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.
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.
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.