Director: Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey
Starring: Alan Ssali Hofmanis.
Written by Tron DeLap
Every Year Fantastic Fest scours the globe for the most audacious and innovative films they can find and brings them back to the Alamo Drafthouse for eight days of mind-bending visual mayhem. This year was no exception with entries from every corner of the world. However, when making my schedule for this year’s Festival, one movie stood out head and shoulders above the rest: BAD BLACK, a purportedly $200 action-thriller from Uganda, of all places. The trailer online made this look so over-the-top and chock-full of all the action and excitement you’d expect from every big-budget Hollywood action film made this year smashed together and wrapped up in one 65 minute bundle that I was calling friends and telling them, “If BAD BLACK isn’t on your viewing list put it there now in HUGE BOLD LETTERS so you don’t forget.” It quickly became my most anticipated film of the Fest, right up there with Andre Ovredal’s AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. Little did I, or anyone else attending Fantastic Fest 2016, know that BAD BLACK would go on to be the most talked about film of the Festival, earning an additional buzz screening and capturing the coveted Audience Award… and this was a year where we got THE HANDMAIDEN by Chan-wook Park among other huge releases. It was also the only ’10’ I gave the entire festival.
Uganda is not the first place one would think would be harboring the Next Big Thing in movie-making, especially from a slum section of Kampala called Wakaliga, but it is here in an area known for extreme violence, lack of amenities, little electricity and abject poverty that Ramon Productions, home of Da Best of Da Best Movies, is located and thriving amidst a hundred reasons why it should not. Director Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (IGG), who has never seen a movie in a theater, and his group of self-trained actors, martial artists and crew have made dozens of action films using scrap parts to build everything they need, from guns to helicopters to the computers they edit on. It is a love of genre films and a drive to better themselves that keep them making films and not for a world-wide market either, though that is their eventual goal. They make movies for their village and the villages around them, though that too is tough with intermittent electricity, no theaters and a culture that doesn’t understand the concept of film-making. They basically use door-to-door sales techniques to distribute the films and it’s also tough on the actors, who, in most cases, have to provide their own wardrobe and gear, something hard to do when living in a slum. Yet, strangely enough, they do make movies, dozens and dozens of movies in every genre imaginable, on shoestring budgets and learning as they go. It is out of this scenario that BAD BLACK was born.
BAD BLACK is the story of Black, a young child who’s father, Swazz (Ugandan Schwarzenegger) is killed robbing a bank for enough money to aid his ailing wife. She is passed on to wealthy friends who then kick her to the streets when times become tough. She is forced to look for scrap metal and beg from strangers to appease the Commando who runs all the homeless kids in the area. One fateful day, she is almost killed by a rich man who catches Black with some scrap that turns out to be his tire jack. Then a nice man gave her some money while begging but she is accused by the Commando of holding out on him. In his anger, he shoots the only adult who was nice to Black and kills her. In retaliation, Black sneaks into the Commando’s room while he was asleep, steals his gun and shoots him dead, leaving the children without a leader. These poor, unwanted kids do know the importance of family, as proven by a song they sing to keep their spirits up, and Black decides to become the new underground crime boss in an effort to make things better for her new family.
Flash forward a decade or so when the kids are all grown up. Black is indeed a formidable crime boss and has several irons in the fire, including seducing the rich man who’s tire jack she accidentally grabbed, as well as a little gun running. A new American Doctor (Alan Ssali Hofmanis) has arrived and is doing a great job of helping the villagers so Black decides to beat him up and steal all of his stuff, including a dog tag given to him by his Commando father. His mother was also a Commando, his brother is currently a Commando and his dog is a Commando so he cannot let this affront stand. It is at that moment that the Doctor decides he must put a stop to Bad Black and retrieve his possessions. However, being a Doctor has left little time for Commando-ing so he enlists the help of a no-nonsense ghetto kid named Wesley Snipes, who puts the Doctor through a rigorous Jacke-Chan-style training regiment in order that he may wreak is vengeance and regain his lost dog tag. One man against a legion of Bad Black’s kung-fu thugs sounds like suicide but with his newly acquired Commando training, as well as a dovetailing subplot of the police also trying to capture Black, puts the odds decidedly in his favor. Black has a few more scams up her sleeve, providing a huge dose of combat, gunfire and enough kung-foolery to open a whole chain of Wing Chun Academies across Uganda. Will Bad Black be brought to justice? Will the Doctor get his dog tags back? Will the evil rich man and the family that kicked Black out get their comeuppance? What will become of Black’s new family of unwanted children? What about Black’s real family? A lot of questions, plots and subplots for a 65 minute action piece which is what sets Wakaliwood pictures apart from many low-budget cinema efforts. The people behind Ramon Productions genuinely love what they do and are attempting to make Big Budget Hollywood Cinema on a fraction of the cost with eight hundred times the heart.
Another thing to point out is subtitling. It’s not really a thing in Uganda as no one knows how to do it. Alan Hofmanis, who was here representing BAD BLACK, told me that they have a tradition in Ugandan Cinema of a ‘Video Joker’ who is a person who serves as kind of a Greek Chorus, explaining to the audience what is going on on the screen, even if they’ve never seen the film, while also reacting to the film itself. According to Hofmanis, AIR FORCE ONE is a film about Gary Oldman sleeping with Harrison Ford’s wife so Harrison Ford is bent on revenge the whole film because that’s what the VJ told them. It goes without saying that the film BAD BLACK is a masterpiece in it’s own right but they also subtitled the VJ, who speaks in a broken English that is so endearing, which takes this film into the stratosphere in terms of awesomeness. Every bon-mot and explanation elicited gales of laughter from the audience in both showings I attended (the first one and the buzz screening) and I now firmly believe everything including this article would be improved with a VJ. From being surprised when a sleeping character is awakened (“I thought he was dead. This is Uganda.”) to describing the terrain (“Poo-Poo. Real Poo-Poo. This is Uganda. Poo-Poo everywhere.”) to figuring out the end of the movie (“I’m confused and I’m Ugandan.”), the VJ almost steals the show from a show that has already stolen the audience’s heart with it’s honesty, joy and soul.
Wakaliwood may not have the big budgets of Hollywood (Alan Hofmanis told me Bad Black was made for $67 – $40 on tents and $27 on gas and incidentals) or the style and flash of Bollywood but they have enough heart, energy and ideas that it really is truly the next big breakout film area. As more and more people are exposed to the wonderful movies they make through Wakaliwood.com and YouTube as well as Kickstarter programs and the like, the better the chances of them making Wakaliwood the new Action Studio and entering their names in the discussion along with Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. Director Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey has got a tiger by the tail here in terms of his talent and vision and with hands-on producers/actors like Alan Hofmanis, as well as the support of other Americans like Dolph Lundgren, who not only sent them a video of encouragement but also provided a second video of dialogue and minor acting for one of their next productions, the future of Ramon Productions, Home of Da Best of Da Best Movies, looks to be very bright indeed. Do yourself a favor and download the free WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX video from their website and immerse yourself in SUPA ACTION for a taste of what they do. Then go order BAD BLACK. Help make Wakaliwood the Next Big Thing because they will be, with or without you. It’s always better with.