focus on the elephant, not the birds


dsc_2871-1TOO much has been said on social media platforms in response to the one negative “review” (quote marks very deliberate) about the uplifting movie ‘Queen of Katwe‘.
Most of the vitriol and anger poured onto the unfortunate author of the negative review was based on his confession that he only watched 20 minutes of the movie before forming his opinion.
The fact that his twenty minutes was slamming down a two-hour movie that took more than two years to script and produce should have made us all pull our punches a little bit, even before paying attention to his credentials as a film critic.
I didn’t know, when I met him at the entrance of the movie theatre that night, that the reviewer had gone through so much anguish inside there, and greeted him brightly as he took photographs of the area and those of us hanging about.
By that time my focus wasn’t on going in to watch the movie or take photographs with the stars both Ugandan and foreign. There was finally rumbling in some quarters of Uganda, with people indignantly decrying the fact that a large part of ‘Queen Of Katwe’ was shot in another country. The fact that this rumbling was coming two years too late was as amusing as an intellectual addressing mere minutes of a movie and not even once ever mentioning the three-year old book on which the movie was based.
And as soon as the negative “review” landed I knew there was going to be a digression into the non-essential – against that Ugandan proverb that warns the hunter in pursuit of an elephant to avoid stopping on the way to throw stones at birds.
Let’s focus on the elephant instead: The ‘Queen Of Katwe’ has set a major stone rolling for Uganda and we must keep it going. First, we should focus on the Ugandan giants who got that stone rolling, rather than those that stick toes out in its path. Those giants are Robert Katende, Phionah Mutesi, Tendo Nagenda and Mira Nair.
Phionah Mutesi embodies the true spirit of a good Ugandan, fighting all odds to rise up and excel in her chosen field. Robert Katende is a superb Ugandan, selflessly committing all his energy to helping vulnerable others overcome struggle and realise their potential, and gives Phionah reason to be such a big global story. Tendo Nagenda is a patriotic Ugandan, moving mountains to get a moving Ugandan story told to the rest of the world by Ugandans in Uganda representing Phionah, Robert and many of us. Mira Nair is an enterprising, energetic Ugandan (yes – Ugandan!) who executes the emotional stories of all these Ugandans with such cinematic excellence that even the most negative people acknowledge the brilliance there.
Even a month from now we probably won’t be talking about Phionah, Robert, Tendo or Mira on the mainstream pages of our newspapers, and by the time the roll of Medals is being read out in Kololo next year their names might not be on it – in spite of the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of positive publicity Uganda will have raked in from ‘Queen of Katwe’.
I was quite concerned when I saw more officials of other countries trying to hobnob with the film people from Hollywood, and even alarmed when some of them let slip their plans to benefit from our ‘Queen of Katwe’. Luckily for Uganda, we have a very responsive Prime Minister, who didn’t hesitate to swing over to spend a couple of hours with the industry people to seriously discuss what else Uganda can do – both government and the private sector – to get more movies filmed here within our borders.
Within a matter of hours the good Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda had focussed the discussion and assigned a team to put together plans that would focus the various parts of the government so that our national efforts are effective at making it easier for both local and foreign film producers to make use of our amazing range of scenery for location shoots, our vast amount of acting and other performing arts talent, and to develop our infrastructure so that the Disney’s of this world choose us first every single time.
“The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds,” reads that Ugandan proverb. Focus on the elephant, all. The birds will always flitter off whether you throw stones at them or not, but every step you lose in your pursuit of the elephant lets it get further and further away; elephants move very, very fast but once you’ve caught one very many people will eat for many, many days (*Ignore the poaching allusion).
Slide1

entebbe is now in a country called malta – another missed opportunity if we don’t wake up quickly


ON July 26, 1976, The New York Times reported that at least six American film makers were “planning movies on the spectacular Israeli commando rescue of hostages at Entebbe Airport near Kampala”. Forty years ago.

The news story was titled, ‘6 Film Studios Vie Over Entebbe Raid’, which famous raid had happened just THREE WEEKS BEFORE on July 4, 1976.

So, within three weeks those guys were tuned in enough to be thinking about the movie rights and the opportunities that came with the filming.

“…a fierce competition has developed among the producers for Israeli Government cooperation and endorsement…” the story continued.

Forty years ago.

The story available online, and even named the studios – Universal, First Artists, Mery Griffin, Warner Bros, Paramount and the independent Elliot Kastner.

A couple of months ago Uganda hosted Israel at a high level event led by the leaders of both countries – Yoweri Museveni and Benjamin Netanyahu, whose own brother Lt. Col. ‘Yoni’ Yonatan Netanyahu led the 29-man assault unit and was the only Israeli soldier who died in the raid, and provided a very emotional backdrop to the event.

