lives in these surroundings but has guidance, they have parents or maybe aunts or even brothers who give them direction when they are growing up: you need to do this, don’t do this and the like. That also shows in his leadership qualities, he was the one that was told about this possibility in the city and he has gathered these other three people.
Then Bana, the antagonist in the film, kind of represents the other side of this society. He does not have guidance, he basically survives on stealing and mugging people and he hangs out with the wrong crowd. He is like that maybe because he did not have guidance when he was growing up. He is a cripple and in that society a cripple is ridiculed. Cripples growing up get a lot of resistance from their peers, they are struggling to be accepted. From a leadership standpoint, we liked to see how these elements in the two characters interact and eventually conflict. The other characters are not decided on what they want, they are followers.

You work in the collective Yes! That’s Us and made this film with the collective. How did this collective come to be?

Personally, I started at the university, but I dropped out in the third year because it was not really my thing. The university was teaching us a lot about public relations and journalism, understandably as those are the fields where jobs are available. There is really nothing in visual communication and visual media. I knew I wanted to get into the visuals. I got me a camera and started shooting commercial like things, playing around with the camera first.
Then I stumbled upon this bunch of other guys who were all just like me, they were all frustrated artists. They all wanted the same thing, they wanted to work with visuals. When I met them, we started to hang out together and exchange ideas. What followed was that we started shooting music videos and for that we all basically worked together. We designed a model for shooting those videos, working low budget, using handy cameras, shooting outdoors without artificial light, nothing fancy really. We were working together and we did not really specialize. We all tried to learn as much as we could, so that we could complement each other. We multitask on the set, the director will do camera work, maybe the lighting guy will shoot or maybe he will bring in an idea on how the shot should look. So it is a bunch of multitasking people. After doing a number of music videos, we did some short films, experimental art films. Divizionz was our first feature.

You organized your own finances, in Uganda?

Like I say, we started with music videos. When we were going to do Divizionz, we figured we had to finance this film on our own. First of all there is no structure, there is no fund or anything like it that will help you do your film. So we said we are going to save money from these music videos we shoot and use this money to work on the film. It would take us forever because there are not a lot of music videos.
So what happened was we saved some money and started first of all on the pre-production, casting the actors, organizing acting workshops and then we started shooting. We would shoot until we ran out of money, then stop and go out to shoot some more music videos to get money, come back and shoot the next part. That was our approach to the financial problem. Obviously, technically we were multitaskers and that helped us quite a lot. A lot of the film was done outdoors and we shot as fast as we could, it was really guerilla film making.

The film has been shown here, in other places like Berlin and Durban and has won Africa Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria, but does it also get shown in Uganda?

Yes. We first showed it in Kampala, before it went out to the festivals. We decided to first of all show it in the minority societies. There are the video halls. These are like makeshift movie theatres and there are many of them, over 500 in the country. The film is shot in Luganda, our own language, it is locally engraved, so what happened was we were showing it in the video halls and people were seeing themselves in the film. I think they really liked the film. To be more specific, for me personally this film was done for that audience primarily. Coming to these festivals is a bonus for it.

I’m asking because it happens with films from non-Western countries that they get shown here but have no audience at home.

That’s very true and it sucks. Personally I think it defeats the cause of African films and African filmmakers and local film production because if you have done a film and it is not seen locally, it is only seen away from home, then what’s the purpose, what’s the use, what audience did you do the film for? Because I think every artist gets inspiration from where he lives. I’m glad we have shown it in Kampala.
Willem Kerkhoven

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Sites for this article:
Divizionz trailer

Divizionz site at Yes! That's Us

Yes! That's Us

International Forum of New Cinema Berlin - Divizionz synopsis and data

MyUganda - Divizionz review

Power of Culture - Donald Mugisha interview

Ugandan International Film Foundation

Africa in the Picture

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