There was some talk then (in July this year) about another movie being shot at the old airport at Entebbe.

Part of the actual story involves the fact that the Israelis abandoned the plan to attack via Lake Victoria because it was infested with crocodiles – a clear opportunity to showcase our abundant wildlife tourism.

But let’s not get sidetracked.

There have already been many movies, novels, plays, video games and studies about the raid on Entebbe, which is described as one of the most successful military operations by those gallant Israelis. It is a poster child for heroism and military prowess.

These include, after a quick Google: ‘Victory At Entebbe’ (1976); ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ (1977); ‘To Pay The Price’, a 2009 play that opened on Broadway in New York; the computer game ’Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear’ features a re-enactment of the Entebbe Operation; the 1988 video game ‘Operation Thunderbolt’; the 2003 Bollywood movie ‘Zameen’; in the Chuck Norris movie ‘Delta Force’ the hostage rescue scene was inspired by Operation Entebbe.

None of those movies or media forms was shot in Entebbe or any part of Uganda – at least part of ’The Last King of Scotland’ was. In ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ the Uganda scenes were shot near Eilat, in Israel, and the Ugandan soldiers were played by Ethiopians in Israel.

Do you know what it means when a movie gets shot in your country?

Think back to the part of the story where the commandos abandoned the Lake Victoria plan because of crocodiles. Even a vignette about that part would do well, with a specific focus on the crocodiles and perhaps with some giraffes or buffalo in the background (I know they are not in Entebbe but that’s why we don’t all shoot movies).

Or even think of the stars who act in these movies and what it would mean for a country if they came to Uganda to act a movie, spending a few weeks here in the process and leaving with good impressions of the food, people, weather and tourism opportunities. Around the movies themselves, these guys do numerous interviews and profile recordings, during which they talk about much more than the movies alone – pushing the #VisitUganda agenda with its related off-shoots ranging from the Rolleggs street food to the zillions of other things we have to offer.

In fact, while the movie is being shot here a clever country marketing strategy would be to make sure that the big names are interviewed while here and right in the middle of these activities. In front of magnificent falls, with lions and giraffes in the background, up a zip-line in the Mabira, driving a Land Rover at Fort Patiko, kneeling in the Kasubi Tombs, biting through some sugar cane…the options are myriad, as usual.

So are the big names that have been involved so far, yet did NOT engage with Uganda at all – Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, James Woods, Robbert Loggia, Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Robert Vaughn, Kirk Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor… In fact there are even heartstring tugs such as the fact that Peter Finch, who portrayed Yitzhak Rabin in ‘Raid on Entebbe’, died just five days after the film was released.

And this year, the names so far suggested for the movie Entebbe are Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl and Vincent Cassel.

But then, where are they going to shoot the movie? In Malta.

We had the opportunity and it seems to be passing us by, for some reasons that give me a cloudy headache. Conversations were started, meetings were held, ideas were mooted. But now we are hearing that the movie named after the historical, scenic, clementine town of Entebbe; the actual location of one of the world’s most touted military hostage rescue operations and which still holds the very same buildings and tarmac and brilliant greenery that saw the action, sweat and blood, will be shot in Malta.

I am not even sure whether Malta is in Europe or the Middle East, but I do know that they will have to build things to make it look like Entebbe – which will cost more money. And they will get people who are non-Ugandans to act as those nameless Ugandan soldiers, so much so that we will probably hear them making outbursts in some guttural gibberish to sound “African” and one of those phrases might catch and become the language “Ugandan”.

The movie Entebbe is being done by Working Title Productions and StudioCanal, massive names in the world of film, and will be directed by Jose Padilha, another big name most recently associated with ’Narcos’, a successful Netflix series now in Season Two. The internet is so resourceful that you can even find out how to reach him – I shot off an email to his lawyer, Susan H. Bodine of Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard, offering to help set this up (fingers crossed that she will respond…)

This movie even has offshoot story lines; for instance, the raid took place on the Independence Day of the United States – July 4 – and the Israelis also made use of some US military equipment, so we could even bring in the Americans.

In 2007 the Civil Aviation Authority announced that the Entebbe Old Airport would be turned into an aviation museum and a domestic operations terminal built next to it right after CHOGM in a project that would cost Ushs7billion.

The income from a movie being shot here, even before we imagine how many more tourists would visit Uganda with more income as a result of the movie, would be far more than enough to cover that Ushs7billion cost.

See, the income that comes in when a movie is shot in your country includes the cash they spend on food, travel and accommodation, and also the cost of setting up their scenery boards and other movie props, as well as the income earned by Ugandan actors, and all the movie set extras. The list is really long; and shooting a movie is not done in just a day – for weeks and months we could be earning that money nationally.

So what do we need to to right now?

Get up and talk to Working Titles Productions so that they use Uganda for at least a portion of this movie! Also talk to URA to get rid of the taxes that discourage film people from using Uganda, since we can tax all the other things that movies bring into the country. Also, talk to UTB and UIA and the Ministries (Foreign Affairs, ICT & National Guidance and Labour, Gender and Culture) to have a joint meeting of professionals to get more movies into Uganda!

Either that or we get a town in Malta to be named Entebbe, so that there is a little logic to this.

katwe is our land of opportunity, and phionah mutesi will be our queen


If you didn’t read this first one here about the Queen of Katwe, then start there.
THE day is finally upon us, more or less. On October 1 and 2, the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’ will premiere in Kampala, Uganda, and it will make its European debut at the BFI Film Festival in London on October 9, 2016 – Independence Day!
This is not an occasion for us to scramble for tickets to attend the event and show off our newest purchase of imported clothing and make up – NO!
 So far, with the limited time available to an individual human being such as myself, reading through the tens of thousands of positive comments about the movie and its themes, focus, content and elements reminds me of what I said on these pages back in January – let’s wake up and use the opportunity given to us by the gallant Phionah Mutesi and her supporters in this cause.
The movie premiered in Toronto, Canada at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and will enjoy what is called a “limited release” in North America on September 23, 2016. A “limited release” in the world of entertainment means that the movie will play in selected theatres across North America (the United States of America) so that the film owners and promoters gauge exactly how well it will be received before they blitz it full on to the rest of the world.
Not only that – from the comments it is receiving, this movie might make it to the Oscars…meaning that if we play our cards right we might be mentioned at the world’s most watched movie event some time next year – watched live in more than 200 countries last year.
This is not a joke, and it is not a minor achievement either, so our involvement should not be just tweeting and posting it to Facebook, #Uganda! Start planning how to promote this country’s offerings to those 200 countries at the next Oscars, lazima.
There are some short-sighted (mentally) people who have failed to see this for what it is and have therefore not even done the most simple of tasks like even creating a Map of Katwe…
Where is Katwe, exactly? Where is the house in which Phionah Mutesi was raised? Where is the first chess board she used ever, in her now globally famous life? What did she eat as a child growing up that made her so intelligent? Was it a Rolleggs (pronounced Rolex, but no-one ever sued for trademark infringement because of pronunciation)?
Should we be tagging our Rolleggs promotion onto the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’? Of course – THAT is what this opportunity means. The forward thinking people in charge of promoting Uganda, or interested in making some money out of both global and local events will see this.
See, while some characters here were making fun of Uganda’s Rolleggs activities last month, others were launching the dish in European capitals so well that we have in the last three weeks seen organic photographs of Rolleggs vans, menu cards and billboards taken in Denmark, Washington DC and London.

img_5881
Viral photograph sent by WhatsApp

My sincere hope is that those were taken in establishments owned by Ugandans who will be sending some of that money here to invest on the Stock Exchange or in poultry farms in the village, but even if that is not the case, we still have what economists call backward linkages.

Thank God that while the majority of us sleep or gripe when these things happen, there are some who spot the smallest sliver of opportunity and turn it into massive returns. The photograph from London (I think it was) showed a menu board offering up the Rolleggs as “Ugandan street food”.
That may look like a small matter but the chain of events involves someone walking down the street and spotting this then thinking, “This ‘Uganda’ place has street food? Interesting. I should Google it…”
Which means we should be working at making sure that when someone googles “Uganda” henceforth, they find the right things to make them gather up their money and bring it over here as tourists or business people or shoppers or hungry people with a penchant for Rolleggs in their different formats.
If, on their flight down here in an aeroplane that has in-flight video options, they watch the movie that is hot off the reels (‘Queen of Katwe’), they will spot David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga wearing those beautiful Ugandan outfits and will figure that they should get themselves some of those while they are here.
As they think that they will be listening to the soundtrack and even though Alicia Keys has stolen the show by recording “Back to Life” spontaneously to much acclaim, she has said A LOT about Uganda. She even posted a photograph of herself wearing a gomesi, so our designers should be stitching up a storm to receive all her fans’ orders for their own editions of that beautiful dress style, along with other clothing as colourfully depicted by all the actors in the movie.
Have our Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Export Promotion Board and Uganda National Bureau of Standards been holding meetings and workshops with the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda to actualise these possibilities?
Maybe.
Ask them. Send them emails asking them how YOU can benefit and get involved in turning this potential and possibility into actuality and profit.
The whole of Canada is now talking about Queen of Katwe and Uganda, so get in touch with the Canadian High Commission to establish what queries they are getting about Uganda so you are in position to respond and deliver whatever the Canadians find interesting in Uganda basing on what aspect of the movie excited them.
After the entire world has watched it, really, what will our excuse be? It’s bad enough that more than half of the movie was filmed in South Africa…let’s not have the same percentage of the opportunity and benefit go elsewhere as well.
YOU are a resident of Katwe. Phionah Mutesi is YOUR Queen.
PHIONA-MUTESI

all hail the queen of Katwe


IF you don’t know Frozen, you either have no children, no TV, a very low media appetite, or all of the above.

That makes you commercially unimportant in the global scheme that the promoters of that movie designed and implemented well enough to take over the world of entertainment and commerce so decisively that the movie is reported to have grossed more in revenue in one year than some countries do in decades.

Your irrelevance to the global economic equations of the world’s premier businesspeople aside, you must – at least – have heard of Disney. The Walt Disney Company? Again, if you haven’t, then even your ability to read (especially in the English language) is a miracle you should be proud of.
Disney has been behind the world’s biggest entertainment projects for years and years; besides their amusement parks, we can focus on only their movies to get to the point here:
Their animated movie The Lion King made US$313million in the first few years after its release, while the musical (performed on stage) made US$6.2billion (BILLION!) in three years from ticket sales alone, and was seen by 75million people! Toy Story 3 grossed US$1.063 billion in 2010. Frozen earned $398.4 million in the United States and $674 million internationally to take the title. By March 2014 it had grossed US$1.072 billion in revenue after opening in Japan – and has continued earning since.
Disney knows how to make money out of entertainment. Let’s not even talk in detail about their amusement parks and merchandising, because there is too much information out there.
One Frozen statistic that flummoxed me was to do with a dress of one of the Elsa dolls; this dress that had retailed at US$150 sold out and started going for US$1,000 on eBay…secondhand, in some cases!
Then also, in one day in 2014 in the United States, Frozen sold 3.2 Million DVD and Blu-ray Discs. In one day.
Much more importantly, they make massive amounts from franchises. One US authority reveals that: Mickey Mouse brings in $4 billion in sales a year; the Disney Princesses (Jasmine, Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Mulan, etc. – I name them for a reason that will become apparent shortly) $4 billion; the “Cars” and “Winnie the Pooh” each $2 billion a year; and “Toy Story” brings in $1 billion a year.
Still with me?
This is one of Disney’s releases of 2016, about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, who rose from Kampala’s slums to international chess stardom.
The movie will be released in April and will star Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo (that black agent in Spooks) – and also feature Madina Nalwanga playing Phiona Mutesi, Ntare Mwine, and Maurice Kirya.
You guys!
Disney is going to feature a movie about Uganda (go back up a few paragraphs and read those figures again).
That means they are likely to make good amounts of money doing so while giving us – the entire nation – free publicity to make what we will with it.
Even if we just found a way of squeezing one of our promotional phrases onto the DVD covers, we would benefit greatly.
But let’s go to Katwe, first. Not many of us – you reading this – spend time in Katwe or can identify it apart from the tarmac bit we drive through on the way from Entebbe.
Now that it is going to get Disneyfied, the people at the Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda Tourism Board and Uganda Investment Authority need to look up quickly and do some work there.
Create some Katwe trails so tourists enthralled by the movie can come visit and walk through Mutesi’s home(s), eat the food she ate, and jump over the dirty bits of road she skipped through as a child.
Speaking of food, does the Rolex appear in the movie? Luwombo? Katogo? Spiced tea with Cassava and gnuts? All Uganda’s restaurants and hotels should introduce a ‘Katwe Option’ onto their menus. This is the time to officialise Ugandan cuisine onto the world market and sell it in a big way so we have Rolex stands in New York, London, and at Disneyland!
That same Disneyland is where a lot of the merchandising rakes in the dollars, but let’s be clever over here and create Queen of Katwe chess boards, gomesis, bags and other merchandising.
Speaking of which, remember those Disney princesses named above? I have detested having to buy them for my daughters and nieces, and seeing the adulation beaming out of their eyes, but I will LOVE doing so for a doll named Mutesi…
Kudos to that young lady for putting Uganda on the map so well by usurping great odds to excel in a field so unexpected.
Phiona Mutesi! The Presidential Awards Committee should take that name and spell it correctly.
So should the media; our biggest celebrities and heroines are in the slums and villages, not in nightclubs and cities.
PHIONA-MUTESI
Phiona Mutesi: Our Queen of Katwe – Photo from i.huffpost.com